One of the saddest times in musical life is when you hear of someone giving up the playing of an instrument.
As a teacher it hits very hard when the person giving up is one of your own pupils.
I am not talking about child musicians, they are no less important but their reasons for learning to play and for giving up are often less heartfelt, no here in this blog I am focussing on the adult student.
As adults we have many pressures upon our time with work, home life, friends, families and yes hobbies, all of this things demand our time and it can be a constant battle to spread ourselves around equally.
Having experienced all the above I can understand why one may wish to relinquish ones guitar and the study time it demands for something less challenging.
But wait a minute is this what we really want to do?
What was it that first drew us to learning the guitar, where has the magic of the music disappeared to, has life really changed so much that I no longer have time for my own emotions to express themselves.
Looking at my musical past and many of the students I have taught over the years I do notice a worrying trend that may be the cause of one giving up the guitar.
The reason most of us start to play the guitar is because we heard a guitar being played and what we heard reached out and touched us emotional to such a depth that we wanted to recreate that feeling ourselves.
As we take up the task of student we become challenged by the intricacies of physically learning to understand music and the playing of a guitar. We advance through pieces searching out their physical challenge, demanding knowledge from our teachers as we try to master the physical dexterities required to maintain that chord shape or to progress fluidly through that complicated rhythm.
As we gain control of a piece of music we may choose to sit an exam and having been rewarded with a beautifully printed certificate we move on to fresh pieces very rarely re visiting the pieces of music just learnt.
Gradually the complexity of music we study causes us to search for have a greater understanding of musical structure and technique which for those less physically gifted can be one challenge too far.
As we start to balance the time spent studying technicalities over the time left for emotional pleasure one cannot be blamed for thinking is this really the best use of what little personal time I have in my life.
So is that it?
Unless one is naturally gifted is the enjoyment of making music rather than just listening to music to be denied simply because there are many demands upon our time.
Must I only live my life through my children rather than living life with my children?
Is this the right time to ask those who are parents, hands up if you feel that parenthood is not dissimilar to being an unpaid taxi driver.
If all the above strikes a chord with your life then perhaps it’s time you looked at you music in a different light.
Before considering giving up becoming a musician let us consider how we practice and is there a more rewarding way.
We started learning to play the guitar because something musical reached out and called to us creating an emotional desire that was impossible to ignore. Do you still feel that emotional pull each day that you practice or has it been replaced by the physical challenges involved in playing the guitar?
WAIT ! I can hear the rallying cry:- Let’s Put the Emotion back into Daily Practice.
But How came the returning echo.
To help make sense of what comes next I m going to use as an example a piece of music called “Birds Flew Over The Spire” by Gary Ryan.
If you have not heard of this piece then I would strongly suggest you add it to your list of things to do, why? Well first it’s a fun piece that is not to difficult to play, has a level of emotional content that is very rewarding and best of all most none guitarists enjoy listening to it and will think you are a great musician.
To change our daily guitar time from technically rewarding to one of emotional enjoyment it is a great help if we knew what the composer was feeling when the piece was written.
To this end select a starter piece that has a good descriptive title like “Birds Flew Over The Spire” something which after reading conjures up a mental picture. Selecting a title like Prelude in E Major by Bach is for later when you have learnt to let the music talk to you, for now we need as much help as we can get.
Let us start practicing.
First we have the title, then, for those that have the music, you will see written above the first bar the words, Floating and serene.
Now rather than picking up your guitar sit back in a comfortable chair, close your eyes and imagine birds flying up and down and around a church spire, try to create images and play them as if you were watching real life, this is not easy so don’t expect too much straight away.
The next step is to learn to play the piece.
We all have our different methods of doing this and as I do not wish to discuss how to physically play the music I am going to leave you to get on with this in your own way. However each time you sit down to learn the music I want you first to close your eyes and imagine the birds flying around the spire.
OK time has passed and we are starting to make headway with the music.
What type of bird did you picture flying around the spire?
Were they Sparrows? You know little birds that flap their wings immediately and very quickly for most of their flight time or were they for example swifts who do flap their wings but also spend time gliding.
Does it make a difference? You bet it does!
Flapping ones wings is exertion where gliding is fun
Now remember this is your story board not mine so you can interpret the music any way you wish and that is the fun part of learning music. But for now this is my interpretation. Here are the first 4 bars.
Look at the music and how the first note lasts for eight counts, then half way into the first count another musical line starts with a quaver G# progressing up through the B, E and D#.
In my story the first note is a bird that launches itself from the roof tops gliding up and aroundthe spire, the second and following nores represent a second bird that is driving energy through its wings to define its flight path.
This second bird uses its wings to fly from note B through to D# then glides through the length of note C# before bringing its wings back into use in bar 3.
Get the idea?
Look at the notes of the music and try to imagine the flight path of the two birds then attempt the same whilst playing your guitar.
The next stage and the real fun part is, CAN YOU FEEL the flight of each bird?
The first bird spreads its wings and leaps into the air gliding and turning feeling the wind rushing under and over its wings.
The second bird LEAPS and immediately generates energy through its wings beating the air with every movement before feeling the effortless joy of gliding.
Now you may say, hang on a minute this is storytelling and you would be correct.
Reading a book is story telling through words, acting is the art of storytelling through visuals and music is the art of storytelling through sound and what all good stories have in common is a sense of feeling and emotion.
Capture the emotion, the feeling of the story and you have your reason for learning to be a musician. Learn to express the emotional story within the music and feel it through your guitar and you have an audience.
“Birds Flew Over The Spire” can be found in the book City Scenes by Gary Ryan published by Camden Music.