Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - Entertainment Psychology and Practice

Monday, October 15, 2018

Entertainment Psychology and Practice

I don't use or recommend a book in the context of teaching guitar.

Because ultimately the trick to learning guitar is maximizing what is entertaining about it to you.

In the late 80's during the height of the hair-band metal technical guitar playing era, I could actually prescribe a pretty exact regimen for about a 1/3rd of my students.  They would follow it, and the following week be considerably better at what that regimen addressed.

 They were very, very motivated.  As in, I haven't seen that motivation since then; "people today" (who are standing on my lawn...) can't emulate that motivation, because it was the only time in recent music history where instrumental technique was high prized and actually commercialized.

 Back in that time on MTV - which for all intents and purposes was the entertainment equivalent of the internet for most people in that era - there was a few years where the dominant thing you saw on MTV at any one point in time was guitar-centric rock.  Not only that, but there would be a guitar solo featured heavily in the middle of the video: the guitar player was the star.  Literally.

 Women can't practice to look "as good as" Taylor Swift, men can try to workout to get that Arnold Swarzenegger physique, but it's not going to be the same.

 Guitar solos, on the other hand, was something you can work at and eventually mimic effectively "exactly".  You COULD be the same as the "star" on MTV.  You could walk around knowing you were special, able to do something that was put on a pedestal and respected on a global scale that made you unique.

 That did wonders for my business.  I started teaching in that era, and for many years I never faced the problem of having to figure out how to keep a student motivated.  I completely took it for granted.  I could do what the Famous Guitar Players Did, I could help the student do the same, it was very straightforward and focused.  Just about every student I had played in bands, and that continued for at least a decade into the 90's.

 Then it went away, although the desire to be in a Rock Band remained a pretty good motivating factor.  About half of my students would be in gigging bands, and some went on to making records and touring the planet.

 That went away as the record industry died in the 2000's.  So what remains now is a curious, diffuse mixture of wanting personal growth, a little bit of a rush of doing something special, and maybe a dash of rock stardom swagger thrown in.  But it's rather abstract and non-specific.  Nothing like "I want to get in a band and pull off guitar solos like the guy in (Insert Favorite Band Here)".

  In the year 2018 everyone has different motivations, different musical preferences, different schedules, different expectations, and an overall jadeness to the process of music.  Does "fun" mean a step above the Guitar Hero video game experience?  Is "fun" playing along with a song, or is "fun" being able to execute a single, stand alone piece of music?  Is "fun" having a professional skill set?  Is "fun" learning about how to make music from scratch and record it, or to be able to analyze it by ear?

 Everyone is a unique case these days, and it's super tricky for me as a teacher to prescribe a routine.  In the 80's it was purely a matter of mechanics.  These days it's a matter of trying to get the mechanical side of technique to move along linearly to expectation - which is tricky when the balance of "fun" and "tedium" is a ratio that's different for everybody.

 I insist that ultimately learning skills within the context of goals set by music recordings ultimately is the best way to go about things.  Nobody today is going to "practice" the mechanics of something for very long at all (particularly relative to the 80's) - but being able to get it out of the way while playing to music is easier.

 It's also informative from a rhythmic standpoint.  Doing something properly along with a recording that addresses a particular aspect of one's ability is really the only way to learn the "invisible" aspect of timing.  Learning the mechanics apart from matching it timing wise to the Real Thing is pointless!

 So the Trick is balancing the "practice" routine with what is at least marginally entertaining to you.  Which gets back to "what music do you really like?  Specifically?" and "what do you REALLY want to be able to do on the guitar?".  I'm not Vulcan, I can't read minds, you have to help me out on those questions!  Sometimes I can help the student out on it from a musicology standpoint, but learning to be honest with yourself is a good thing.  Do you *really* want to learn how to play The Currently Popular Song or do you actually like The Almost Unknown Song by One's Favorite but Unpopular Artist?  You'll learn much more within the framework of "what can be learned from that song?" because the entertainment factor will keep you motivated.


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