Guitar Pedagogy and Preparation for Tertiary Training in NSW: An Exploratory Mixed Methods Study

By Russell, David; Evans, Paul | Australian Journal of Music Education, January 2015 | Go to article overview

Guitar Pedagogy and Preparation for Tertiary Training in NSW: An Exploratory Mixed Methods Study


Russell, David, Evans, Paul, Australian Journal of Music Education


There is an old joke amongst musicians that goes something like this. "How do you get a guitarist to turn his volume down?" The answer: "Put music in front of him. As with all jokes, there is some truth to it. Why is it that guitarists in particular (but perhaps also contemporary musicians in general) are notorious for their poor musicianship? Why do musical directors tear their hair out trying to find a guitarist who can accurately read a musical score? Why, in other words, do music educators seem to be producing so many guitarists and so few musicians?

The guitar is an instrument with a vast and multifaceted heritage. It has many different stylistic variations and is adaptable to many different musical genres and situations. To excel as a professional guitarist, a player needs to be able to demonstrate a wide range of skills.

The contemporary guitar also demonstrates an unusually wide range of applications. It is used in a wide variety of musical traditions (classical, jazz, contemporary popular music) as a solo or accompanying instrument. In contemporary popular music, professional guitarists are called upon to play in a variety of situations, such as studio session recording, cover bands, and musicals, and are accordingly required to have a similar breadth of skills. While all professional musicians require proficiency in areas such as music theory, reading, musicianship, aural skills and general performance skills, some of the unique demands of professional guitarists include:

* Proficiency across multiple forms of the instrument (electric, acoustic, 12-string, classical and altered tunings) and associated devices such as effects boards and amplifiers.

* The ability not only to sight-read, but to do so quickly across a range of potential voicings and using a large pool of sonic possibilities (tone, effects etc.)

* Being skilled in a vast range of musical styles to which the instrument is suited (from rock to jazz, swing to soul).

Our concern for this issue arose from the first author's experience of teaching over 100 students from a broad range of socio-economic backgrounds and learning goals. In particular, he has observed deficiencies in the quality of students entering tertiary programs of guitar training (bachelor degrees or equivalent). Students were often under performing in various areas including music notation reading (including both traditional notation and chord charts), fret board recognition, scale and chord theory, and ensemble leadership skills, compared with the expectations of their teachers at the commencement of their tertiary study. They also had limited understanding of, and ability to adapt to, different genres of guitar playing. Students tended to focus on one limited style (rock, heavy metal, etc). These observations were made over several years of teaching guitar students in a range of settings and were supported in numerous informal discussions with experienced professional guitarists and fellow teachers.

The study reported in this paper was conducted to clarify whether this experience was representative of tertiary education more generally, and to examine some of the factors that may account for the problematic transition to tertiary education. As an exploratory study, it used a mixed methods approach to examine documents related to guitar learning (websites used by students, method books), as well as the perceptions of guitar teachers preparing adolescents for later study and those of tertiary-level guitar teachers. The analysis attempted to understand each of these, and to examine potential differences between expectations of students themselves, the studio teachers, and tertiary-level teachers.

The study reported here represents an important first step in systematically documenting and explaining this situation, and was designed to provide baseline information for further research. It was underpinned by the following research questions:

1. …

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