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
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!
) 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
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)