“Hey, can you teach me to play the guitar?” The teenager had been watching the twenty-something year-old man playing an intricately-fingered song on his guitar as both of them sat in my music store a week or so ago. The young man looked at the boy in front of him as if he were an alien, just stepped out of a transporter field from an unknown planet. At least, that’s what I figured the strange look meant. “Nah…I don’t teach at all,” he replied; just a little too quickly, I thought. As I watched (and listened), I realized that the look was something else. Now, where had I seen that look before? Oh yes! It was what we like to call the “deer-in-the-headlights” stare. Fear? This guy knows his instrument like the back of his own hand! He’s been playing since he was just a young boy. What does he have to be afraid of?
A few days later, the young man was back. Confidently, he took down a guitar and started playing a blues riff on a beautiful acoustic guitar; first playing it repetitively, until I started to have a thought that I could get tired of this droning chord/arpeggio pattern. Right about then he added in a little melody line, keeping the bass and mid-range notes of the riff going as the new notes worked their way around the (by now) familiar minor rhythmic pattern. Around, up, and down, the melody wove itself into the music, until you couldn’t tell the old from the new. I love having talented musicians play music in the store, even though I rarely take part myself (no talent, you see). Just then, I noticed another young man sitting on an amplifier back in the corner. Not nearly as accomplished a guitarist, he was listening with obvious respect for the talent of the first player. He did have a guitar in his hand, and his fingers were moving on the frets and over the strings near the tone-hole, but you could only hear the first man playing. I watched to see what would happen. I was pretty sure of the pattern of events to come, but waited for them to play out on their own.
Sure enough, within minutes, the hesitant, almost inaudible chords of the second guitar started to grow in volume. The young man watched the hands of the talented player as the music continued to fill the air and, as he grew a little more confident, began to “second” the lead of the other player. It wasn’t great, but the chord changes grew a little less clumsy after a few moments and the song,which at first had seemed perfect, was augmented and became, if possible, even more satisfying. I heard, as the novice player stumbled a time or two over a change, the voice of the expert coaching him on the upcoming chords. The next time, the change went more smoothly. Moving away to take care of a customer at the cash register, I still kept my ear attuned to the harmonies issuing from the guitar section. Within the next few moments, a distinct change came over the music I was hearing. Both the lead and the second, or rhythm, voices had altered quite drastically in character. The lead part was coming from a different guitar and was now a bit choppy; it faltered once in awhile, while the rhythm part was fuller and more confident. The two players had changed roles in the musical conversation, with the younger player being a bit less fluent in the language being spoken. Patiently, the other man called out a note or fret number once in awhile, even stopping a time or two to show the necessary lick to the young learner.
I wasn’t anxious for the experience to end, but eventually it did, with one of the men having an appointment to get to. I marveled at the episode, even though it’s not an uncommon occurrence at the store. And, because I don’t want to spoil the opportunity for it to happen again with other inexperienced players, I didn’t point out the obvious to the accomplished young musician. He is a teacher! He says that he can’t teach and he believes that to be so, but the evidence speaks against his conclusion. All that’s necessary for teaching (and learning) to occur is for a skilled individual to be concerned that another, less skilled individual not be left to stumble around in the dark. After many years of doing similar extemporaneous education myself, I am finally admitting that I teach on a regular basis. I too, have told many people that I cannot teach, but experience has led me to understand that this is a fallacy. On any given day, as a non-teacher, I teach multiple students about their instruments, about technical details of playing, and even once in while…I can teach a few principals of music theory, although it’s more a case of the blind leading the blind when that happens.
You say you don’t teach? Wrong! All around me, I see teachers. Kids teaching other kids how to do tricks on skateboards, athletes teaching other athletes the finer points of their specialty, hunters sharing tips on woodcraft and the art of field-dressing with their buddies. Even the Lovely Lady learns (and teaches) new forms and techniques of various handcrafts from her co-workers as they visit together during their breaks. The list goes on without end, because that’s how we learn. Person to person, parent to child, expert to amateur, the gift of ideas and technical ability continues to be given again and again. While technology has an amazing, ever-expanding ability to store and share data, it won’t ever eliminate the need for the exchange of ideas and the demonstration of both time-honored and new techniques from one person to another. Some will argue with me about that, but I contend that machines simply don’t have the capacity to understand the ability of the learner or to change teaching methods to fit the situation. Even if you are sure that I am wrong, I will have to be be shown the evidence in person to believe it. And someone showing it to me will prove the point of my argument.
Throughout history, we have passed information and instruction from one generation to another. There is not one of us who doesn’t teach in one form or another. Some are incredibly gifted at it; some have developed their talent into a vocation by pursuing educational degrees. But, I maintain that the carpenter, the auto mechanic, the musician, the seamstress…all have the same responsibility to teach, to insure that their knowledge doesn’t die with them. It’s also how we pass on our belief system to the next generation, insuring that they understand why we believe what we do, what drives us to behave as we do, and how it changes us and gives us hope. Many have abandoned teaching about their faith because “we have professionals to do that”. Our children and their children are the losers. The instruction to God’s people thousands of years ago still applies today in myriad ways: “Talk with your children about My words when you sit at home, when you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up.”
Nothing has changed. Teach! It’s what we do. Oh, yes…it can’t hurt to learn a little more along the way, too.
“Be an opener of doors for such as come after you.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson~American poet and essayist~1803-1882)
“Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty.”
(Albert Einstein~American Physicist~1879-1955)