Gambetta & Crary: On the Road, UK (9 May, 2002)

Back to business and it’s over to Leicester for a concert/workshop for the Taylor Guitar folks and Sheehan Musical Services. Part of the Gambetta/Crary team assignment is to put on these guitar company backed workshop events where we play, meet a lot of other guitar players and try to get out some information on a very important topic: How to teach yourself how to play a musical instrument. Oh, and we talk up the guitars of our sponsors. But, funny thing, we’ve found that if we take care of the former, the latter comes right along of its own accord.

Andres Segovia once said in an interview that all the great players are self-taught, a comment that may have been disconcerting to a music journalist who expected a different answer, like “I sat at the feet of the Master” or “I did a PhD in guitar at Barcelona.” Being “self-taught” in some circles comes across like something rustic or low class or maybe not-very-good. But when the ultimate guitar master dignified being self-instructed, it threw a different light on the matter. And the only thing wrong with Segovia’s statement is that everybody is self-taught, the great and the not-so, occupying the same boat on that one. So a workshop or a lesson book or private lessons or a conservatory degree should all attempt the same thing: they should all assist a person to teach herself or himself to play music.

So at Leicester Beppe and I not only played, but also tried to give folks a few guitar lessons that we presume to think make a good life strategy as well. We’ve found that most of the ways people try to learn things are fraught with boredom, discouragement, and getting stuck. So they respond with everything from giving up, to years of standing still, to bootstrapping themselves up to a new level by some heroic leap forward. Bad news, none of these work; good news, what does jolly well work is, you arm yourself with a method for learning, then you apply the method in small, steady doses, giving yourself a verrrry tiny littttle success every day, one so small that it only takes you about a half hour to achieve it. This doesn’t create great leaps forward. But it does create in the player a lust to do it again, tomorrow. There’s a big body of research on this from social psychology, industrial psych, music education, counseling, etc., etc. These fields don’t agree on much, but they are unanimous on this: failure stymies, success, even a little success, feels great and motivates.

So when someone asks a question about cross-picking, Beppe has an answer that doesn’t exactly tell you what to do, here, now. Instead, he gives you a way to approach the thing, a method that will keep you busy for about two years, if you take on a little of it each practice session. There’s good/bad news in this as well. On the one hand, people actually learn something from this and get unstuck and think you’re a hero for helping them. On the other hand, such students actually progress to where they don’t need to buy Gambetta’s books and tapes any more, because they get in the habit of teaching themselves.

Another spinoff of this process is that if you really help people teach themselves, some of them come back as competitors who can kick your butt in the marketplace, so the teacher has to try to keep ahead of the pack of young guitarists who have caught the fever of steady progress. They have time, ambition, and your own information to compete with you. Keeps veterans like us sharp. And Worried.

Gotta’ say a word about the company that sponsors us in these workshop events. In folk music, corporations are, well, not exactly in the club. Somehow you can’t even visualize taking ten quid out of your pocket to purchase a CD with a corporate folksong on it. Gadzooks, what a thought. But in our case we’re collaborators with a company that has thrown in its lot with the very traditional music that wouldn’t ever do a song about it. And the guys at Taylor Guitars recognize that if you get people fired up about teaching themselves how to play, they turn into customers at a very high rate, especially if they find out that the company sponsors the straight shoot on how to teach yourself the guitar, also makes first rate instruments. These enlightened corporate characters even believe that it’s their ethical job to contribute to a world where music makes people more peaceable and humane. It’s worth meditating on this incongruity that writes a few new lines in the history of traditional music and business.

Sometime, I will meditate on that topic. But not now; right now I’m got to figure out how to get this to the BBC from a beautifully remote little town in Wales, where the nearest internet access is a valley away. Let’s see, I could take a taxi, but there isn’t one. And anyway, I can’t pronounce the name of the valley so the driver would understand it. On a Gambetta & Crary tour, this definitely sounds like a plan.