Thursday before last, I went for my first guitar lesson. Local guitar store has four or five teachers on tap, and I picked one who plays stuff I like. Got there just as the skies opened up, wind, rain, and met the teacher, a guy maybe my son's age. He saw that I had a classical guitar, went out into the shop and collected one, tuned it, and asked, "Okay, what do you want to learn?"
The teacher is in a local band, has CDs, and plays a wide range of material.
I was, I said, interested in fingerstyle playing, (fingers instead of a flat pick) classic rock and blues, with some odds and ends pop stuff. Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Buddy Guy, like that.
I also wanted to learn a specific technique, called tremolo, more about which later.
I didn't have a book I was working from, which is how a lot of students approach things. I did have a fresh piece of music with TAB (a system of notation created by luteists and often applied to the guitar in lieu of standard cleft-and-notes). He looked at it, played it, and demonstrated that he had the musical chops to be be teaching.
The piece -- the theme from the movie The Godfather -- had in it some tremolo, which involves rapidly picking a single string with several fingers to produce a quavery sustained note. (A violin string under a bow can make a long, echo-y note, but plucked guitar string notes decay rapidly, thus tremolo. If you've ever heard a good mandolin player do Russian music, you know the effect. And if you have ever heard the classical piece Recuerdos de la Alhambra, you also know what it sounds like.)
I'd been trying in on my own, but hadn't managed to get it right.
The teacher demonstrated that could do the effect. He brought out a piece of classical music by Carcassi that wasn't too hard and suggested I try that. Then he showed me a nice Chicago blues groove, that sounded a lot like the background music of a TV commercial for Cialis, the, um, anti-ED drug. He wrote out some different key progressions for 12-bar blues, ( I-IV-V chords, since all you need for blues is three chords and a turnaround, though you can add in 7ths and 9ths to make it sound better. Showed me a nice turnaround in the key of A.)
This being an introductory half hour lesson, that was it.
It was a good experience. I enjoyed it. The teacher obviously had skill, knew his stuff, and he was pleasant, but there was something ... missing ...
The first thing was, he didn't ask me to play anything. Not being a teacher, I don't know if this is normal, but had I been in his seat, I would have wanted to know what the student knew, and I'd have asked questions and asked to hear something so I could tell. No big deal, but that makes sense to me. If I laid something out, then maybe he could have pointed to places where I could have fingered the piece differently or better. Made comments on the tone or resonance or somesuch. Was what I already had any good? How could I make it better?
That would have been my first order of business: What kind of music do you like? Play something for me.
Second thing was, he didn't really show me anything I couldn't have gotten out of book or offline on my own. I've been doing that for a couple years and while I'm not a good player, I am still making progress.
I'm not sure what I expected, but whatever it was, I came away less than satisfied.
It isn't the teaching per se; I've been studying one thing or another all my life, I have no problems having somebody offer knowledge I have to work at learning. I've been in a silat class coming up on a dozen years, started a yoga class this summer.
The question now is, do I try again? Give the guy another shot? Or maybe try another teacher?
When I got a new guitar, I resolved to give it serious attention, and taking lessons seemed to way to go. Now, I'm unsure.
Maybe the autodidact in me wants to make a point. And I wonder, does he have a valid one?