How I Got Into Teaching

I've been teaching since I was 19. Almost 40 years. I initially went to college to study classical music history and theory. I couldn't connect with the lessons, they felt formulaic, and I resisted them. One of the best things that happened there was I got into the big band. I had good chord vocabulary even then, but it vastly improved with those big band charts. It also showed that I could play and I was eventually offered a job teaching there.

My first teaching was one-to-one teaching privately. I was 19 and I initially did it to make money. However, as I got into it I started to develop strategies to get people over problems and I started to enjoy the process in and of itself.

Teaching ensembles on the Music-Place Summer School

I started to make a difference and the word spread and I was asked to do workshops in colleges. Much of what I do is centred on empowerment. Students often keep on with the same strategy. In fact it isn't much of a strategy because the same approach, stepping from one quick fix to another, doesn't yield results. The secret is to fall in love with slowness. We're too eager, and it fashions an anxious, desperate quick fix culture.

Learning needs attention. It needs you to be savvy, smart, patient and industrious. You need dogged determination, but you need to get excited about the fact that you understand slowness. That alone will yield improvements, because your view changes. Your path is laid out much more carefully, and it keeps going forward. People want to plant the seed and see the apple the next day. The trick is to stop looking for growth. Just let it grow, in its own time. You'll have an apple soon enough. I now do retreats with this in mind. That philosophy is at the core. I give strategies to take out the stress and anxiety of learning.

At my guitar-specific retreat in the Lake District

What I Like About Teaching

I like to change perspective. Students come to me with years of disappearing down the same rabbit hole and they often cannot see it for themselves. Showing them, and how they function, in real time, with 'did you see what you did there?' or 'see how you’re thinking?' is very revealing for them. They haven't had this external perspective before and it promotes a much healthier and more honest internal perspective which fosters real growth.

It's important for me, as a teacher, to tap into the individual voice of a student. Often, a student will inadvertently hide their own voice and try to take on the voice of their favourite players. Copying players can be a good thing, especially for time and feel, but one needs to be careful that one's own expression, one's own song, is not erased in the process.

I've developed ways to bring out the voice of a student through encouragement and honest appraisal. Also, through looking at my own weak spots, and talking about them with a student, the process is demystified somewhat, and this encourages the student to appraise themselves with an open attitude and healthy criticism that promotes self-growth.

What Do I Want Students To Take Away With Them From My Courses?

Students need to cultivate an awareness of how they go about solving problems for themselves. They need a better relationship with their self-nurturing process. Short term goals are good but only if they're connected and serve a broader purpose. Too many students have a bag with bits of this and that in and no real way of connecting those bits together to make an organic whole. It's too disparate, too desperate, and it becomes messy and unrewarding.

There's only so much satisfaction in that tired old lick. To see the derivation of that lick, to see how it can morph into another lick, in real time, and then another, and another, gives a completely different perspective and a much more satisfying journey. Because I have been on this journey for years now, those licks have retreated into the shadows, and my own, in the moment voice, sings its own song.

© Mike Walker 2022