A nifty website for guitarists features a regular blog called “Guitar Hero,” profiling up-and-coming guitarists with interesting life stories. Guess who’s their most recent Guitar Hero?
Modesty prevents me from uttering his name.
I took a grand total of two guitar lessons 38 years ago. Occasionally I pluck a guitar string when someone leaves an instrument unattended, but I play the guitar roughly as well as I speak Greek: “Hey, George, where's my spanakopita?”
However different any two human endeavors may be, they’ll always share certain characteristics. You need to be pretty attentive to perform brain surgery, but as it happens you also need to be attentive to perform pedicure. Amputated toes, anyone? Exactly. The best brain surgeons are focused, clear-headed, methodical, knowledgeable, and intuitive. And the best pedicurists? They’re pretty much the same, even if the actual techniques used are a bit different.
Within the music world, a guitarist, a singer, a conductor, and a pianist have many more traits in common than they have in separate. Coordination, rhythm, and sound are the three pillars of music-making, and all musicians need to steep themselves in the basic principles of all three.
A good teacher is one that helps you become like the best brain surgeons and pedicures: focused, clear-headed, methodical, and all that. If you’re learning the piano, you certainly need to acquire specific piano-playing techniques. But you could learn many important skills from someone other than a pianist: a fellow musician, or another artist, or just someone who’s really observant and skilful.
I know flutists who have traveled long distances to Staten Island just to take lessons with a certain trumpeter there. Singers get coached by pianists and conductors. Conductors sometimes profess admiration for certain dancers, from whom they learned valuable lessons. Dancers learn from sculptors; witness Martha Graham’s collaboration with Isami Noguchi.
As it happens, the most important forces in my life as a cellist have been a pianist and a singer. I did have some excellent cello teachers, but my real musical identity was shaped by my encounters with Robert D. Levin and the late Cornelius L. Reid.
I’ve taken the idea of applying universal principles to individual endeavors and, over the years, I've developed a pedagogical method that is pertinent to all musicians without exceptions: cellists, pianists, and singers, but also percussionists, trombonists, drum majorettes—you name it.
For these reasons and many more, it makes sense that a guy who can’t play the guitar to save his life would become a Guitar Hero. Go check it out and then let me know what you think.
You can reach me at the pedicurist's, where I’ll be receiving some much-needed brain surgery.