There can be some life changing lesson or situation in the life of every person, and one might think, ”oh… that makes sense!”.
One such moment happened in my life too, in 1990.
I was 17 and I was taking guitar lessons from this great teacher in my home town. (By the way, I was his first serious student).
By ‘great teacher’ I mean, he changed my life like no one ever did till that point of time. It has nothing to do with guitar playing. In terms of guitar playing, yes he did0 show me some scales and normal techniques and he transcribed many songs for me… but I learnt about life from him. He taught me each and everything in life.
The real thing which helped me was, he was very well read and he had answers for everything in this world and about life. As a creative rebel teenager, I had so many questions and no one was there really to answer all of that. Almost everyone thought I am crazy.
So he became my google search those days. I could talk to him about my friends, class teachers, girls, which course I must choose for higher studies, how should I practice, how to improve my social skills…..everything.
He always told me I should do Hotel Management course or anything creative. He never believed I could be in a 9 to 5 regular office job or work under someone.
Okay, back to my greatest guitar lesson…
One day my guitar teacher asked me to sing simple songs from Beatles albums and play guitar. I immediately replied, I can’t sing like John Lennon or Paul McCartney.
For that, he told me, “Who is asking you to sing like them? Be yourself and sing the song in a key which suits your vocal range and standard of guitar playing”.
I was blown away by those words! That is the day when I realized it is ok to be yourself! I always thought I have to match note by note and sing exactly like others!
That ‘Be yourself’ stays with me…even now.
I love songs with touching lyrics. I always go with the lyrics and listen to the story the artist is trying to tell. Be it Blues, Rock, Heavy metal, Pop, Jazz, Rap, Bollywood songs, Tamil film songs, Malayalam film songs…..whatever.
But I was, till that day, trying to learn each and every solo; note by note of rock songs (with lyrics I hated) and guitar instrumental albums. I wasted years learning those songs to impress others and to satisfy my ego. I don’t see any other reason today for wasting that time. I should have learned theory and worked on my creativity than just pretend to be a fake copy rock star!
So my advice to students would be….. Know your personality and taste. Just don’t go with what others think is cool. If you like pop and dance songs, learn to play funk guitar rhythm parts. Not Metallica solos and rhythm.
There is nothing wrong in it. Just don’t go with what is in fashion and cool. Go with what you love. It took me a lot of time to understand that theory.
Again, get a good teacher. A teacher who can inspire you. A teacher who can criticize you, a teacher who is fearless and someone who can point out your weakness.
A good teacher need not be the most popular among the students and parents. You may not see him in the Forbes list of millionaires. You may not see him in the list of best selling artist or authors. But he is there, somewhere helping many to achieve their dreams and goals in life.
Also don’t take anyone as a teacher just because he could inspire someone else. Your needs might be different than many others.
I also realized that some of my teachers knew me better than my parents. I have no shame in admitting that.
Teaching is a noble profession. Respect your teachers. It is a selfless and many times, a thankless job.
Another thing I want to tell is to parents. Many times, you are the one who is responsible for making a teacher a good or bad. A responsible teacher, or an irresponsible teacher.
A responsible teacher is the one who take efforts to make a student learn everything and become good at it. By that I meant, it takes the time to learn something really well; which can be beneficial in the long run. So be patient. A teacher knows which student can do it fast and which student takes the time to learn a new concept. So leave that to your teacher. Let him/ her decide what is good for your child.
I was really lucky in that sense because my parents never interfered in my studies or hobbies or what I wanted to become in life.
An irresponsible teacher is the one who teach only what is required to pass the exam. He or she will be popular also among the students and parents.
It is so easy. Just learn many past years question papers and anyone can do that. The student might score good marks but how much he understands the concept and theory behind each thing are questionable. In the long run, it will not do any good.
Nowadays in India, we put more stress on %’s and high score. Students are not thinking and figuring out the answers themselves.
We don’t give any importance to creativity and imagination. Why? Because it is hard work and really time-consuming. We are in a hurry. Hurry to gain degrees. We are scared to lose years. And for what? To work for someone who is creative and following their dreams? We are happy to say that our kids are “working” abroad for someone else! Or working on some platform, someone else had created.
I remember 11 years ago I had taken my mother in law to a dentist in Mumbai. My elder daughter who was 3 at that time was also with me that day. The lady dentist asked me whether my daughter is going to a preschool and I told no. You should see the look on the dentists face! She was like, “How come?” and she explained that she also got a kid and with the rat race going on, everyone wanted to send their kids to school as soon as possible. She actually used the word “Rat Race”.
Anyway, I did not send my daughter to play school or preschool or whatever they call. Today she is ninth standard and is the assistant class leader. Me or my wife never interferes in her studies also. I trust her teachers. So far they have done a good job. So why worry? They were able to inspire her to work hard.
Being a teacher myself today, I also know that there is only so much a teacher can do. It is the responsibility of students to learn it thoroughly and master it rather than learning by heart just to clear the exam.
I also face pressure from parents when it comes to music grade exams. Some parents feel their child is ready to write music grade exams. Some parents want their kids to write higher grades than the level of kids playing ability. They just want to get a certificate showing their kid have done so and so grade.
No. I don’t want to be an irresponsible teacher who teaches things just to pass an exam. No way. I resigned my job as a music teacher recently from a school because I felt I am also becoming an irresponsible teacher just to make money by showing how many of my students appeared for grade exams.
I want to make my students better musicians, teach them to use their imagination and create something of their own; Simple as that.
That is what my teachers have taught me. But again, that India was different. I understand. That generation was different. I understand. At the same time, I also understand that outstanding talent and musicianship is technology proof. So why hurry, why worry?
Well, after playing professionally for years, one teacher told me not to write 4th grade Trinity college exam in plectrum guitar. I am not ready, he felt. He wanted me to take lower grades than that. I felt insulted. Now I realize he was right. At that point of time, my sight reading of standard music notation was poor. Understanding of music theory was poor. But I was playing guitar well. Well, means I was just copying songs. Anyone can do that. That is what he meant.
If he did not tell me that and if he had just encouraged me to write grade exams, I would not have become a better teacher or a musician.
I respect him a lot. He had the guts to tell me and show me the reality. It is because of him I am what I am today. I remember the things he told me that day. He told “ I can teach you 3 pieces and scales required for the exam. You may pass also if you sit there and just practice those for 2-3 months. But what is the use? What is so great about it? That is not going to make you a better musician. Get your basics and foundation right”.
I thank my teachers all the time. We have had arguments; we have got angry with each other etc. But somewhere deep down I know, they were always right! They have seen the world, students and experienced life more than I did. Because of them, I make a living out of music. Thank you, Sir!