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Teaching & Learning the Guitar, Guthrie Style

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Joined: 10 Sep 2004
Posts: 2783
Location: Chino, CA

PostPosted: Sun Sep 01, 2013 5:50 am    Post subject: Teaching & Learning the Guitar, Guthrie Style Reply with quote

As I embark on a very exciting new phase of my career in the industry with my dream job at Guitar Center, I decided that I really wanted to get into playing the guitar again from the ground-up as that would also help with my new duties as well. So one thing I decided to do was teach guitar to beginners and semi-intermediate players at my wife's church (no, personally, I don't go). The students range from teenage girls to housewives learning to play for the very first time to teenage boys who are proficient at playing chords and rhythm but haven't gotten into single-note playing or soloing yet.

I now have 10 students who I teach in groups of 3 or 4 at a time (so I'm only spending around 2 hours teaching per week) and it has been quite a revelation to me about what getting started on a guitar is like. It's been really great to get back into the basics (and make pretty decent side money while I'm at it! Very Happy) and I find that I'm learning again as I teach. Having been on various clinic tours with Guthrie in the past, I remembered his master classes (I've observed well over a dozen) and his focus on "having fun" instead of just trying to get "better". And that's what I'm emphasizing to my students - having fun while they learn and while they practice.

As I teach my son and a 9th-grader on the concepts of soloing, I obviously have to fill them in on the good ole pentatonic and major scales. It seems that it's a natural instinct for them to just play the scales ascending and descending as fast as they can. So I told them that scales are meaningless on their own and started showing them licks and melodies within those scales - for instance, the song 'Do Re Mi' from the 'Sound of Music' to explain the C major scale. I taught them the typical 12-bar blues progression so they can learn to improvise with melodies instead of just going up and down the scale.

More than anything else, this is what I learned from Guthrie during the master classes I've been fortunate enough to observe a dozen times or so: make it fun and make it musical. It's the same for teenage girls and housewives who just want to learn to strum and fingerpick open chords to play along to some songs: focus on good sound and strum or pick with authority. This sort of "zen" method of teaching from Guthrie bewildered or even disappointed some of the master class students who wanted in on some "secret" practice exercises and learning methods to quickly attain Guthrie's technique and versatility. But the truth is that Guthrie doesn't have any "silver bullets" to help students get very good really fast.

Guthrie totally discourages regimented form of practicing - like turning on the metronome and practicing scales and arpeggios in a robotic manner. And, you know, that's what I used to do when I was getting started. Well, I know I'll never do it again because, as Guthrie points out, it just isn't fun and why would you want to do that? So even as I work with beginners struggling with the open C chord, I focus on making it fun for them somehow. Unfortunately, I find that the instruments they have make it very difficult to finger the open chords because of bad nut filing jobs on their guitars. I've learned a lot on the things I need to focus on for the beginner guitars.

I find the task and the challenge of improving the quality of low-end beginner guitars more interesting than high-end guitars. With high-end guitars, it's really just a matter of throwing more labor time and more expensive materials and parts at them. You can't do that with low-end guitars for beginners. One of my teenage girl students had a "Brand X by a well-known-brand" acoustic guitar her parents had bought her at Best Buy for $100. The low-E nut slot on it was so low that the string was resting on the first fret. The bracing on the top was loose and it was vibrating sympathetically with certain low notes in a way that was very annoying.

So I told her and her mother that it'd be better to just get a new guitar instead of trying to fix it since some tech is going to want to charge $50 to just replace the nut (which is exactly what a tech at a local GC store quoted) and the mother agreed. I asked what her budget was and she said that it was... $100. So I took them to a GC store and I started playing a bunch of $100 acoustics and picked out the best one because every guitar really is different - whether they're $3000 guitars or $100 guitars. Now she's very happy. I ended up picking out a Fender FA-100 that was on sale for $95 including a gig-bag.

Guthrie often mentions in his master classes that he did the best he can during his formative years with what he can because he couldn't afford nice instruments. I think this can be said for many great players from the past. There was no "boutique" stuff back then. They just grabbed off-the-shelf guitars from a local music store and made them work somehow because, ultimately, it really is in the hands of the player. And that is the focus as I teach the guitar to beginners and budding rock players: have fun and get good sounds from your hands. One of the housewife students had a Martin that her son left at home but I can sound a lot better with a cheap $300 acoustic I have at home. Seriously, the best way to improve tone and sound is to practice more - not get "better" gear. Gear does matter, but its importance is totally overrated.

Even $100 guitars can be very good. I'd certainly prefer to listen to a great player playing a cheap guitar (and/or amp) than a mediocre or bad player playing through boutique gear. So teaching beginners with cheap gear has been an interesting challenge. I am finding that they can still sound good with proper technique of how they fret with their left hand and how they pick or strum with their right.

That's another thing Guthrie emphasizes during his master classes - getting a variety of good sounds just from your hands, not expensive gear and a bunch of pedals, etc., because that's how he learned. And this "philosophy" and way of thinking and teaching is what I'm teaching as well. I've learned well observing Guthrie teach over the years. It's not that I can do what he does; it's more about having fun with what I can do and playing each and every note with more authority. For me, that's the greatest lesson I learned from Guthrie and what I try to get across to everyone I teach.
Ed Yoon
Certified Guthrie Fan-atic
BOING Music LLC - Managing Partner
.strandberg* Guitars USA
Ed Yoon Consulting & Management
Guitar Center Inc.

Last edited by alexkhan on Tue Sep 03, 2013 6:48 am; edited 3 times in total
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Joined: 09 Jun 2006
Posts: 47

PostPosted: Sun Sep 01, 2013 9:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Guthrie is a GURU, He has discovered THE WAY. Very Happy
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