Updated: Dec 10, 2021
OK, so maybe you've decided to take the plunge but you're not sure what to expect? Or you're tempted but still nervous/anxious about actually giving it a go?
In this post, aimed mainly at adult learners, I'll be trying to describe what my teaching process looks like and to give you some idea of what learning with me would actually feel like.
Although, for one very important reason that will be quite hard ....
First and foremost, your learning experience with me will revolve around you, your learning style, previous experience and preferences, so at a fundamental level your learning experience will be unique to you. But there are some basics, particularly in the early stages, which most of my students experience in common.
Lets look at how we'd start your learning journey first of all.
Do you already have a burning desire to learn to sing? Or play the ukulele? Piano? Violin? Or are you unsure as to what you'd like to do, but know that you'd like to try getting some music into your life and to learn something new? No problem at all!
We can have an initial conversation about your interests and preferences and can then use your free taster session to try a few things out and try and narrow down what you'd like to do. I am also happy to offer you a couple of taster sessions on different instruments or areas of music to see which suit you best - at the end of the day it doesn't do either of us any good to tie you down to something that you're not going to enjoy, or want to stick with, so we can work together to figure that out before you need to commit to anything.
Are you just generally nervous about stepping forward to learn something new? Maybe you have a friend who also wants to learn the same thing as you? If so, how about starting out together? I routinely offer joint lessons to friends who wish to learn together and it can make it less intimidating. If you start progressing in different directions or at different paces, you may by then be at a point where learning solo won't seem to scary, so starting out together works really well for a lot of people.
Once we've decided what you will focus on, we'll discuss the practicalities around that: will you need to buy an instrument? When and where will your lessons take place, and how often? What will the recommendations look like for practising between lessons? Will you need to learn to read music (not necessarily - it depends on the instrument!)?
From there we'll formulate a plan, I'll give you access to your initial learning materials, and then we'll start your learning journey!
So what can you expect from that point on?
Well, this varies according to what you want to learn and also according to your own circumstances, but I have certain basic principles that I try to stress to all of my students, particularly adult learners with an already full life to juggle outside of learning! If you've read the previous parts of this blog series you'll already be familiar with some of these, but let's look at them again and in a bit more detail
Muscle memory is everything Learning any instrument, including singing, is in large part a process of building up what's called 'muscle memory'. If you're not familiar with that phrase, it refers to the process of training your muscles to perform certain actions naturally, so that you don't have to consciously think about what they're doing. It's a term used a lot in sports but it applies equally to a lot of other areas. Most of us use muscle memory every day in walking down the street, or turning off our alarm in the morning. In pole vaulting, the action of planting the pole and twisting your body to project yourself up and over the bar will start as a hugely conscious effort of telling your body what to do, but over time will require less and less conscious effort as your muscles get accustomed to that sequence of moves. Equally, when you start learning to play the piano each movement of a finger requires conscious effort to control that finger and place it in the right place at the right time, but with practice you will just need to know which notes you're supposedly to be playing and it will feel as if your fingers automatically do the rest. So I will repeatedly stress the importance of building up that muscle memory and the patience that it takes to allow that to happen. Which brings me on to tip number two ...
Practice little and often, if and when you can! I've had students in the past (OK, who I am kidding, I probably was this student as a kid!) who don't practice from one lesson to the next, other than a mammoth two hour panic practice session the day before the lesson. Now I'm not going to say that this two hour session won't have any benefits, but in truth it's going to be of less use than, say, five minutes a day or every other day. The other thing with that mammoth practice session once a fortnight is that it's far more likely to be frustrating to the learner as you'll be feeling under pressure to practice for the full two hours but will be trying to practice things you haven't look at for weeks! The tip I often give to my students is to try and find ways that you incorporate even two minutes of practice in to your otherwise busy lives. To give you an example, when I was first learning the ukulele I used to sit with it on my knee while watching TV and give it a gentle strum during advert breaks. I wouldn't even necessarily be practising anything in particular but just having the instrument in my hands and getting used to the feel of it and the movement of strumming helped far more than a concentrated hour a week would have done. This is muscle memory development in action!
Don't worry if you haven't had chance to practice, some of it will still be seeping in! We're all busy, including me, and life can sometimes get in the way but please don't let that derail you in your learning! We can hit restart at any point if we need to, or revisit some earlier learning to get you back on track, but you'll be surprised how much you have learnt/retained even if you haven't had chance to practice. The worst thing you can do if you've just been too busy is to see that as a sign of failure and give up altogether: just be honest and let me know how you've been getting on (or not getting on) and we'll figure out a way forward together. Truth time: I quite often don't get chance to practice either, so you'll get no judgement from me!
There's no such thing as failure as long as you keep going Every student I've ever encountered will find some things difficult and other things much easier and those will be different things for different people. In the ukulele group that I teach we're all currently having difficulty mastering the E chord, apart from one student who has taken to it like a duck to water (and we're not at all jealous, no of course not!). But that student is having difficulty with a particular finger picking pattern that the others have mastered. Does that make us a failure for struggling with the E chord, or her a failure for struggling with that finger picking pattern? Of course not! And, as I constantly remind my students, in a year's time we'll laugh (hopefully) that we ever struggled with any of it. It's very easy as you learn to lose sight of how much you have successfully mastered and only see the current difficulty in front of you, and to then get disheartened by it. But that's why you have a teacher - to help you navigate those difficulties and to remind you how far you've come. Having said that ....
I will always be 100% honest with you As I outlined in the previous part of this blog series, there are a rare group of people who will struggle to ever learn a musical instrument. It is my honest belief that, aside from this vanishingly small group, anyone can learn to sing or play an instrument if they commit to it (and that anyone at all can learn to read music or to learn about music history). But if I ever suspect that you may be in that small group of people, I will advise that you get tested to establish if that is the case. Or if I believe that you fundamentally lack the commitment to make real progress, I will tell you. I have no interest in taking payment from someone for a service that will make no discernible difference to them. The flipside is, I ask you to trust me that when I say I can see that you are making progress, despite your own self-doubt: I wouldn't be saying that if I didn't honestly 100% believe it! It's often easier for me as your teacher to stand back and see your progress than it is for you while you're in the midst of trying to learn the latest chord or technique.
Like the sound of all of that? Why not get in touch and we can have a chat about what you'd like to learn.
Next time, we'll look at some of the non-musical benefits of learning an instrument or singing.