The Thursday Thesis – 25/4/2019
“Teachers always get the best lessons”, or so the saying goes. I can only agree, because over the last 20-plus years teaching guitar I’ve learned so much that my notebooks have spilled over and my shelves groan under their weight.
Most of all I’ve learned that Playfulness is where we learn. When we are enjoying our lessons, when the teacher is at play with the subject and the student encouraged to be mischievous, when errors are understood to be opportunities and springboards to mastery – that’s when we learn best.
I’ve spent countless days in seminars, conferences, classrooms and lecture halls since I left school, and the prospect of spending long hours with a great teacher is exciting to me – this probably makes me an oddball, but that’s no surprise, is it?
The truth is that great teachers dance their subject, they tug and tease it into shapes that we can recognise and make us fall in love with learning; they show us the joy of thought and understanding. The twelve-hour day of intensive learning ends too soon, and we are left hungry for more.
I don’t always achieve that level in my teaching, but it’s what I aim for; and some of my best ideas have come from being Playful – usually from a joke or a daft thought that pops into my tiny pea-sized brain midway through struggling to guide an idea past a student’s defences and land it into their receptive cerebral drop-zone.
When I suggest that a student might enjoy cruising along the guitar neck instead of grinding the strings into the frets, they lighten up. When they tell me they are having trouble “jumping between chords” I’ll suggest that they make little bunny-hops instead, or skip like a squirrel when they reverse the movement.
Playful language and silliness go a very long way to disarming fear of failure and embarrassment, all the time making new ideas and routines “sticky” and easy to remember. There’s a reason The Bible (Matthew 18:3) says “...be as little children...” you know.
Stickiness wasn’t common back at my school, though there was one lesson that stayed with me. Our fearsome headmaster – Mr MacFarlane, a dour Scot – read Burns’ “Tam O’Shanter” to the class. Now, Tam O’Shanter is quite a long poem to the average spotty teenager, but – once it was steeped in his rich highland brogue – it was over in less than a heartbeat.
That’s stickiness, that’s great teaching.
I may not always get there, and many times I’ll miss the mark, but the journey is beautiful and joyous, riotous and boisterous – and I get to share it with wonderful, interesting people.
So I have an Awesome Special Mission for you: stay Playful - fool around with stuff, make jokes, sing silly songs, paint pictures in your mind and dance with your life and your work.
Have an outrageous day!
© Neil Cowmeadow 2019
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