My school has a number of traditional and classical instructors. You would think as one of the rock-oriented instructors I would be engaged in an extremely contemporary pursuit. But I’m beginning to think the exact opposite is true.
Every day I more or less do exactly what my guitar teacher did with me in a cramped studio in West Chester, Pennsylvania in the late 1970s. Teach my students face to face, one on one, writing with a pencil in a spiral bound staff paper notebook. Back then there was no internet, no YouTube tutorials, no Spotify, no online tablature or web-based apps competing for students’ attention.
The music has changed. Different bands, different songs. But the technology of the average guitar lesson hasn’t necessarily advanced. Some days this feels comfortable to me. Some days it seems daring or risky, like tempting the surrounding culture and its technologies to make me irrelevant. Some days it seems revolutionary, as if I’m brandishing an approach so old that in its dogged counter-cultureness it seems actually new and cutting edge.
Why does it still work?
Last Saturday a bass student brought in Korn’s Freak on a Leash, a circa 1999 classic with drop tuned 5 string bass. I didn’t consult online TAB. I’m sure there were several online transcriptions that could have shown us instantly every note in the song six times over. But my student doesn’t have a 5 string bass. She just wants to learn the darn song. So I bring decades of experience to bear (mostly without thinking) and come up with —by ear in about 15 minutes— a version in the correct key that she *can* play on her bass right now. And I fit it onto half a sheet of paper, versus the voluminously correct but in the end unhelpful and discouragingly complicated TAB online.
That’s not the only old fashioned part. I can give her verbal encouragement face to face, something a YouTube tutorial can’t do. And next week I can check in with her, answer questions, make clarifications that she specifically needs, and I can also make sure she practiced that one song all the way through, rather than flitting off to a dozen other riffs.
Come to think of it, though, Korn is just about classic rock in 2019.