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I've heard it said that learning to play the guitar is fun. Well, I completely disagree. I remember when I was learning to play some 35 years ago, the little fun that was to be had, was soon replaced with frustration. Many times, I could have happily just chucked the guitar out of the window. I believe, that anybody can learn to play the guitar, in this respect learning to play is easy. But not everybody will. What stops them? Why do people give up having started to learn?.
Motivation. I'll say that again, motivation. What motivated me all those years ago was 'to play in a band'. It was the age of punk. All you needed apparently, was three chords (not true) and a safety pin. The band was put together and named before any of us could even play a single note.
The band had two 'guitarists'. Neither of us could play a thing, so I use the term 'guitarist' loosely. We came to it from opposite points of view. He took all the strings off his guitar except the bottom two, cranked up his expensive amp, and sounded what I thought at the time, fantastic in about a week. He had tuned the two strings (what I now know to be a fifth apart), and played with one finger. Me on the other hand, started the long process of learning to play properly. It took me ages. The motivation was to play in a band. I kept the motivation bigger than the problems.
It seems simple doesn't it? Practice for 15 minutes every day. What's stops these well meaning people from doing this? The answer has many versions as wanna be guitarist quitters. What's your excuse? Too tired? Not enough time? We don't have any chocolate ice cream in the fridge? After all, one excuse is as good as another.
I somehow kept my focus. Once I had mastered the bar F, a momentous moment in any guitarists career, (ask any of them), It was a very short time after this, the band recognised me as the best guitarist. Not long after this, the other guitarist in the band quit. He'd given up on his rock star dreams, and I don't think he ever played the guitar again. Well, let's be honest, he never really learned to play anything.
Me on the other hand kept going. Wouldn't it be great to play that classic Chuck Berry intro to Johnny B Goode? 'It's the only lick I'd ever want to learn' I said at the time. Having mastered that, I thought Layla by Eric Clapton had a great riff. I didn't like the song much, but loved that riff. Mastered that, and so it went on. You never stop learning the guitar. In fact, that's true for any instrument, except the kazoo and maybe the triangle. You learn to live with the frustration. So what are the benefits of learning to play a musical instrument? For me, that first punk band was great fun. So have the 20 or so bands since. All have been tremendous fun. It has enabled me to meet and converse with some amazing people. When I moved from Great Wyrley, the village I was brought up and schooled in, to Ilfracombe, playing guitar enabled me to meet people, and make new friends. This list could go on for ever, but ultimately it has given me a career and business. This started, not with guitar playing, but recording other bands on my 4 track recording studio. I still record demo's, jingles and other similar things today, but the technology is far more sophisticated now. I ran Flipside for 7 years. This was a shop in Ilfracombe selling records, CDs, videos and of course, musical instruments. I play in a band called The Backtrackers. A function band playing weddings and parties all over the Uk. My main income is from teaching. All day long, 6 days a week, privately and in schools teaching guitar and ukulele.
Well, what a life playing music has done for me. From punk band to teacher, a fantastic, and in many ways unplanned journey. I didn't know back in the early 80's where I'd be today, but I'm glad to be here. I never made it to rock star status, but then again, I don't think I ever really want that.
So what is your motivation to carry on? What is your excuse to quit? I look forward to your questions and replies.
If you would like to book guitar or ukulele lessons in your home, school or by Skype.
If you would like to book The Backtrackers for your party, wedding, corporate event, or function.
If you would like to book time in my recording studio.
If you turn the clock back to the early part of this Millenuim, the likelihood of the ukulele becoming popular again, seemed about as likely as Gary Glitter making a successful come back tour. Associated wholly with George Formby, it was considered a joke instrument, slightly better than a kazoo, but not as good as the triangle.
Today every town seems to have ukulele club. The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain have become one of the world's biggest attractions. Not mention The Nukes, The Pukes, and the fantastic Gus & Finn. Then there are also ukulele festivals all over the UK. So what happened?
Around 2008, I was a school governor in two schools, Ilfracombe Junior School, and Ilfracombe infant School. I was also teaching guitar in a number of North Devon schools. I noticed about this time, all the schools were receiving around 30 brand new shiny ukuleles, shipped in from China. I asked a few head teachers, classroom teachers and teaching assistants about them. No one seemed to know an awful lot about these mysterious deliveries, but the consensus seemed to be 'they're cheap', and 'they're going to replace the recorder as the school instrument'. My final question was 'who in the school played the ukulele'? The answer was 'no one'. I smelt an opportunity.
Not long after this, I suppose remembering my inquisitive questions about the ukes, Maggie Foster, a fantastic music teacher from Ilfracombe, steered me towards a course run by Devon Music Services called 'Teaching Ukulele for Guitar Players'. Not wishing to miss the opportunity, I signed up.
While on this one day course in Exeter, I learned a lot more about why these ukuleles had appeared in the schools. First of all, the uke is fairly easy to learn. The advantage the uke has over the recorder is that you can not only play single notes, but also chords. So there you have it. The plan from those lesson planners from up in government, was to shake up school music education. Every child will get an opportunity to learn a musical instrument. And it is going to be the ukulele!
I went on the course purely to get me on schools radar, to bring in more school work. Before the course, I'd purchased a £20 uke to get a feel for it. One month later I upgraded my ukulele to a Kala Arch Top jazz uke. I love the uke. I played none stop. My kids played it, my girlfriend played it. We all got hooked. The work came in, I never looked back. My guitar used to always come camping with me, now it's my uke.
I'd been playing the guitar for over 30 years without much recognition. Just over a year of first picking up the ukulele, John Govier invited my to play live on his Saturday morning BBC Radio Devon show. That was an amazing experience!
In September 2011 I started Ilfracombe Ukulele Club. The club meets every Tuesday 7pm at Larkstone Cafe.
Long live the mighty uke.
Ukulele workshops. Available in every UK town, village and city.
Ilfracombe Ukulele Club
Me with my Kala Arch Top