Saturday, October 17, 2009

Teacher, Student

Man, talk about your Yin, and your Yang... It all came home to me over the past two days. Here's how.
Music is a large part of my life, and there are two areas where it really manifests itself for me. One is through my guitar playing, and singing. This has been a mostly solitary pursuit for me, but, with the help of my great guitar teacher Dan Hodan, and a lot of other guitar playing friends, I have made good progress, and am starting to feel more comfortable playing and singing in front of others.
The other area that music really impacts my life is through radio, specifically our own community station here in Dallas, KNON 89.3 FM. I became addicted to this commercial free, alternative station in the early 1990's. Through them, I have gained an appreciation for a world of music, largely unknown to the general public. I dug the music coming out of this station so much that, in October 1998 I just showed up on their doorstep one Friday afternoon, wanting to be a part of it somehow. The "Texas Renegade Radio" program was about to start, and I knew that the host, Mark Mundy, would be walking in the door any minute. I introduced myself to Mark, and he invited me in. So, it's been eleven years, now, that I've been helping Mark on his show, answering phones, pulling and putting up Cd's, and what ever else I can do to make myself useful. He has been a great friend throughout it all, and really makes me feel welcome.
During the show yesterday, Mark decided that, after eleven years in the passenger seat, so to speak, it was high time that I learned how to drive this thing. He told me to go to the racks and pick out about twenty minutes worth of music, and come on back behind the control board. I've often wondered what it was like to actually run the board, and do the on air talking, and I finally found out. It's not really technically difficult, but, the nervousness of talking on air, and keeping everything flowing smoothly was a bit daunting. I've watched Mark do this hundreds of times, but, of course, it was very different when I was doing it myself. He was standing by, teaching me what buttons to push, reminding me of times, volume levels, and so forth. It made me feel comfortable having him close by to bail me out if need be. I probably didn't do too badly on my first outing, and so, am looking forward to the next time. Hopefully there will be a next time. What a blast it was, though! Running the control board of an actual radio station, and wondering how many people were out there listening, and what they must think of your song selections, on air banter, and such. That was me as a student yesterday.
Today I went into teacher mode. I've been learning all I can about music and playing guitar for the past three and a half years. I'm beginning to see, now, how much I can't do, and how much more there is to learn. I'm comfortable with where I am along this path, but, maybe to someone else I'm not much to write home about. There are a few people, however, who think I know a little, maybe enough to teach something.
My great friend and neighbor, Carlos, has been talking to me for a little while about teaching his youngest daughter how to play guitar. She is nine years old. I asked her if it was really something she wanted to do, and she assured me that it was. Today we put the plan into action. We went together to Nadine's Music Manor, and bought her a beginner's full size classical guitar. We had debated about whether to buy her a 3/4, or 1/2 size guitar due to her small stature, and young age. The salesman suggested the full size one, and after she tried it on for size, we went with that.
Back home I went about figuring out the first lesson. Where do you begin teaching someone about something as technical as this, especially when she is so young and knows absolutely nothing about it? I began by pointing out, and naming all the different parts of the guitar: the headstock, tuners, nut, neck, fingerboard, frets, body, sound board, sound hole, the back and sides, and the bridge. Next we went into getting the guitar in tune, and a couple of different ways to do that, and the names of each string. I showed her how to sit and hold the guitar, with the left foot on the footstool, and she seemed comfortable with it. Then it was time to get her fingers on the strings for the first time. It's very important how the hand is held, and how the fingers touch the strings. This is where it got hard. She seemed to loose focus, not looking at me or listening to what I was saying. I was probably expecting way too much from her, as I don't spend too much time around children, and forget how short their attention spans can be. I was trying to teach her a simple chord, D, and she just could not get it. I adjusted my sights downward then, and concentrated on just getting her to play a single note, any note. This was more realistic, but she still struggled with it. The lesson seemed to loose cohesion at this point, but I left her with this assignment for the week: Just practice playing one single note at a time, anywhere on the fingerboard, and getting a clean note without buzzing or muting, and do this for fifteen minutes a day, to build up the callouses on the left hand finger tips. If she actually does practice for fifteen minutes a day, she will get better. Maybe next week we can get back to work on that D chord.
So, now, it's been a couple of interesting days for me. I got to experience two of the things that I most enjoy from another angle. That's always refreshing.

To learn more about KNON Community Radio in Dallas, follow this link:

To view videos of some of the great musicians who have recently played live in the KNON studio, click here:

For more information about Nadine's Music Manor, click here:


  1. Good job on the board yesterday. Stick around sometime and I'll show you everything Mundy does wrong. :)

  2. Thanks, Don. I will take you up on your offer. I always thought you'd be a great teacher.