30 years playing, many breaks, no lessons ever. Where do I start?

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Cynegils
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30 years playing, many breaks, no lessons ever. Where do I start?

Post by Cynegils » Sat Dec 09, 2017 6:50 pm

Hi all,
I've played the classical guitar for close to 30 years, but consider myself an advanced beginner. There have been many long breaks (damn kids! damn job! :lol: ) and I've never taken any classes, watched any videos or followed any methods book. After almost 10 years of barely any playing, I've decided to make a serious attempt at improving, and started by buying myself a decent amateur guitar (Cordoba C10). I likely have many bad habits, techniques, but can play some standards (Tarrega, Bach, Weiss, etc). Of course playing them well is another matter. I was hoping someone could provide some advice as to how to start back up, keeping in mind that my goal is not to become a pro. Questions I have...

1) Is it worth taking the time and energy to break old habits? For example, I play with the guitar on my right leg, not the whole guitar between my legs/foot stool system.

2) Bearing in mind that I've never taken any classes, any essential exercises that any decent guitarist should absolutely know? Any exercise people feel will generate a noticeable improvement in sound?

3) Should I learn the scales? Start a method book and which? Classes? I don't have a huge amount of time, but I would like to finally learn this instrument well.

When I started, there was no internet or the bewildering number of resources there. I've seen so much that at this point I'm confused about how to begin. Any help would be greatly appreciated!
Cheers,
Cynegils

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Re: 30 years playing, many breaks, no lessons ever. Where do I start?

Post by George Crocket » Sat Dec 09, 2017 7:03 pm

Welcome Cynegils. You will get numerous conflicting views on this. My advice would be to get a teacher who is well qualified to teach classical guitar, and arrange regular lessons. It doesn't really matter if it is an hour every week, or 45 minutes once a month. A good teacher will identify the issues you really need to sort, and give you the information you need to succeed with that more quickly than any other method. Between lessons work on what you have been taught to the exclusion of everything else. Before you know it many of your bad habits will be gone and you will have a strong technical base for further learning. I wish I had done it that way. :(
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Re: 30 years playing, many breaks, no lessons ever. Where do I start?

Post by CathyCate » Sat Dec 09, 2017 7:34 pm

Welcome Cynegils, you have landed in the right spot.
Help is on the way. Probably more than you'll ever want or need. :D

If you are comfortable, do not obsess about your missing support, footstool or whatever. If you are uncomfortable, try crossing your right leg over your left one, if the guitar needs to come up higher or in closer range. That's free and may work better until you find a teacher or other player to suggest some other solution(s).

If you are not in an academic or conservatory setting, most guitar teachers will agree to a flexible schedule. You are an adult with a lot of things on your plate (at least until retirement and getting the kids out of the nest). Take a lesson whenever you can and fully commit to practicing on your own between each "checkup". The lesson is just that. It will be your "diet, exercise, and following teacher's orders" on a regular basis that will determine your happiness and musical health. The good news is that unlike visits to the medical doctor, matters of life and death are not involved. Hopefully you will have fun no matter what. All the best!

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Re: 30 years playing, many breaks, no lessons ever. Where do I start?

Post by ameriken » Sat Dec 09, 2017 9:05 pm

Well well, someone who sounds almost exactly like me. I started acoustic over 40 years ago (with maybe 10 lessons) and switched to classical almost 30 years ago. I've only had a few sporatic classical lessons in that time. I'm also coming off a 12 year hiatus from playing and just bought a guitar that way outmatches many skills (and complements the few good ones).

I can 'play' through pieces like Capricho Arabe and Asturias, but they are not worthy off showing off because of my bad techniques and habits. Simple techniques such as left and right hand positions. I've just recently realized that my posture and hand positions are actually working against me. My left hand string squeaks are worse than an ungreased wheel. My scale speed is slower than a turtle running with a broken leg. My tremolo is more like tremble-o.

I agree with those who say lessons with a good teacher are necessary. However, that requires time and commitment. Personally due to my current circumstances, getting live lessons somewhere is not an option.

And that's where I find the internet to be an awesome tool. I keep coming back to Douglas Niedt's website and just today subscribed to it. He has some awesome tools and options such as technique tips and videos (including the scale techniques and practice you mentioned) that you can watch when you have the time, and even live online Skype lessons (which I am considering if he's able to do them later in the evening). He has a simple way of making difficult things seem easy(er). I've already picked up some beginners basics on his site that are already helping me correct some old bad habits and techniques.

I believe there are other sites as well such as Elite Guitarist with more online lessons and tools.

So yes, I'll go with the recommendation that if you can find a teacher and can commit to some lessons, that is by far the best route. But all is not lost if that is not possible, because of all the great tools out there at your fingertips that didn't exist 15 to 20 years ago.

Good luck fellow traveler!
Last edited by ameriken on Sat Dec 09, 2017 10:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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lagartija
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Re: 30 years playing, many breaks, no lessons ever. Where do I start?

Post by lagartija » Sat Dec 09, 2017 9:32 pm

I picked up the guitar at age 54. I realized if I tried to teach myself and went down every dead end road, I would die before I could play something well enough for someone else to be able to stand to listen to me. Since I am married, I did not want to practice only when the house was empty!
So I found a teacher and it was the best investment I could have made in my development as a player. My progress has been faster than it ever could have been on my own, I learned to play so I would not hurt myself or limit my development with bad habits and because I had a lesson every week, it motivated me to practice regularly so I didn’t waste the time in the lesson.
I travel a lot, but all of my teachers have been flexible with the schedule.
If you find a good teacher, do not be surprised if they want you to leave your old repertoire behind for a while. It is hard to fix old habits if you play something you have been playing for years. It is much easier to improve technique on new pieces where the old habits are not ingrained in the music. One can go back much later and play old favorites, but not until old techniques have been permanently replaced.
If you choose not to go to a teacher, you may find at some point the way you use your hands will limit your ability to play better. This is what a good teacher fixes; the technical issues that will not work when you try to play more advanced pieces.
Also, the teachers taught me how to listen to what I was doing and fix things so the music came out more like what I had in mind. Sometimes the problem was not obvious to me and I thought it was due to something other than the true cause.
Whatever you decide, you can always change your mind! It all depends on your motivation for playing. I have had great fun at my lessons and learned a lot about music and the pieces that I play. It has been most satisfying.
When the sun shines, bask.
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Re: 30 years playing, many breaks, no lessons ever. Where do I start?

Post by Cynegils » Sun Dec 10, 2017 1:05 pm

Thanks a million for all the great advice. From the responses it seems like getting a teacher would be the most effective way to move forward. Having someone identify major problems that need modifications, and smaller problems that I can live with makes a lot of sense. I've thought of this of course, but life always seemed to get in the way. Frankly though, it would be a cop out for me to say that I can't find 45 min once a week, or every two weeks (or even once a month as George said).

CathyCate- I am quite comfortable with the guitar on my right leg. I have no idea why the classical guitar would be placed the way most people place it. I seem to be able to reach everything comfortably, although perhaps it is even more comfortable the other way?

Ameriken- Thanks for the website suggestions, which look super useful. The internet is a wonderful resource of course, but I'm concerned that I lack the ability to critically evaluate these resources (i.e. who is going to teach me something useful, and who is going to teach me something that will eventually limit me). I remember speaking to Eliot Fisk about 25 years ago, who told me something like "if you don't slightly curve your right hand, you will never develop the speed". I had no idea what he was talking about, but ever since then I've thought that there is only ONE correct way to play and that I have no hope of finding the purveyor of this arcane lore.

Lagartija- Starting at 54 sounds like quite the challenge. I'm 45 and recently played for a friend (I never play in front of people! nerves!), which got him to pick up the guitar. He is now asking me for advice and picking up what little he can on the internet. I can see It is frustrating for him, and I can't quite figure out if we are more patient, or less as we age... We have less time that is clear! I taught him the basic chords so that he can play songs when we hang out, which I think is more satisfying for the beginner, but he wants the arpeggios and the tremolos. I'll tell him to get a teacher.

I saw that some give lessons over Skype. I'm in New York City, so there must be an overwhelming number of teachers around. Now how to choose...

Cheers,
Bryen

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lagartija
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Re: 30 years playing, many breaks, no lessons ever. Where do I start?

Post by lagartija » Sun Dec 10, 2017 1:45 pm

If you are in New York City, there are quite a few really good players.
If you are motivated to play well, I would recommend that you look up Jorge Caballero. I just played for him in a masterclass and can assure you that he is an excellent, helpful and kind teacher. He will definitely find the issues that hold you back the most or limit your ability to express yourself musically and show you how to fix it.
I had just the one session with him, but I know of another older player ( I first met at the Hartt Guitar Festival and heard at subsequent festivals ) who played ok...and one year came back to the festival having made HUGE progress. He told me he had been recently taking instruction from Jorge. So this is someone who had been playing for years with technical difficulties and those problems had been identified and fixed.
I’m sure there are many other good teachers, but this is one about whom I have direct knowledge.
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Re: 30 years playing, many breaks, no lessons ever. Where do I start?

Post by franks59 » Sun Dec 10, 2017 2:27 pm

Cynegils wrote:
Sat Dec 09, 2017 6:50 pm
my goal is not to become a pro.
Well, it looks like you've reached your goal! :lol:

Seriously, you should give a little more thought about that. Once you start taking lessons, especially from a pro your definition of playing like a pro is likely to change.

A pro is a pro and doesn't play like an amateur and doesn't have a game plan to teach others to play mediocrely. They're going to give you instruction on the "correct" way of playing (as they see it) which may seem to you to be necessary only if you want to play like a "pro".

Frank

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Re: 30 years playing, many breaks, no lessons ever. Where do I start?

Post by lagartija » Sun Dec 10, 2017 3:01 pm

A pro is a pro and doesn't play like an amateur and doesn't have a game plan to teach others to play mediocrely.
This is very true. If you choose a professional concert musician as your teacher, it is because you like the way they sound and want to learn how they do it...both technically and musically. This means you have to be motivated enough to listen to what they say and attempt to comply with their instructions to the best of your ability.
Otherwise they may not wish to spend their time with a student who does not try to progress. This has nothing to do with the age of the student and everything to do with making progress. For many professional players, just observing the student progress from their coaching and instruction makes that time not wasted (along with the teaching fee, of course).
If the student makes no progress, then even the fee is not enough to continue to try to teach someone who won’t follow your instructions. This is not to say that the student won’t have times where they struggle to progress, but a good teacher knows and has experienced that as well and has ways of dealing with these issues.

The main requirement is that you really want to play music beautifully. If you do, then you will find that many professionals would be willing to teach you.

If you want to noodle around on guitar and just pick it up as the mood suits you, then probably one shouldn’t bother finding a concert player as a teacher, but choose a class environment instead.
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Re: 30 years playing, many breaks, no lessons ever. Where do I start?

Post by Rick Beauregard » Sun Dec 10, 2017 4:49 pm

This is all great advice. If you haven’t sought out a teacher so far then maybe there is something preventing you from making this commitment. So here’s an alternative.

Try the lessons right here on Delcamp. Start with the free scores and read through level 1, 2,3...(D01-D03...) etc. until it gets hard. That’s the level you should start. You can jump in any time and at your own pace. The lessons have lovely graded repertoire and exercises to walk you through, and demos of each piece to show you how. If you don’t read standard notation start at D01. Making monthly videos to share with your classmates is a great discipline. You’ll get good advice and encouragement which helps you move forward. And supporting others is also an added motivation. You probably have much to share with other students with your experience. And you will develop relationships with fellow students from around the world.

A real teacher, at least a good one, is definitely better. But if you want to stick a toe in to see if it sticks, now that you’ve bought that great guitar, give it a go.
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Re: 30 years playing, many breaks, no lessons ever. Where do I start?

Post by Cynegils » Sun Dec 10, 2017 5:27 pm

franks59 wrote:
Sun Dec 10, 2017 2:27 pm
Cynegils wrote:
Sat Dec 09, 2017 6:50 pm
my goal is not to become a pro.
Well, it looks like you've reached your goal! :lol:

Seriously, you should give a little more thought about that. Once you start taking lessons, especially from a pro your definition of playing like a pro is likely to change.

Frank
Who knew I'd achieve my goals so quickly! This forum is fantastic! :lol:

But seriously, I think I understand your point. I guess I meant that I won't be giving concerts, or make money from my playing. Perhaps the best way I can put it, is that I'm happy with some pieces I play. I feel they are clear, they are moving and I'm satisfied once I finish them. Now I want feel that way for the more complex pieces I tackle. However, as a professor myself, it is disheartening to teach a student that does not want to delve deeply in a topic, which means that I probably won't be searching for a concert musician as a teacher. I guess I'm not interested in extensive and time consuming exercises to incrementally increase sound quality (remove nail noise, whatnot). But I'll have to think more deeply about what I wish to achieve.

Thanks for all the advice.
Bryen

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Re: 30 years playing, many breaks, no lessons ever. Where do I start?

Post by Larry McDonald » Mon Dec 11, 2017 4:28 pm

Hi,
If you find that you have "plateaued", this is likely because you have uncorrected technical/mechanical errors. "Street" techniques will only allow you to progress so far. In order to advance, those untutored "solutions" need to be discontinued, and new ones learned that offer more capacity for expression.

One example of better technique is... "get the head-stock of the C10 (nice!) at eye level". This allows for the left-wrist to remain mostly straight, which is allows for more accurate "finger-exchange". Try Bach's famous Bourree in Em. The left-hand palm should be absolutely motionless up to the first repeat (except for a shift or two depending on fingering, but no rotation.)

A good teacher can spot these "plateau-ing" problems. They need to be removed and replaced with a core technique that allows for continued advancement. By the way, this is kinda fun to do because you will likely get to learn all new repertoire. It's like getting an all new wardrobe.

All the best,
Larry
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Re: 30 years playing, many breaks, no lessons ever. Where do I start?

Post by nightflight » Tue Dec 12, 2017 7:14 am

I had lessons... more than 30 years ago, having worked up to an intermediate/advanced level. I put the guitar down for about 25 years and then picked it back up again a few years ago. I was concerned about taking lessons because I thought it might become something I felt obligated to do and I wouldn't enjoy it. But I decided to give it a go. I found a wonderful teacher... I look forward to my lessons every week. My teacher's expertise has made all the difference. And we have fun!

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Re: 30 years playing, many breaks, no lessons ever. Where do I start?

Post by Todd Tipton » Tue Dec 12, 2017 10:02 pm

There are already many great replies. I will TRY (not saying I will succeed) to add something a little different.
Cynegils wrote:
Sat Dec 09, 2017 6:50 pm
Hi all,
I've played the classical guitar for close to 30 years, but consider myself an advanced beginner. There have been many long breaks (damn kids! damn job! :lol: ) and I've never taken any classes, watched any videos or followed any methods book. After almost 10 years of barely any playing, I've decided to make a serious attempt at improving, and started by buying myself a decent amateur guitar (Cordoba C10). I likely have many bad habits, techniques, but can play some standards (Tarrega, Bach, Weiss, etc). Of course playing them well is another matter. I was hoping someone could provide some advice as to how to start back up, keeping in mind that my goal is not to become a pro. Questions I have...
I would say this sounds very common. In fact, it sounds like a pretty good representation of most of the students who first walk in my studio. Students often come to me feeling inadequate, overwhelmed, or stuck. They are filled with “should haves” or worry that they are somehow wasting my time. Based on my experience, an adult with life experiences is a superior learner in many ways. The ability to question, the need to understand, the faculty to seek intuitive and logical relationships give a secure edge to the adult learner.

It is common for many students to yet fully understand what competent instruction can do for them. After all, they are not interested in becoming a professional. The truth is, I've taught only two professionals in my entire career so far. Almost all teachers teach mostly beginners and intermediate players.
Cynegils wrote:
Sat Dec 09, 2017 6:50 pm
1) Is it worth taking the time and energy to break old habits? For example, I play with the guitar on my right leg, not the whole guitar between my legs/foot stool system.
I see two good questions implied here. I'll answer both of them.

Is it worth the time and energy? Or perhaps, can you afford not to? You already stated that playing some of your repertoire well is not something you are yet satisfied with. Is that significantly different than six months ago? Do you think it will be significantly different six months from now? A year? These may seem like hard, blunt questions. However, they are questions that almost every single one of us has faced at one time or another. I'll write more on that in a moment, but first...

Concerning the placement of the guitar: The way I approach placement of guitar, hand positions, etc. may be a bit different. With my students, I try to avoid terms like "correct" and "proper." There are times I play in all sorts of positions for the greater good of my physical health. Sometimes anything is better just because it is different. As humans, we aren't meant to sit still for long periods of time. Regardless, I talk about a good DEFAULT position. A good default position has nothing to do with playing the guitar on the right leg. Rather, it is a consequent of good guidance from a competent teacher understanding how the left and right arms, hands, and fingers work efficiently. It is the starting point of everything we do (and I will talk more about that in a moment).

Cynegils wrote:
Sat Dec 09, 2017 6:50 pm
2) Bearing in mind that I've never taken any classes, any essential exercises that any decent guitarist should absolutely know? Any exercise people feel will generate a noticeable improvement in sound?

3) Should I learn the scales? Start a method book and which? Classes? I don't have a huge amount of time, but I would like to finally learn this instrument well.
So what exactly is it that we do? I will quote my mission statement: "Learn to Work Effectively and Efficiently, and Learn to Play With Security and Confidence." It really isn't about what scales to learn or what exercises to do. No doubt, there are scales we need to know and there are many worthy exercises that can assist us. But that really isn't it. It isn't that you do the exercises, but rather how you do the exercises. Everything relates to everything. For example, a great left hand exercise to develop independence and dexterity is useless if the student isn't also able to find the most efficient movements making use of the shoulder, elbow, and wrists to help leverage the fingers. The prerequisite of making use of the entire arm isn't really something a student can assume if they aren't in a good default position. A good default position is rather flawed if a student isn't first directed with good posture and calm breathing that promote the riddance of excess tension over all. Together, all of that may be termed a sort of physical poise. Finally only after that physical poise is achieved, can a student begin learning to take advantage of the entire body or arm in a particular movement. Only then can they begin to direct their attention to a lifetime journey that will never end as they seek more efficient movements from the fingers, wrist, elbow, shoulder, and body. Only then, does working to develop independence or dexterity really mean something.

As you said, you don't have a huge amount of time. None of us do. Half of what a competent teacher does is help a student save time. They don't just assign exercises or pieces. They don't just tell you a little louder hear, softer there, too much tension here, wrong finger, that's and F#, etc. They get right in the trenches and work with you.

They teach you how to take advantage of the other six days in the week by helping you learn a more efficient way to work. They guide you with a particular exercise, and get you to gradually become aware of more and more that you might not have noticed. They expect you to try to do the same thing at home. The first time you hesitate in playing when looking at a new piece of music is when they stop you. They might remind you of the wonderful opportunity for them to begin showing you exactly what it is they do all day long when they don't have students and are learning their own music. They will give you wonderful music that is not too difficult for you. They will use that music as a tool to begin teaching you how to work and how to save time. They will teach you how to play this music free of the significant errors that dissatisfy you now. Once that is accomplished, they will also begin guiding you through routines to help you learn how to practice performing and how to handle mistakes. They will help you learn how to play music for others with security and confidence instead of the dissatisfaction you have now.

It isn't you. You have done nothing wrong. You are doing everything right. You want the guitar to be part of your life, you want to get results, and your amount of time is limited. There is no shortage of books, DVDs, youtube videos, method books, exercises, you name it. They can all be important tools. But what most of us really need is someone to teach us how to work more efficiently and effectively.

For the sake of your limited time, I most highly recommend seeking out a competent teacher. How do you do that? Allow me to copy and paste an earlier reply to a different post; I think most of it is useful:


**********************************

Finding a good teacher is trial and error. There are world class performers who are better at attracting students than they are at teaching. There are players with relatively modest abilities that have a knack for teaching. There are people with advanced prestigious degrees or even sitting in those universities who can't teach. Some of the finest teachers have no degrees. Look at colleges and universities. Look to the local guitar community. Look at music schools. Look at music stores. In all of these places you will find some of the best and worst teachers. So, you can't really judge a teacher by either where they teach or what pieces of paper they hold in their hands.

On the other side of the coin, you can't really judge a teacher by their students either. Some teachers are very good at attracting lots of students. Some places and teachers attract lots of advanced students, some of which might not even remember exactly how they learned to play. I actually kind of disagree with my own statement here. Perhaps you can learn something from the students. I wouldn't pay much attention to the best students. Rather, I would focus on the weakest students. Looking at the weakest students, you should see lots of consistency. You should see students who have good tone that are developing good slow and careful practice and study habits. You should see students playing very simple music with security and confidence rather than struggling with music too difficult for them.

And then there is the problem of teacher and student. The teacher is the one that is supposed to have the knowledge. How can a student (without the knowledge yet) effectively evaluate a good teacher?

In the most simple way, if you are working and making progress, then you are getting something good from the teacher. That is a good place to start. I will tell you something I repeat many times to my own students: I may ask you to do things that are difficult. But you should rarely be confused. If you are confused, then I am the one that is at fault. I mean, it isn't like you are sitting in a classroom, and I am having to teach to the "middle student."

A good teacher will frequently talk about the importance of habits in lessons. It will be more than just lip service. It will be more than just assigning you material. It will involve getting in the trenches, and working on the material with you. A good teacher will show you how to work more effectively and efficiently. And the role of habits in all of this will be emphasized frequently and often. This is why some of my best lessons as a student myself happened when I went to a lesson the least prepared.

And further, a good teacher will be able to develop trust with you, to motivate you to do what they want you to do. But it is far more than them just getting you to do what they want you to do. It is about them developing enough trust in order to develop a conscious change in how you approach everything.

A good teacher will also be able to show the pay off. Of course a long term pay off is important, but that isn't only what I mean. I mean very short term, clear specific examples. For example, they might insist that you play a very easy exercise with more of an arch in your right wrist and repeatedly insist that P needs to separate from the hand more. In addition, they also need to show you a piece that is pretty close to your current abilities, but uses lots of M, and A. They will be able to show you how that, if you work the way they want you to work, it will build a foundation to allow you to play a particular piece very soon, and many others just like it. This type of showing the pay off isn't absolutely necessary. But it can be very important in the beginning of the relationship to help develop trust.

A good teacher will ask you to make changes. It might be the right hand. It might be the left hand. It might be the 4th finger. It might be your seated position. It could be anything. It should be something. But they need to give you something in return. In at least some limited way, you need to be made to understand the purpose of the change.

Tone. A good teacher will help you get an amazingly wonderful tone almost immediately. They will help you to understand how to get it and why it works.

Too many times, the most motivated students may choose to spend many hours a day in the practice room. And there will be no shortage of teachers keeping them busy with assignment after assignment. A good teacher would quickly hone in on the situation and insist that you two practice together. They will show you how to make good use of your time. And right then and there in the lesson, you will learn to play a section of music well. You will learn to play it very well because they guided your practice. They may apologize for not getting to sit with you every single day, but they will remind you to go home and do your best to work in the same way you worked in the lesson so that you can get more of those excellent results they just helped you to see that you are capable of.

A good teacher will revolutionize you work. They won't insist on X amount of hours. Contrary, they may tell you just the opposite. Regardless, they will assure you that you are learning to work in an effective and efficient way. Because of this, you learn to get a lot done in a very short amount of time. They will remind you that it feels just the opposite as the mind learns to work in a new way. They will tell you that, even after a few minutes of working in this new way, you might get bored or tired. Your mind might wander, you might start repeatedly making sill mistakes. Your wheels will start to spin. Instead of insisting on my more practice, they will insist that you respect the fatigue and move on to something else or even set the guitar aside. They will even assure that by respecting the fatigue, it is the key to learning how to concentrate for longer and longer periods of time.

After a short while, you will begin learning to play easier music with a high level of security and confidence. You will gradually begin making some of your goals and a lot more.

When you find a teacher that does these things, you have found something golden. And keep it simple. If you start working with someone and you get some red flags, trust your instincts. On the other hand, if you immediately hear some of what I have written above, hang on for a while and see what happens. After a while, if you aren't making progress, but are putting in the work, then it is time to find someone else.

********************************

After skimming through this again, I wanted to close with one great way to know if you have a competent teacher: They are guiding your practice in the lessons, and right then and there, you are happy and satisfied with the progress you are quickly making. They will emphasize that they are showing you HOW to go home and work.
Dr. Todd Tipton, classical guitarist
Cincinnati, OH, USA (available via Skype)

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Location: Western Massachusetts, USA

Re: 30 years playing, many breaks, no lessons ever. Where do I start?

Post by lagartija » Tue Dec 12, 2017 10:48 pm

Todd’s post... made me smile. :mrgreen:
He has described my teacher and my lessons exactly!

And if I ever move to Cincinnati, I know who I’m going to call... ;-)
When the sun shines, bask.
__/^^^^^o>
Classical Guitar forever!

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