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23 November 2011 @ 09:31 am
Learning an instrument as an adult  
My 5-year old son has been playing piano for about 10 weeks now and (admittedly, everyone thinks their kids are special and unique snowflakes) he seems to definitely be showing some aptitude for it.  He's a bright little fellow who is good at symbol translation of any sort--reading, math, and now it seems music too.  

  I took maybe 3 years of piano lessons as a 8-11 year old.  I recall practicing unenthusiastically and very rarely, and being more interested in watching TV or reading a book or playing games on the Apple II+ or just generally having freedom to do nothing.  As a result, I made very little progress from an objective standpoint. 

I like to have a project to improve on.  It's one of the things I enjoy most in life.  Fast forward a quarter of a century, put away varying degrees of obsessiveness on

chess: a hard game where I plateaued in skill, and competitive nerves made unfun,
World of Warcraft for a couple of years:  feels like improvement, but is an illusion, since no change in ME is actually ever made--there's no skill, just time.  Never again will I work on an improvement project which does not result in improvements in ME and what I can do
Scrabble:  less hard game but with the same competitive issues I still have
Starcraft II:  never got as serious as scrabble: didn't train, so never got quite as annoyed, but never got good, and eventually plateaued and learned to ragequit

Working with my son has (re?)kindled some interest in music theory and playing an instrument for me as well.  A few weeks ago, I took the plunge and bought an electric guitar.  I figure that all that cardboxing taught me how well a regimen of study/practice, applied daily over the course of a couple of years, can lead to real improvement.  

I also started guitar lessons, since I'm basically a blank slate, and I believe in shaving on someone else's face.  Why learn a bunch of bad habits and then have to correct them later?  My first lesson was a couple of weeks ago with a substitute teacher for the guy who will actually be teaching me.  I could have deferred but I was excited and wanted to give it a whirl.  

The guy I got (the sub) was a 20-something guy who played in a band.  It was pretty clear this guy didn't have much experience teaching guitar, and wasn't all that interested.  It was his last lesson of the day, he knows I'm some guy who's bought a guitar and is here for his very first lesson ever.  He spent as much time talking about how my fingers were going to kill and look at his fingers and boy is it hot in here and if you want to look cool don't play in classical position as anything.  He wrote down a bit of tab for me to practice and tried to sort of wrap up after 20 minutes of a 30 minute lesson.  He also was pretty quick to say "hey, do whatever feels good" and "the beatles didn't know how to read music and look how they did" and "all sorts of amazing players have funny technique" and "use whatever you find on the internet, man".

I left this lesson pretty discouraged about the lesson quality.  I mean, I mostly know how to educate myself using books and the internet.  I don't need to pay anyone $22.50/half hour to tell me to go look on the internet.  I don't need to pay anyone to tell me "do it whatever way is easiest for you right now."  I can read "place the left hand on the fretboard with your main finger oriented topwise and your pick transversely contrapositive (20 degrees magnetic north) to the strings" and try and translate that into playing.  What I want from a guitar teacher is someone who can save me the hours of trying to figure out that sentence and you know, help me put my fingers in the right configuration.  And here I mean "right" in the sense of "it might be tougher now, but you'll have less to unlearn later if you decide you want to play more technical pieces."

So I went to my second lesson with some trepidation and plans to finish out the introductory set of 8 lessons if this guy was a dud too and find another guitar school if necessary.  Was worrying about it being awkward still taking my son to his piano lessons at this music place while moving on myself, etc.  I googled the name of my actual teacher and found out he was a first year music student and figured he might be more of the same.

After my second lesson (the first with my real teacher), I left elated.  He's a young guy, probably early 20s, but the difference between him and Subby McRunouttheclock was night and day.  He's been playing for 14 years, teaching for 6 and half.  He's a classical guitarist so he has lots of technique.  He's a first year music student, but he's been in university a few more years than that (i.e. not a 17 year old out of high school).  He can communicate to me on a really analytical level, which I appreciate.  I had a whole bunch of questions about hand technique and he patiently explained best practices.  I asked about his plan for teaching, and he said that depended on me--did I want to learn to play some rock (learn some chords and licks, dick around), or did I want to do music and theory?  I said the latter, and he got me going on a book/program.  It appeals to me for a number of reasons:  I'm interested in the theory, I'm pretty sure I'll benefit from and embrace a structured program (in the same way I was able to create a program for myself for scrabble word learning) and regular focus, and I figure if I learn the fundamentals from a beginner program with a teacher's help to correct mistakes before they become bad habits, I can branch out to whatever musical specifics turn out to interest me in a couple of years: right now, learning blues and classic rock are my leanings.  I don't have music running through my head all the time, or any burning desire to compose right now, or anything like that.  I'd like to spend a little time getting my technical chops up--like in Scrabble, just being able to find most of the bingos gets you quite a long way--and over time pick up the "strategy" of music. 

Anyhow--I was excited about the fact that I'm going to learn to do something new and neat, and that I found a teacher that I think I can really work with.
 
 
 
real lad scorescesarsalad on November 23rd, 2011 06:44 pm (UTC)
I've been playing guitar since I was about 15. I'm pretty terrible, but played in a couple bands in college. I was also lucky to take a couple music theory / classical guitar classes and it definitely helped me improve. Stick with it! Guitar is awesome. If I only could sing I would play more.