Today we give the blog over to my current favourite guitar playing walking the earth, and long time Wampler artist (he performed at the Wampler NAMM booth this last January), Mr Jack Gardiner. Jack's musical life was transformed when he took his first lesson with Tom Quayle aged 16 and has progressed to be one of the most exciting players performing today, and I'll say it again, my current favourite player... the tone, the notes, the phrasing, the versatility... you can check out his YouTube channel here. Jack is a session guitarist, touring artist and teacher based in Liverpool (UK) and Switzerland, has toured with countless amazing artists such as Stu Hamm (you can read Stu's impressions of Jack here) and taught at clinics with players such as Guthrie Govan.... Anyway, enough of my waffle, here's Jack!
I’ll never forget my first day teaching in a Secondary School (High School for my friends across the pond). Me being 20 years old - not much older than the students I was about to teach was a slightly daunting prospect. Knowing the area I was about to teach in and the reputation of the school that Steven Gerrard (Liverpool Football Club legend) studied at, had me ready for the typical ‘Scouse’ (Liverpudlian native) humour/insults that could be thrown my way, being a bearded, long haired, wizard-looking guitarist. Not a common look for suburban Liverpool to say the least.
As I was walked to my white-washed, no window room I was given a list of all the students I’d be taking for the following 6 hours. The Head of Music warned me that there was one student in particular who had some slight anger management issues, but wouldn’t tell me which one it was. ‘You’ll know when you meet him’ was her response. So I go about my day, which for the most part was pretty pleasant, when I get a knock on the door – my last pupil of the day. I introduce myself explaining how I’m the new guitar teacher and ask the boy, (we’ll call him Josh), ‘How’re you doing?’, to which he replies ‘F*****g s**t’. Ah… Here he is. Now the thing is, Josh was in Year 8 at the time (12-13) and I soon discovered that he was really getting into heavy-metal music. Delighted at the prospect, I introduced him to some of the heavier music I was listening to such as Animals as Leaders, Periphery, Lamb of God etc. He soon realized that with practice, he could actually start playing some of this stuff. By the time he was in Year 11 and taking his GCSE’s (16 years old), the difference in him as a person was huge. It was hard to recognize this polite, humble young lad, when compared to my final pupil I had on my first day. Now Josh ended up coming away with really good GCSE results – especially in Music, but when it came to him entering 6th Form, he hadn’t picked Music for his A-Levels. I was shocked that he hadn’t to be honest, but upon asking him, he told me that he didn’t think there was any future or job to be had and that his parents thought it was more important to focus on ‘real’ subjects. I was gutted, but at least I thought he could continue his one-to-one lessons with me at least – something he was very keen on. That’s when I noticed that he wasn’t on my list of pupils at the start of the new academic year and this is where the issues begin.
Most Secondary Schools in the U.K. will either part subsidise, or charge the pupil’s parents the full amount in order to pay peripatetic teachers. The reason being for this is that over the years, successive UK Governments have continually slashed budgets for Music and the Arts in the name of austerity. When I was 9 years old, growing up in Anfield (home of Liverpool Football Club/one of the most deprived areas in the country), my local Primary School had music teachers that were sent from Liverpool Music Support Service (now called Resonate) who provided free musical instruments and lessons, fully funded by the Arts Council. That meant free music lessons and an instrument to practice at home for those that really wanted to do it! With the background I’m from, it would have been a nightmare financially for my parents to pay for lessons and an instrument privately. Especially not knowing whether it’s something that I’d actually be interested in enough to take seriously.
The lucky thing about the current Secondary School I’m teaching in, is that they actually pay all peripatetic teachers at their own hourly rate, out of the schools own budget. This means that pupil’s parents don’t have to contribute anything towards lessons. Essentially, it’s a free 20-minute guitar lesson a week aimed at pupils who are showing promise/looking to take GCSE Music. Now going back to Josh, for him not to pick A-Level means that he’s taking a lesson slot that could potentially go to a new pupil looking to take GCSE Music. His name falls down the list. This brings me onto my next point…
I posted recently on Facebook about how a pupil of mine who showed promise in his playing had came to me at the beginning of term telling me how his parents had requested to change his lesson slot. Now according to his parents, his guitar lesson could not be taking part during his Math’s lesson. Bare in mind that a Math’s lesson is 1 Hour long, 3-4 times a week. A guitar lesson is 20 minutes long, once a week. A study published in 2007 by Christopher Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, revealed that ‘students in elementary schools with superior music education programs scored around 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math scores on standardized tests, compared to schools with low-quality music programs’… Regardless, the Head of Music and I desperately tried to find a new time slot for him, without moving other pupils into core subjects for fear of the same thing happening to them. Week two of term comes along and the young pupil comes to me to tell me his parent’s have told him he can’t be having his lesson in this new time slot as it’s in his ‘History Lesson’ which is a ‘proper subject’. I asked him then, which lessons have his parents’ deemed ‘non-proper lessons’ to which he replies ‘Art, Music or PE’. My heart broke and my blood began to boil. He’s now left with no guitar lessons and no prospect of taking GCSE Music. I’m not saying that this kid could have been the next revolutionary guitar player, but he at least showed talent and desire. I see this time and time again. If we go back to Josh, there is someone who was willing to take time out of ANY of his A-Level Subjects (arguably more important) to have one-to-one lessons but can’t because he’s not taking A-Level Music. Just recently I had the exact same situation with a seriously talented 17-year-old, who can’t afford private lessons outside of school. No A-Level/GCSE Music, no lessons.
Growing up in Anfield was a rough experience. I remember coming home from school one evening to see a guy injecting (what I can safely assume by his demenour and appearance to be drugs) at the bus stop in broad daylight. I was verbally abused aged 12 coming home from school by a woman who told me to ‘get your f******g hair cut you scumbag’ in front of my father. A SUV flipped over on our driveway one evening, before two men jumped out and stabbed the guy they were chasing on foot at the side of our house. The boy who I grew up with playing football over the other side of the street recently died in what seemed to be gang-related crime. Crime was and is everywhere. I’m not saying that I would ever be involved in any of this if I were not doing music (as my parents would’ve killed me), but it did provide a whole host of other opportunities, a distraction from what was around me, everywhere around me. The kids I was introduced to via Tuesday night and Saturday morning music schools (funded by Liverpool Music Support Service) were from all sorts of backgrounds. I met some of my long-term best friends there, most who are actively involved in the Music Industry these days. I discovered all kinds of different bands/musicians. All of these factors contributed to me becoming the person/player I am today. All thanks to free music education.
My point is, when funding is constantly being cutting, labeling a subject as ‘improper’ and forcing the kids to think about their future ‘real’ job at the age of 12, they could be closing a whole host of doors for them in the future. They don’t realize how;
- They’re taking away an opportunity from someone else who WANTS to do Music Lessons
- They’re taking away an opportunity for your child to make new friends and build relationships, develop cognitive skills; improve listening skills, etc. etc.
- Falsely labeling a subject as ‘improper’ is dangerous. It demeans and under values the whole world surrounding it – how many memories do we all have that are cornerstones because of the music of the moment – is that improper?
Please, everyone...not only must we not under value the emotional benefits of learning and making music, but also the academic value and benefits!
- Jack Gardiner, 2019.
Here is Jack giving his brand new Strandberg* it's first play, total improvisation! - feel free to hit me up if you need an interpreter to deal with his strong Liverpool accent!!
This week, I am giving the floor to a FB friend of mine called Nik Harrison… Who is Nik I hear you ask… Well... “I teach music (piano, guitar, theory, GCSE, A Level etc) but I also teach thinking skills. Critical thinking, applications of (and limitations of) logic, exam revision etc. Also do commentary and debates on various matters concerning philosophy etc for educational purposes, and “thinking horizon expansion”. Play acoustic gigs. Do demos at guitar shows for Stormshadow guitarworks. Run the contemporary guitar performance workshop, and conduct quite a lot of pedagogical (relative to teaching) research for that. Occasionally go out as a professional magician for corporate functions... A pretty broad range."
This all came about because I saw a question on FB… “Why is it called music theory? Shouldn’t it be called music rules?”
And Nik answered… “Music theory is the codification of the most commonly used frameworks within music. It’s a language, and as a language, it’s essentially a set of protocols. It’s not the ‘message’. The message is the music, and the music exists independent of any language that we may use to explain, quantify, or record it (which is essentially the three things that music theory serves to achieve). The music comes first. It’s for theory to keep up with music, not for music to keep up with the theory, or otherwise be dictated to by ‘theory’. Rules are for sports.”
I was quite fascinated with this response, so I asked him to expand on it for our blog… Over to you Nik...
There are essentially two means by which a ‘music theory’ may be devised (inclusive of the amalgamation of both). Firstly, there’s the analysis and quantification of music that people have created when drawn to the sounds and structures that they instinctively feel to be congruent with their musical taste. Secondly, you can take the fundamentals of sound itself, and analyse this. The only naturally occurring phenomena which could be used as a foundation for creating a music theory is the harmonic series. This would lead us to consider the overtone scale (or Lydian Dominant mode) to be the most ‘natural’ place to start, but we don’t do that, we use other things. What may be ‘natural’ may not always be (what we would identify as) ‘musical’ to some people... To my understanding, most ‘scales’ that we now consider to be commonplace evolved by means of primitive instrument engineering evolving to accommodate greater pitch accuracy, together with the influence of the harmonic series which supplied an acoustic physics-based foundation for the subdivision of octaves.
In extension of this, it’s worth noting that the only thing that makes music theory conversations and debates worthwhile is the fact that it's in a state of permanent evolution. This means that right and wrong are not as clear cut as they may be when debating other topics. To suggest that ‘rules’ come into music theory would require consensus amongst academics and scholars alike who are not actually qualified (either individually or collectively) to ascribe ‘rules’ to such a topic as music theory. This is because music (and its associated theory) belongs to the people. It doesn’t belong to academia, no matter how much it may be implied, or how much academia may attempt to take ownership of it. Music theory is very much a living and breathing 'language'. Worthy of note however, is that music itself isn’t a language. This is a common misconception, but it isn’t a language because music isn't authoritatively definable in terms of the same criteria (and respective fulfilment thereof) that a language would need to fulfil (and adhere to) in order that it may be defined as a 'language'. Analogies between music and languages might work at a very simplistic level, but there are a number of misconceptions, misunderstandings, and errors that are all too easy to make if this analogy is taken beyond the simplest of examples. Within a language the objective of communication is served by means of encoding meaning and concepts into syntax which is then assembled within a grammatical framework. There are a number of pre-requisites which need to be in place before it can be understood.
When it comes to music, the pre-requisites that are necessary for any spoken or written language to be successful don't exist (unless you're operating from a number of assumptions regarding a very fixed definition of what music can be). As such, music doesn't operate in the same way, or within the same parameters as 'languages'. A listener needs no familiarity with any 'encoding' of meaning to understand the inherent 'truth' that is music, and this makes the formulation of any manifestation of “music theory” all the more complicated, challenging, and interesting.
Music evolves, and always came first. Theory comes second, and has only been devised (and subsequently evolved into the language of music that we now use) as a method by which we express, record, and preserve music. Because music is evolving, the language that we use to explain it needs to evolve with it, although because of the rate at which music evolves, theory will always be "behind", not at all helped by academics who misunderstand the true relationship "music" has to "theory", who seem to desire it's absolute preservation and maintenance (without really offering any consideration as to how appropriate this actually is). I would suggest that an understanding of music and the understanding of theory are two very different things. They are every bit set apart in the same way that and understanding of "meaning" is not the same as an understanding of "language".
Within a system where 15 key signatures are used to express 12 keys, any engineer would conclude that this is 3 too many than necessary and it’s about time we just got rid of them. I know where these key signatures have come from, and have a strong understanding of why we have ended up with 15 key signatures, but since evolution is a process of simplification, not complication, I think we can reasonably predict what will happen here as theory evolves anyway, so why don’t we just dispose of 3 unnecessary key signatures now? A more prominent over-complication in music theory can be seen in the time signature. Where the bottom "number" which is used represents a note value, why has it gone through an unnecessary process of "encoding" into a number? Why don't be just draw the note value as it would appear in the piece underneath the number telling us how many beats are in each bar?
To my mind, not enough people challenge these theoretical concepts and as such, I fear that it’s best hope of "catching up" with the music (which theory actually serves to record, explain, and preserve) is being systematically eroded by every music theory publication presenting this information and framing it as “the way it is” rather than thinking about it and offering appropriate consideration to what kind of future it actually has?
Thank you Nik! You can connect with Nik on Facebook.