By the Time We Got to Headstock

I got my first guitar in 1967. For Christmas.

I was in 7th grade, and my family was living in Iowa City, Iowa, for a year so my dad could focus on his PhD in Music Theory. I was hours away from friends, and doing my best to navigate this university town on my Schwinn Stingray. I had a small bedroom, a portable turntable, and a radio. And I was  discovering the world of pop music in perhaps it’s finest year.

Top 40 radio hadn’t yet devolved to target marketing and was all over the map – psychedelia, Motown, British Invasion, blues rock, soul, R&B, folk rock, and sparkle pop vocal groups. It was a kaleidoscope of sound. So much remarkable music, and too much for a junior high kid to collect on a weekly allowance. All you could do was wait for the DJ to spin it. There were no streaming services then, because there was no internet.

Soon, I was eager to get beyond listening and learn how to play some of my favorites. A guitar friend of my older brother came over once and showed me the fingering for the A and D chords. I’d already somehow mastered E minor. I loved the sound – all six strings, four of them open and resonant. But song books were hard to come by and grounded in piano arrangements. There was no way to look up guitar diagrams, because there was no internet.

I muddled through by trial and error in the next few years, developing an ear for all of it and figuring out riffs for the likes of the Beatles’ “Revolution,” Led Zeppelin’s “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid,” and Crow’s “Cottage Cheese.”

    

It would have helped having an instructor. Or even a mentor. But there were no video tutorials then, because there was no internet. I was 13 years old then. Now I’m 65. There is an internet, and I have access to any information imaginable.

But the world-wide web is a bit like a megamall with no tenant directory. You just have to wander around, poking around for something you’re not even sure exists. And if you do make a connection, how do you tell the difference between a guru and a guy in a trenchcoat?

I follow a few Facebook groups of music teachers who often share links to everything from recommended composition software to curriculum materials to world music resources. For every one who shares, there are another ten asking for ideas. And the same questions surface every couple of months. It’s a mess.

There’s a wealth of information available now to music teachers. What we lack is the time to look for it, sample and play with it, and assess its potential relevance to our teaching objectives.

That’s why you’ll be coming back here.

Every week, I’ll share thoughts and ruminations on topics that emerge from trade publications like Guitar World, Guitar Player, Acoustic Guitar, Classical Guitar Magazine, and Downbeat,

        

as well as e-magazines like Guitar Chalk and Guitar International.

I’ll spotlight ideas from academic resources like the Journal for Research in Music Education, National Association for Music Education, Perpich Center for the Arts.

You’ll get artist features from music industry magazines like MOJO, Uncut, and Songlines.

          

I’ll dig into the world of published method books, highlighting their merits from an instructor’s point of view.

You’ll get recommendations of guitar ensemble music from sites that offer both free and paid scores.

In addition, you’ll find product information from local guitar retailers, an evolving directory of luthiers, and when public health cooperates, information about meet-ups and concerts (professional and school-based).

Finally, I’ll share some of the best ideas out there right now on making “distance-learning” work.

I promise to keep it simple, clean, and focused. With apologies to Thomas Dolby, I’ll tidy up so you can find everything.

I’m not going to rewrite anyone’s book. I don’t have the time. Nor do you. And that’s the point.

I’m just going to highlight resources I’ve found interesting and useful (and why), and show you where to find them. The rest is up to you.

Here’s what you’ll find in today’s menu.

Academic

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) has a number of valuable resources for the classroom and studio guitar instructor. This includes their Guitar Class in 50 States project which features short interviews from teachers around the US who have built programs and offer advice and observations. Read some of the highlights in today’s Academic Resources page. If you aren’t currently a NAfME member, here’s how to join. https://nafme.org/membership/educators/

As a classroom guitar teacher, I’m glad I did.

 

Artist Features

My experience teaching abroad in international schools would often result in leisurely train rides. I’d always have a copy of the New York Times on hand. Often, it would include a feature on an artist new to me. In this first installment, I’m sharing a favorite discovery – a desert blues band from Mali whose fans include Robert Plant, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, and Coldplay’s Chris Martin. Full-length tunics and Fender guitars. Check them out in Artist Features.

Library

Stay tuned for recommendations and highlights on a range of instructional approaches.

 

Product

Whether you teach classroom or studio, the thing you want your student to learn perhaps more than anything is… well, take a look in Product Information for a clue, and a cheap investment.

 

Repertoire

If you’re like me, you struggle to find repertoire that meets the level of your beginning, emerging, or advanced students. In this first entry, I highlight a lively and engaging arrangement by Andrew Forrest for three guitars. You’ll find a link to Andrew Forrest’s site that allows for a free download of the score, as well as a youtube link to live audio. I’ve also added mp3 files of individual parts as well as play-along files.

Trade Publications

What was your first encounter with slash chords? “While My Guitar Gently Weeps?” “Stairway to Heaven?” “Landslide?” For me it was Sugarloaf’s “Green-Eyed Lady,” James Taylor’s “Country Road,” and the Beatles’ “Something.” When you’re dream-gigging in your bedroom with no bass player around, your playing needs to sound authentic. You need to get your mind around slash chords. Check out my Trade Publications page for links to lessons on teaching slash chords, and my advice on how to incorporate these resources into a comprehensive lesson for your students.

Events

Kicking off the events calendar is a timely fund-raiser for Minneapolis’s Lake Street Council. Lake Street suffered devastating property loss in June 2020 following the murder of George Floyd.

Until time allows for more frequent updates, I’ll be posting new content at least twice a month. So come back soon, and enjoy having a look-around.