Kevin's Acoustic Guitar Blog

How well do online lessons work? 

Online guitar lessons are working really well for everyone.

I have my home studio set up so that students can see and hear me well, and see what I'm playing.  I've spent time with everyone making sure that things are working well are their side so I can see and hear them. There has been the odd technical issue, but these have been overcome -mostly it has worked smoothly.

The majority of people are using laptops but a couple of students have used their phones and this has worked quite well too. I used a 'share screen' function in Zoom where I can put music or chord sheets on screen to work on. This is useful but I also e-mail relevant music/tablature in advance of the lesson where needed and I also send follow e-mails with links to recordings or whatever else will help with individuals' practice.

Are online lessons more impersonal? A lot less so than I expected. With existing students I already know, it feels much more 'normal' than one might expect, and quite a few students and parents have said it's great to have a way of continuing some 'normality' when so much in all our lives has changed quite suddenly recently. I have a couple of new students begin lessons this week and I feel I am getting to know them and they are getting to know me just fine, and they are making progress.

The main difference between traditional face to face 1 to 1 or small group lessons and online tuition is the inability to play together, so there are no duets. Actually, the need to go back and forth - I play then you play - provides some learning advantages; it is quite disciplined, because you have to concentrate and focus. I'm using the strengths of the online medium in the way I'm teaching.

So yes, online lessons work can really well, and I'm finding they are a good fit with my personalised approach to tuition.

Guitar Lessons during the coronavirus outbreak 

Updated 23rd March 2020

It is clear that face to face guitar lessons should no longer take place given the seriousness of the Coronavirus outbreak and the urgent need for social distancing. The most important thing is to stay safe.

I am teaching online lessons using the top video conferencing app Zoom.

The majority of my existing students are moving to online lessons.

New students are welcome to get in touch if you are interested in online lessons.

The songs people love are more diverse than ever 

One of the most fascinating and rewarding things about being a guitar teacher is finding out what songs students are really into. With the greater availability of tracks through You Tube and streaming on Spotify etc, there can be a few surprises - and this has got to be a good thing.

You Tube and Spotify present you with suggested tracks and videos that can sometimes be very accurate in appealing to your tastes - I have discovered a number of new artists in this way. It think that's how I first became aware of the increasingly successful Americana duo Mandolin Orange.  So I recommend to young students, play your favourite songs on YouTube or the song you are working on and see what else comes up down the right hand side. 

I've also been please to find how many young students have discovered old music and classic songs that they really like. Here are a few recent examples of songs that have recently been mentioned by young people:

  • Sweet Caroline - Neil Diamond
  • Fly Me To The Moon - Frank Sinatra
  • We Can Work it Out - The Beatles
  • Take Me Home, Country Roads - John  Denver
  • Hound Dog - Elvis Presley

Perhaps due to recent movies, kids are discovering Queen, the Beatles and Elton John songs.

Always popular are Living On A Prayer- Bon Jovi and all the great Oasis hits. Good job -it's a little more realistic to aspire to play these than Bohemian Rhapsody!

Alongside this discovery of gems from the pop catalogue from the last half century and more, yes, Lewis Capaldi, Ed Sheeran and Justin Beiber songs are keenly requested. But not to the exclusion of older, wider choices. If it sounds good and touches you, it is good. This is all very healthy and gives me hope. Plus it keeps me pretty busy always learning and teaching new/not so new songs.

Being realistic and positive about practice 

If you are one of those people who makes new years resolutions, a few weeks into the year is about the time that you may get to feeling disappointed in yourself. 

If you play the guitar, you love it and are serious about it, then you may not be keeping up with your plans to master this or that song or style, or practise x hours a day and x days a day  that you promised yourself you would in 2020.  Life and other commitments have got in the way - this is probably true, but you feel bad because that sounds like an excuse.

Well, don't feel too bad, because many experienced musicians may well be going through this too, at whatever level, we all want to progress and fall short sometimes.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Was I overambitious in the time I would devote to practise?
  • Am I making the most of the time I have playing my guitar? Am I clear about what I want learn or improve?

I'd advise that playing for just a short time, even 10 minutes or so, is better than thinking "I don't have enough time, I'll have to  try again tomorrow". That's why it's good to have your guitar available on a stand to pick up and play.  

As a guitar teacher, I find that I spend many hours teaching, preparing lessons and writing out music/tabs for songs, so I sometimes  I find I don't have the time I expected to have to play and practice or work on my own areas that I've identified for development (for me, one of these is jazz).  I find that I can do a lot in a short time if I feel positive about what I have achieved rather than worry about what I haven't. 

Also - listen to music, listen to music and songs you love over and over again. Strangely, this can be neglected by those who approach learning an instrument in an overly task-focused and technical way.

Okay, that's enough time spent writing this blog - I need to play my guitar!

Christmas is coming - a great time to take up playing the guitar 

It's that time of the year again, and if you or a loved one would really love to play the guitar, this could be the time to start.  Many years ago, it was when my brother got a guitar for Christmas that I decided I wanted to play too. I got my own guitar for my 11th birthday 3 months later.

It's a great time to book some guitar lessons so I now have gift vouchers available. And if you are buying a guitar, new or secondhand, I'm always glad to give advice. Finding a good fit with the right body size is very important, certainly for children but also for adults. 

A course of lessons will also sort out your new year resolutions. A recent news report from Fender stated "90 Percent of New Guitarists Abandon Playing Within a Year". Don't be part of that 90%, get some professional lessons to get you on the right track to become a player. 

The limits of YouTube guitar lesson videos 

One of the most amazing things about the Internet has to be YouTube. For music lovers and musicians it is so rich with great performances and recordings, and I have lost count of the excellent artists and music I have discovered on there.  

There are also thousands of 'lessons' for guitar - and for other instruments but especially the guitar - and some people say YouTube can give you what you need to learn to play the guitar or other instruments. However, I have had many new students come to me saying  they have spent months trying to learn songs from YouTube but they have not made the progress they had hoped for.  All of these students have then gone on to make very good progress and gain in confidence and musicianship once they have got going with old fashioned one to on guitar lessons from myself! 

Firstly, they have needed the personalised advice and guidance a teacher can give, with the focus and discipline of carefully building up knowledge and musical techniques and returning the following week. Secondly, they have benefited from ensuring that they are developing good habits and not getting into bad ones with things like posture, how they hold the guitar etc.

Thirdly, although a lot of people want to play the guitar for their own relaxation and reward and not necessarily perform, an easy mistake to make is to aim to play songs or pieces that are beyond their ability level. This needs to be developed carefully and gradually and this is best done with the help of an expert tutor. Closely connected to this is the benefit of playing along with your teacher, which brings a lot of enjoyment - this goes for me as well, I have to say.  Plus a number of people who have started as 'bedroom pickers' have moved on to collaborate with others or join an Open Mic session.

In many ways YouTube videos remind me of tutor books, which have been around for a long time. Some of them are good but it's hard to know which will be good for you and which will turn to be a waste of time (or worst of all do more harm than good, sending you down the wrong track).

So, if you have been working with YouTube videos but it's not getting you much further on, get in touch and arrange a free first lesson.  We can talk about your musical goals, and I can tell you how lessons could enable you to get there.

What's the best age for a child to start guitar lessons?  

This is a very common query from local parents and friends. I think around eight  years old is about the youngest age when children are likely to have the finger strength, concentration and ability to stay still long enough to practise and get the most out of lessons.  I have had some successful students start at age seven but it depends on the child

I've had phone calls from parents of children as young as four years asking this question. I've advised them to focus on their child learning about music, perhaps with percussion and keyboard instruments. More important than anything though is listening to lots of music - just have the radio on! That's what hooked me many years ago. I find that songs that I must have heard on the radio when I was only four or five years old are imprinted in my memory. To assist this, I am starting exciting new music sessions for under fives and their parents/carers called 'Sing Sing Play Along'. It will be interesting to see which of the young children want to learn the guitar in years to come!

If your child is younger than eleven you will probably need to buy them a smaller guitar, where the scale length of the neck and the body are shorter than the usual. Then as they get older they will need a full size and full length guitar.  There is more choice in acoustic guitars than there has even been and I can offer advice on the options out there. It's important to get the right body size even in a full size guitar - this can be more important that length sometimes. Some guitar bodies can be too large for some smaller people (adults as well as children).

From the age of about eleven or twelve and into the early teen years is often the peak time for learning and advancing for many children who play the guitar, due to increased maturity, finger strength and concentration. That's the time when kids who are really into it can explore and discover the music that means the most to them. This is applies to musicians and music fans alike - and great musicians are the biggest music fans there are.  

Of course, you can start to play the guitar at any age (I have students who started aged 70 or over) and you can make good progress if you have the commitment and love of music. 

Exam success in Acoustic Guitar Grades 

Many congratulations to my students who have recently received excellent results in their graded Acoustic Guitar exams!  I am pleased to say that most of my students are awarded a Distinction.

For those who want to build well rounded technique on the acoustic guitar the RGT@LCM grades provide a very solid grounding, and they are increasingly challenging as you go up the grades. The graded exams are worth considering for adults as well as children/teenagers. Some of the material, in particular the suggested performance pieces, are being updated in the near future. I have heard some of the pieces and they sound great.

However, the majority of students learn purely for their own pleasure and reward, or to improve their skills for solo performance or collaboration. Elements of the RGT grade material are taught in lessons anyway in more flexible ways, including scales and aural skills. I help all students to develop good technique in the styles they want to play, working as much as possible on the songs and genres they are most into, including their own music, often working out unique arrangements.

Do I need to read music to learn to play the guitar? 

It isn't necessary to read music to play the guitar, but it can be helpful.  Many of the great guitar players can't read music, but play entirely by ear and by their intimate knowledge of their instrument.

Everyone, however, names the notes and chords and these relate to the traditional dots of the page of written music. From the word go, when a beginner starts out learning to play the guitar, they learn chord shapes and name them and learn the relationship between chords. This could be called music theory, but it's an integral part of becoming a musician and developing your musical ear and playing an instrument.

So no-one should be deterred from learning to play the guitar because they can't read music, nor should they hesitate for the fear of having to learn to do it.

The use of tab (tablature) in the guitar world offers an alternative to reading music, and a useful one, in that tab states where notes are to be played, on which string. Tab is very useful but has its limitations, and shouldn't be overused to the detriment of developing your technique, knowledge of the instrument and your musical ear.

The great news is that listening to music plays a major role in developing your musical ear and understanding. I find this with adult learners who have been music fans all their lives - this provides a solid base to draw on as they learn to play the acoustic guitar and develop their style.