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Parents’ Page

Parents need to know that they are leaving their child in a safe and nurturing environment. For this reason, I have an open-door policy. Parents are welcome to remain in the room for the entire lesson if they like.

My teaching approach

In order to provide motivation and to create a sense of fun in the lessons, I take a student-directed teaching approach. For my purposes, this simply means following my student’s interests. A simple example is allowing them to choose their favourite song to work on instead of one that I choose. The things that get used when learning a song – chords, strumming, rhythmic control, groove, tempo – can be taught using any song. Allowing a simple choice like this increases student autonomy and motivation.
I understand a child’s need for a variety of stimuli when learning music. That’s why I use many different activities aside from actually playing the guitar. iPad music apps, recording, playing keyboard synth, singing, writing song lyrics, standing up and moving around while playing are all options, depending on the child.

Buying a guitar

The following suggestions reflect my present knowledge in terms of the amount of product available; they are intended to give you a starting point for talking with someone at your local music store. The Acoustic Music Shop, Avenue Guitar, and Long and Mcquade – all on Whyte Avenue between 99 Street and 109 Street – are good places to check out.
It’s important to buy a guitar that fits you. Not doing so can result in all sorts of physical problems.

Strumming arm positioning

A guitar that’s too large will push the shoulder of your strumming/picking arm up. This will eventually lead to neck and shoulder problems, which can lead to tendinitis. This is mainly a concern with acoustic guitars since their bodies are typically wider and deeper than electrics.

Fretting hand positioning

The neck should be short enough to fret the first string, first fret without having to reach too far. Take a look at some YouTube videos of people playing the guitar to get an idea of what looks natural.
Finding a good guitar for children is difficult. Small guitars are sometimes made poorly and can easily go out of tune. But don’t give in to the temptation to buy a full-size guitar with the rationalization that your child will grow into it. Your child will enjoy a guitar that’s comfortable more than one with good intonation and tone.

3⁄4 size guitars

If you’re looking for an electric guitar, the Squier Mini-Strat is a great choice for students around 8-12 years old. If you’re looking for an acoustic, the Baby Taylor, while a bit pricy – $329 US – is a good choice.

1⁄2 size guitars

These instruments should only be used for small children, age 4 – 7. It’s really difficult to find a decent one. The 30” First Act Discovery guitar is probably your best bet.

Why guitar lessons?

There are a lot of resources on the web about getting your child into music lessons. This one gives you some good reasons for doing it, buts it’s only one post. i encourage you to do your own research. Perhaps the best type of research is to take advantage of a free lesson.
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Free Introductory Lesson

The free introductory lesson achieves a number of things.
  1. You can check out my teaching space. There are many things that contribute to your learning. Feeling comfortable in the teaching space is one of them.
  2. I can demonstrate my teaching approach. I use a student-directed approach.
  3. We can decide on a learning plan based on what you want to achieve. You will leave with a short-term plan related to your long-term goals.
Just so you know,  decision to study elsewhere is never taken personally by me. It’s important to me that you find the right teacher.
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Student-directed learning

A lot has been written about student-directed teaching.
For my purposes, it means taking my student s interests into account. This is essential. It’s difficult to get people to practice if they’re working on things they aren’t interested in.

Guitar skills

There are two broad categories of skills that a guitar player works on: rhythm playing and soloing. Everything you can learn on the guitar (outside of avant-garde techniques) falls under one of these two categories.
So instead of teaching chord technique using a song that I provide, why not use a song that the student provides? I can teach the same techniques regardless. The student is more likely to practice, and less likely to get frustrated.
Of course, I may need to provide supplemental exercises to improve technique, but these are given with the overall goal of learning something they want to learn. This is inherently motivating.

Autonomy

Along with creating motivated, interested students, this approach creates autonomy. Since the student is encouraged to pick material they want to learn, they are able to ultimately take responsibility for their own learning.
They not only begin to look for material they like; they look for material that may be more like work, but which they know will make them better. Doing research like this means that they are able to find material on their own.

The ultimate goal

With the student-directed approach, the ultimate goal is that the student will be able to teach themselves. They will be motivated, interested, independent, and informed. And they won’t need to pay for years of guitar lessons.
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Why guitar lessons?

Beginners

It isn’t hard to start, but it’s difficult to continue. There are many reasons for this, but the two most common are a pre-existing routine that crowds out practice time, and uncertainty about what and how to practice.
Once you know what and how to practice, guidance from someone who has been doing the same thing for much longer, and has training and experience gives you the ability to move along the path quicker. This gives you success, and the motivation to continue. Theory, technique, learning chords, songs and solos are the core of the learning process.

Intermediate/advanced

If you feel stale, need new ideas, or need to talk about what you’re working on, getting feedback from someone who understands – and has been in your position before – can help.

Organizing yourself

For each student, I construct a weekly practice plan. This takes the form of a flow chart that they can refer to during the week.
For a beginning lesson in strumming, it might look like this, depending on the student.

 

This clearly outlines what to practice (everything on the chart is discussed in-depth during the lesson), and how long to practice it each day. It’s important to see how long it will take. That way, you can figure out how to fit it into your schedule.
Breaking it into chunks implies that you don’t have to do it all at once, although it’s a good idea just to make sure it gets done.

The optimal result – independence

The goal is to get students to the stage where they can confidently teach themselves. It is not to keep them around as long as possible so that you can make more money.
At the end of every month, the student and I assess their level of interest and commitment, and discuss the best course of action. This could be ending lessons, continuing on the present course, or introducing new types of material. If they decide to leave and get stuck later, or want to learn something new, they can come back for however many  lessons they feel they need.
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Music and the Brain

There are good reasons to study music aside from being able to play.

Listening to music

Simply listening to music “involves nearly every region of the brain that we know about, and nearly every neural subsystem” (Daniel Levitin, This is Your Brain on Music, p. 86).
 For instance, following along with music engages certain parts of the brain – the hippocampus (memory center) and the frontal lobe; tapping along with music engages others – the cerebellum’s timing circuits.

Playing music

Performing music uses the frontal lobes for planning behaviour, as well as the motor cortex and sensory cortex. Listening to, or recalling lyrics, involves language centers in the brain.
Simply by listening to music, we strengthen our brain. By learning to play, the benefits multiply. So even if you decided to quit playing, music lessons would still  have a lasting benefit that positively affects your entire life.
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Upcoming activities

Hermit Crab is now on bandcamp – https://hermitcrab1.bandcamp.com/releases;

on cdbaby – http://cdbaby.com/cd/hermitcrab;

and on itunes – https://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/hermit-crab/id1289927176

Aside from playing shows, there are a number of projects and/or possible projects coming up – video production with award-winning filmmaker Kyle Armstrong; dance production with dancer/choreographer Nancy Sandercock – https://vimeo.com/user4416477; and theatre production with director Sandra Nicholls, and writers Karen Wall and Michael Andrew.

That last one is a theatre production presenting a vision of environmental apocalypse. You know. Rising oceans and drowning cities, crop plagues created by genetic mutation. That sort of thing.

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