I often experience a bit of déjà vu when teaching beginning guitar students, because they usually share similar problems. The lessons can blur as I teach one student after another, but there are some lessons that stand out.
Today, I had a delightful lesson with an 8 year old student named Ella. I teach at her home, usually with her mom in the background observing the lesson and her sister, Lane, doing homework. Ella is a fun student. She loves playing the guitar, and she has a lot of personality. She is hilarious, actually. We're at a point in her lesson books where Ella is stuck. We can't go forward in the books, but I don't want to keep reassigning the same pages, because she will get frustrated.
Rather than doggedly trudge through the books, I've veered away a bit. We're still working in her lesson books to some extent, but I've started writing material for Ella to reinforce what she has already learned. For example, last week, I surprised Ella by writing a song for her called Elegy for Ella.
Today's lesson was so fun! We started off by playing a song in one of her lesson books. She had problems in a couple spots. Then I noticed that one of the difficult spots had the same notes that you often hear cheerleaders shouting at games. "Let's go warriors, let's go!" After I pointed this out to her, she played those two measures more smoothly. Then Ella noticed that the last two measures were the same notes as We Will Rock You. Perfect! We changed a dry lesson song into an interesting song that had two school cheers. I reassigned the song, but wrote in the words to the two school cheers above the usic, and the song suddenly has new life and meaning to Ella.
Ella did a fine job on Elegy for Ella. We took turns playing the melody and chords for each other. It's a pretty long song for her (a whopping 16 measures!), so we're continuing to work on it. Since it's "her" song, Ella doesn't seem to mind working on it some more.
Last week, I wrote out a "mystery song" for Ella. She was supposed to learn it and figure out what it was. She solved the mystery. (It was Jingle Bells.) She asked for a Halloween song. There aren't a whole lot of Halloween carols, so I wracked my brains and finally came up with Have You Seen the Ghost of John. I wrote out the first four measures of that, and now Ella has a Halloween song to practice.
It was wonderful to see the spark come back in Ella's eyes as we modified her lesson material to suit her needs, and I think we're sparking some creativity, too. I sent a PDF of music manuscript paper to her mom to print out, suggesting that Ella might try writing a song. Instead of notes, Ella came up with lyrics. Next week, I'll help her write some notes and chords to go with her lyrics. This will be a fun long-term project.
As if the lesson wasn't fun enough, I had a delightful time with the family afterwards. Her older sister came in and showed me an instrument that she built for a class project. It was two boards held together at a 90 degree angle. Seven strings of various lengths were attached, and you could pluck them to produce different notes.
And as if THAT wasn't fun enough, while Ella was having her lesson, Lane was busy in the kitchen making a treat for everyone. She had squeezed out some clementines, added a little water, and made little glasses of clementine juice for everyone. She had set out paper plates and written our names on the plates so we'd know which one was ours. Added to each plate was a little piece of clementine with a toothpick stuck in it. It was so cute!
And I get paid for this!
- Tom Godfrey
- Atlanta, GA, United States
- When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.