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!

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