There's a particular expression I've heard from music teachers around my metro that saddens me each time I hear it:
"Kids these days don't care about learning instruments."
When I'd first heard it, I may have been inclined to believe it. After all, music is changing, and there's a growing number of popular artists who don't sing or play "old timey" physical instruments at all. Guitar and piano just aren't as prevalent as they were in radio music ten or twenty years ago. The question is whether the decline of live instruments in radio music will deflect kids who would otherwise be interested, and that's not likely to happen.
Guitar Isn't Dying Just Because It's Not On The Radio
The music market is drastically different than it was between 1950 and 2000. The jazz generation was the first to create a musical culture that was centered around the radio. Prior to the popularity of radio, musical preference was largely dependent on the region the listener lived in, but the advent of radio allowed artists backed by labels to have national reach. The label and musicians would profit off of both licenses paid for by radio stations, and record and ticket sales that those stations helped promote by providing publicity to those musicians on a massive scale. Because of this, the music industry was "make it or break it." If an artist could land a record deal with radio syndication, they were all set. When satellite radio and streaming became more popular, the masses had new options for discovering music. I spent most of 2016 and 2017 playing local shows in the Virginia Beach metro (not an area famous for its music scene.) The primary act I played for was an alternative rock/ post hardcore band, not exactly radio pop, but we still had show turnout well into the hundreds pretty regularly. About half the people at the shows were in high school. That's right. The kids. One of my more interesting discoveries was that these teenagers were some of the most engaged people in the scene. You would see some of the same ones turn up regularly, and they were the most likely to be singing along with the local bands.
Radio pop stations pay more exorbitant fees for song licenses than they ever have, so they play less songs. If you had the opportunity to chose specific styles of music you enjoy, where you can have a wider variety of listening, why would you listen to the radio exclusively? Now, most artists don't build the massive followings that they used to, but the middle class of musicians who build their followings as independent artists through streaming are big enough to have an impact on kids. The death of the guitar hero doesn't equate to the death of the guitar.
The Kids Aren't The Problem, The Teachers Are
Like most disciplines, music evolves faster than music educators do, and I mean much faster. Even in the 80s, radio rockers were largely self-taught musicians who might have had a book or two for help. Many of them didn't pick up music theory until after they were big. While this is no means taking a blow at music theory, the reason guitar teachers complain about disinterested students isn't because students don't want to put in the effort to learn their favorite songs. They do. As a matter of fact, "song-first" teaching was School of Rock's claim to fame, and they've become an Entrepreneur 500 franchise within their first 15 years, and are frequently listed as a top education franchise. I make it a goal to have students learn a famous song within their first month. As a result? Low turnover, happy and driven students, and proud parents. Don't make your kids learn key signatures before they're learning songs, and don't make students crank out the entire Faber method of public domain nursery rhymes before they're allowed to learn "Thinking Out Loud." I'm not saying don't make them learn scales. I'm saying show them scales later down the line, and show them how to write and improvise with them. I'm not saying don't include sheet music in your guitar lessons. Just make sure your kids fall in love with music before they're reading it.
Musicians can still make a fantastic living working professionally, and have a lot of fun doing it, even if not living in New York or LA. This is a week-long vlog of my life as a professional teaching, composing, and performing musician living and working in Norfolk and Virginia Beach.
The quality and editing in this video is not the best, as it was mostly recorded on an iPhone and several takes went missing during production.
All music in the video is written and recorded by Find Me Alive.
I find that my beginning students on guitar and ukulele sometimes have trouble getting their chords to sound clearly. Luckily, most beginners tend to share the same common mistakes, so you may be able to walk away from this article with all problems solved. If that's not the case, don't be discouraged! Becoming a good guitarist takes practice, and almost equally as important, time.
Lastly, before we start, the fastest progress comes with a patient and experienced teacher who is easy to work with. I reccomend myself for students in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, or for those willing to schedule Skype lessons!
Trim Your Nails Properly
As innocent and benign as it seems, nails that are too long, notably on the left hand can cause some real problems with your chords! Because you need to stay on the tips of your fingers to get your chords to sound clear, nails must be kept trimmed as short as possible whenever you're going to be playing. Lazy nail hygiene can prevent the proper calluses from forming on your fingertips, making chords not only difficult, but painful to play. Long nails can keep your fingers away from the fretboard that strings must be pinned to while playing, so it's really important to keep them as short as possible. I reccomend that students clip their nails once a week, and always make sure they're short before lessons.
Play With The Very Tips of Your Fingers
Very often, beginning guitar students will flatten out their fingers while they try to play chords. This causes a number of problems, for one, while the fleshy part of your upper finger may initially feel more comfortable than playing on the tip, it takes significantly more for this part of the finger to callus, so you will end up with more discomfort in the long run, and when your chords do not sound clear, you will have to callus your fingertips anyways. I say that because playing on the inside of your finger rather than the tip causes your finger to mute the strings under the one you are trying to play. This makes chords sound "choked" and "muddy" and may cause you to lose a major chord's brightness or a minor chord's sophistication.
Place Your Thumb Properly Along the Back of the Guitar Neck
The aim of putting your finger atop the string at a certain fret is to play the pitch assigned to that place on the neck. Often, beginner guitarists will have their fingers placed for the right pitches, but can't hold the string down hard enough to make it sound clearly. This is because the pinch on the neck that holds down the strings must be dominated by the thumb. Students will try to compensate for the lack of this pinch by pulling their fretting fingers using their arm, rather than by pinching the back of the neck. Luckily, this is an easy fix. Around the back of the guitar, place the pad of your thumb against the center of the neck. You also want it placed towards the middle of your fretting fingers. This will evenly distribute the weight, and make your fingertips much more comfortable and your chord sound clearly. This also helps relieves stress on the joints in your fingertips, giving you a more sustainable way to play guitar in the years to come.
I hope you all enjoyed this article and I hope its helping some improve their playing! You can contact me via email at email@example.com if you have any questions. If you have tips for clearer chords, comment them below! Also, consider lessons in person or via Skype if you're having trouble!
Brandon Giltz is a Bassist, Guitarist, Flutist, Composer, and music teacher operating in Virginia Beach and Norfolk Virginia. He works with students of all ages, plays in a number of classical and contemporary ensembles, and has scored music for trailers and games.