In short, I’m suddenly busy. And in terms of this writing project, finding time requires more of an effort. I notice that I am in danger of losing my train of thought.
During the first years I was teaching at the studio in Issaquah I was, in a certain sense, suddenly re-immersed in OST. But I was not seriously engaged with it. I just did the minimum necessary to stay one lesson ahead of my students. For the legion of kids working through Mel Bay or Hal Leonard books, this amounted to exactly nothing. No matter how wretched my reading was (is), it was still better than theirs. The rest was personality, cheer-leading, and occasional teacherly sternness with regard to practice habits. Older kids tend to want to learn their favorite hits. 99% of that could be dealt with in real-time, in the lesson; plug in the mp3 player or slide in the cd, and figure it out*. Occasionally I would have to do a little research outside of the lesson, but it was minimal.
Adult students also wanted to learn songs, and the process was more or less the same. For a large number of adults, lessons seem to be a kind of necessary weekly opportunity to just get together with someone and play for 30 minutes or an hour. It’s a recognition, albeit often a subconscious one, that the way you learn to play music is to play music, and that means playing with others. Most of the adults I work with have jobs and families and grown-up obligations, and so going out to find a gang of pals to get together to jam just gets more and more difficult. I am the next best thing.
So, I do a lot of jamming with adults in guitar lessons, all the time keeping an eye out for opportunities to bring what we are doing into something that we can observe, quantify, and learn; could be technical/mechanical, could be music theory, could be fretboard knowledge, could be ear training. Any time I can stop, and lead into some useful information with “take a look at what you just did there…”, that becomes an opening, and often sufficient incentive for them to take something home and practice it. And if the usefulness of something as non-sexy as learning and practicing scales can be demonstrated, bonus!
One thing you learn from “jamming” is your limitations. The licks and tricks that my hands somehow remembered from years back were more than sufficient to impress a student, but for me as a player and a listener the experience of hearing myself play exactly what I always play in a given situation was becoming disheartening. So for the first time since early 1986 (I remember the recording sessions very clearly, because I knew that I was discharging my final OST obligation, and that afterward I would play only in the Guitar Craft tuning) I sat down and actually practiced in the old standard tuning.
*For the record, I really enjoy this process. Well, perhaps “enjoy” is not the right word. “Value” might be more accurate. It keeps me on my toes; challenges me. Guitar lessons are always on the verge of becoming rote and mechanical, and anything that puts me a little off balance serves to keep the experience creative and real. At first I felt uncomfortable that I looked like a bit of an uncool old fart for not only not knowing the songs kids wanted to learn, but seriously having never even heard of the bands they were asking about. But pretty quickly I figured out that my ability to listen to something and reproduce it amounts to a kind of showmanship. After a while, an argument can be made with the student that the real skill is not in playing the song, it is the ability to figure it out for themselves that they really need to learn.
When I first moved to NYC, I signed up with a number of Temp agencies, and I enjoyed temping, on a certain level, for similar reasons. No two days quite alike. Every assignment involved going in and very quickly determining what is what, who is who, and doing it well enough that the next time they need someone they ask for you by name.