Gary…

Gary from Hoylake, who today passed his test. Gary already had a number of years driving under his belt, so my job was to just knock off a few rough edges and stop the sort of bad habits that lead to faults on your test. Easy as pie! A handful of lessons and a straightforward first time pass. Congratulations to him. It will make his life much easier now that he’s not relying on other people to get to work.

Music to drive to. Driving to muse to…

I am both a teacher and a learner.

This is useful because identifying and understanding what is happening when I’m learning makes me a better teacher. It’s also useful because identifying and understanding what is happening when I’m teaching makes me a better learner.

The act of teaching is to get an idea, method, concept, fact, way of thinking/looking at things, or whatever, from my head into someone elses. Copy and paste, if imperfectly.

The act of learning is the process of going from knowing nothing about something (unconsciously incompetent) to being able to fully comprehend or do the thing being learned, really without having to think too hard about it. (unconsciously competent)

I teach people how to drive. I’m trying to learn a lot of new music, some of which I find challenging.

If I wanted to perform a song in public, I’d want to make sure I could play it something close to fluently first. Yet as a driving instructor, I’m asking people to drive in public long before that point. No wonder they panic!

Anyway, I’ve been trying to learn how to play three new songs. Bear in mind that I can already play guitar, reasonably well, so it’s a bit like someone who decides to learn how to drive that is already a fully qualified motorcyclist. Or perhaps even like someone that’s been driving a Vauxhall for the last 10 years, who now needs to adjust to driving a Honda. A lot of it’s already there. It’s a matter of getting to grips with the specifics. I don’t have to relearn the guitar again. I don’t have to start from scratch.

To drive, you need your hands and feet to be in the right places. You can’t change gear with your hand on the steering wheel. You can’t normally move off with your foot on the brake. When I’m driving, my hands and feet just go to the right places before they need to be used. As I approach a left hand bend, my left hand moves to the top of the wheel. If I might need to slow down or stop, my right foot moves into position over the brake pedal.

To play a chord, the fingers of my left hand need to be in the right place on the fretboard just a moment before I pluck or strum the strings with my right hand, which also needs to be in the right place. Where my feet are doesn’t really matter too much, although if I was doing music in any serious way, I’d need to learn new skills like, pressing the correct pedal on the correct bank of footpedals at exactly the right moment.

Then the strings have to be played in the right way, in the right order, at the right tempo and played cleanly, without burring other strings, unless you’re trying to burr strings on purpose, which you can do without smashing into a lamp post. The controls of the car too have to be used in the right way, with finesse and nuance. Getting things wrong can have horrible consequences. I suspect anyone used to using a wah-wah pedal properly, or for that matter, a sewing machine, would find it easy to master clutch control.

The three songs I’ve been trying to learn are:

I start off by getting help from the internet. Finding lyrics and chords is straightforward. I try to play these through, and I’ll often manage it, although I could not possibly do so without the help of the words and chords on the screen. Difficult or unaccustomed chords or chord changes cause a halt in play while I organise my fingers. Lyrics and song structures may be played quite well right from the beginning if it’s a song I know well, or if the structure is obvious and unsophisticated.

With practice I progress. The strange new chord becomes easier to play. That horrible complicated twiddly bit that I messed up 100 times now only gets messed up one time in three. I start to be able to sing at least bits of the lyrics without having them in front of me.

The point I’m aiming for is when I can get it completely right, every time, or something close. The errors along the way are both inevitable and necessary. Just a part of the process of learning.

My pupils don’t like error. It’s scary and embarrassing. I see error as something useful – something that helps you develop a fuller understanding, a learning opportunity.

So where am I up to with these three songs? Well quite far along.  Not going to share any of it here though!

Seamus

A first time pass, with just three minor faults. I sat in on this one, and Seamus had milk floats, bicycles and horses to deal with. No matter. He was well up to the mark.

We were able to give Seamus a lot of help and advice about the theory test. He’s dyslexic, and we were able to help make sure he got the extra help that is available. In his case, listening to the questions and answers through headphones was what made the difference. If you have any issues such that may affect your ability to pass the theory test, perhaps we can help you.

Kayleigh

Busy times for Kayleigh! She got a new job, but that was contingent upon her passing her driving test.

No pressure then… It’s no surprise that she was nervous.

Kayleigh lives in Wallasey, but she did her test at Upton, because the waiting lists are generally a little bit shorter there. Her examiner was a nice gentle, softly spoken chap, and that helped a lot. A pass. A good pass with just a handful of minor faults.

So this one was life changing, as they often are. I wish her every success in her new job, and on the road.

Two out of two this week :)

Well done to Jo, from Wallasey.

Jo drove an assured and confident drive along roads she wasn’t all that familiar with this morning to get a comfortable pass. I sat in on this one, and I felt things were going well. I couldn’t identify anything she did that would have merited a serious fault. So it proved.

Sam conquers the nerves!

Congratulations to Sam from Wallasey, who couldn’t believe it when the examiner told her she’d passed!

Sam got off to a bit of a shaky start, running over the kerb as she turned left out of the test centre, and went around the rest of her test convinced that she’d already failed. The examiiner though, took account of the fact that she was nervous, that it had happened right at the start, and that the rest of her driving was of a high standard. In a strange way, that early mishap allowed her to relax and get on with doing what she clearly knew how to do.

Never give up!

Thinking of doing it in your own car?

I don’t have a picture of Archie clutching his test pass certificate. I wasn’t there.

I taught him to drive, but after getting the basics, Archie started supplementing his lessons with me with private practice in his parents’ car. In the end, he was driving that car a lot more than he was driving mine.

I got a text from him, asking if I was available for a particular date, and I had to say no, because it conflicted with another driving test. Thing is though, Archie was well up to standard. He didn’t need me any more. I texted back advising him to book the test, and to do it in his own car. This he did, and in due course, I got another text from him letting me know he’d passed, with only two driving faults.

So here’s what you need if you plan to do your test in your own car:

  • L Plates! Stick on or full magnetic are best, as the type with narrow magnetic strips on the side are prone to being blown off, and there have been times when tests have had to be abandoned. Test centres usually have sets of L plates, so if you present yourself for a test, and you’ve forgotten to bring them, the examiner may be able to supply some for you. This is not something you should rely on though.
  • An interior mirror on the passenger side. These can be picked up, usually for about £5-6 from places like Halfords. Again, the examiner will often be able to bring a mirror if you turn up without one, but this is really a last resort. Arrive prepared. You’ll be more confident.
  • Valid insurance. You must be insured to drive your car on a driving test. Check the small print in your policy, and if it excludes use for a test, you will need to get an inclusion added to your policy.
  • A roadworthy vehicle. Make sure your tyres aren’t bald, that there is fluid in your screenwash bottle, that all your lights, seatbelts, etc all function properly, and that your car is taxed and MOT’d. The examiner will make visual checks at the beginning of the test, before you start your drive, and if your vehicle isn’t up to scratch, your test will not go ahead, and you will lose your test fee. The car you use mst also be fitted with head restraints, and must be able to accommodate at least two passengers in the rear seats.
  • Until you’ve passed, you are not allowed to drive unaccompanied. You must have someone with you when you drive to the test centre. That person must be at least 21 years old, and must have held a full UK driving license for at least three years.

You should aim to arrive at the test centre about 8-10 minutes before the test is due to start. Much earlier, and you will be getting in the way of people coming back from previous tests. Much later, and you will be pushing against the clock, and going into your test feeling unprepared and flustered.

Paying with something other than money…

This website was built and is hosted by the husband of one of my ex-pupils. He gave me his time, and I gave his wife lessons to something like an equivalent value. It was a straightforward arrangement that didn’t need the intermediary of money.

So if you, dear wannabe driver, have something that I might want or need, perhaps a similar arrangement can be made.

Congratulations to Ian!

The The happy chap above is Ian Richardson. He passed his test in rush hour traffic in Wallasey this morning.

“A capable and confident drive” is how the examiner put it as he handed Ian his pass certificate.

Ian will be straight in at the deep end, as he is being driven to Watford to pick up a car, before driving himself home. That time we spent on the M53 might just come in handy!