“It must be no fun teaching beginners”


As we were concluding a trial session, a new guitar student who is an aspiring song-writer, someone who has identified this instrument as a tool to create, share and communicate with, offered this overview of my experience. We’d spent the lesson looking at basics; positioning, getting some individual control over the fingers by working through some chromatic patterns, using a plectrum, alternating picking where we could and switching between two common triads; G Major and C Major. All relevant exercises and a productive introduction to what playing is all about. I found this assumption intriguing for a myriad of reasons; firstly it’s not often I would consider that the student is concerned about what it’s like for the tutor to be delivering the lesson, as with all things, someone who has developed technique to a decent standard can help those who are just learning to do exactly that. It’s an assumed part of the role, teachers get on and do, and it’s not really a question of pleasure! Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an existential discussion on what defines ‘fun’, but this ‘lack of ability’ was now being equated to that of an arduous task, we believe we have to be good at something for it to be enjoyable. In the beginning initial enthusiasm and the desire for knowledge is over flowing, but this must be maintained and a good tutor will encourage and identify achievements as much as point out where corrections are required. Fundamentals are the most important element of technique and I still use these exercises 25 years in, to warm up and develop my own approach as much as to share with students. I find that this focuses my mind on what I’m about to do with the guitar from thereon in, like a greeting, not quite a handshake, more like a hug.

Should ‘fun’ even be a part of the learning experience, does it serve a purpose in increasing knowledge or ability? Should a tutor be having fun delivering a lesson, well, YES, of course, their passion for the subject will be evident, this energy and enthusiasm will make for a more enjoyable learning environment, somewhere in which it is safe to make an attempt and make mistakes without a subsequent feeling of embarrassment which would result in reduced effort. Underlying all of this the sense of fulfillment that I and all other educators take from a scenario that sees progress being made is monumental. To see realizations happening there in front of me “it’s more of a pulling back than a pushing down of the string”, to witness the deciphering, feeling, learning intuitively and analysis of the process all whilst making the acquaintance of someone who shares your passion for expression, creativity and wants to achieve a ‘goal’, then yes, this is definitively FUN.

Should a student be having fun in a lesson, again yes, certainly, they’ll need to maintain their inspiration if they’re to continue to make progress, meet challenges and endure the searing pain of playing without calloused fingers!

And if you’re looking for maximum fun then there’s always guitar shopping.


2 thoughts on ““It must be no fun teaching beginners”

  1. Just read the first post. I’m intrigued! It’s nice to be reading about pedagogy from this perspective. Really interested in the idea of exploration in the learning and the idea of fun being part of this process from both the perspective of teacher and student. Our education system seems to have forgotten the notion of fun and enjoyment in the PROCESS of learning as opposed to the need for the OUTCOME. The voice of the beginner is often mute. We are taught that being the expert is all important and everyone seems to want to bypass being the beginner as if it is not enough. How many people don’t progress past beginner stage because they have already determined that they are not a natural? That they haven’t got a musical bone in their body? We have forgotten that it takes practice and that practice is fun! Practice is forever and ‘perfect’ is a moment, an idea and increasingly an expectation.

    1. Thanks Gavin, as players and performers we know all too well the idea of showing the work only at its most perfect and complete end point; the show. There’s a certain connotation that the learning stage is to be hidden away and only when mastery has been reached should we be sharing, i feel this is an expectation, whether self imposed or external i am no longer sure. To progress past beginner stage we need to do have fun with the learning taking place, a return to play and be brave enough to play in public as this increases the rate of development in my opinion. You know, just get out there and do it as soon as you have something that you like the sound of, we need to remember to play for ourselves as much as for others. I am keen on looking further into the beginner’s voice, i have shared this post with this student and eagerly await his feedback. Ultimately using the tool to create and express regardless of technical level is where art and magic dwell, sharing is but a snap shot and you phrase it perfectly; practice is forever, each and everyone of us will always want to top what we have just done otherwise it’ll be time to hang her up. Great response.

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