My name is Caroline and I am 9 years old. I have been playing the guitar for about 7 months. I have always wanted to play the guitar because it has a lovely sound and tone. After months of pestering my parents for guitar lessons, they gave me the good news that they had found a good teacher that could teach me how to play the guitar. I was ecstatic! My favourite piece so far is “Donkey Dance” and “Diary of a fly Swatter” I just learnt the notes high C and high D. I find it hard to play these notes because you need to stretch your fingers so much. One day I hope to play as well as my teacher, Robert and to play the pieces that my Granddad Robert use to play on his violin.
-Caroline Lye, 9
I have been learning guitar for more than four years now. My first three years came from learning at commercial music schools. While I had learnt some useful basics such as sight-reading, the education there had not done my playing techniques nor my counting skills any good. The lessons I had there were more of a “as long as you can play the notes, it is good enough” type of feeling. Hence, after a while, I realised that I was not improving at all and there was no point in continuing the lessons.
It is a really fortunate thing that my senior, Yong Chuan, recommended me to Mr Luse. He is really patient and meticulous in his teachings. I am learning a lot from him and improving my playing technique to produce a clear and beautiful tone. Every lesson is a time to be treasured, where I am able to reflect and learn. I really enjoy the lessons and have a lot of fun while I am at it. I can’t wait for the day where I will be able to play the guitar exquisitely.
From David’s mother Kimmy: “When David, at a tender age of 5, said he wanted to learn how to play the guitar, I knew I had to find a good teacher. Instinctively, I looked at the commercial schools and what they had to offer and was concerned about classroom sizes, lack of attention and the concentration of learning just to pass exams. After all, if a child wants to learn a musical instrument, there is a responsibility to keep the passion alive and bring the music out of the child. And music is not just about playing the correct notes of a tune. Having learnt to play the piano before, I also knew that the guitar was not an easy instrument to learn. The Luse method looked at using the right thumb first, one note at a time. The method also knows that young children’s muscles have not fully developed to take on too many variations. It’s great to see David preparing his repertoire for the workshop, and his face light up when he chooses his pieces for his future repertoires. It’s wonderful to see him give the strings a huge whack to play forte and relax his hand to play piano. He loves the control he has on crescendo and diminuedo and loves the sound of the effect. Robert has so many years of experience with different students and with children that helps him connect with David. He is also patient and understanding, knowing when to push and when to hold back to ensure he does not extinguish the flame of passion for the guitar. As for me, I took up guitar as the “responsible adult” to accompany David in his path of learning. From my past experience of learning a musical instrument, this has been different, as it is not just about playing the notes. It’s about ensuring the technique, as well as the expression of the music. It’s been amazing that I know to associate the notes on paper to which finger and what fret – I’m not too old to learn a new musical instrument! But at the end of the day, it’s great to bond with my son during practice as we go through the same music scores, daily warm ups and pain.
“It can happen almost by accident that you discover an affinity for a particular instrument, and then you don’t know what sort of trouble you are getting into. After playing the piano indifferently for ten years, then losing interest in it altogether, at seventeen I had a chance to learn classical guitar and found something in it that I wanted. My teacher at that time held to the philosophy that you could always learn something by doing things that were too difficult for you. This was very exciting, since it gave one the impression of an exceptionally rapid progress – how was I to know that it was progress into the abyss? At the same time, no foundations of technique were built, especially for the right hand. As long as some sound was coming out, nothing much was said about that. I grew to accept that what I played might have the same name as something I heard on a recording, but that they existed in different worlds of sonority – or the lack of it. The clarity of different voices and the power of the bass, which were so obvious in the great players that I heard on recordings, remained out of reach. The question of performance was never addressed. Perhaps the majority of music teachers, of whatever instrument, fail to address it, at least with the majority of their pupils? Once, I heard that teacher perform, and it was obvious even to me that there were serious problems. I simply concluded that performance must be terribly difficult – as indeed it is!
“After two years of this, the damage was done. A total of four years of playing, and four teachers later, none of whom was capable of undoing the direction in which things were going, I knew I was up against a brick wall. Nothing further was possible without going back to the beginning. I would have to start all over again, to build in the technique that had remained such a mystery because it had never been addressed in the first place. But that would have required long, isolating hours of practice, which at that time in my life I didn’t feel like doing. There were too many other things to do, and people to meet; and so I quit. As painful a decision as this may have been, I told myself there was no hope for it. I was finished with the guitar, and it would no longer be a part of me. Once in a long while, I would dream that, carrying my guitar, I was setting out on my way to a lesson. It would be the first in a long, long while, and since I couldn’t remember when I had last practiced, the sense of anticipation in the dream would be accompanied by a disturbing awareness that all might not go smoothly. However, as in most dreams that involve some attempt at a journey, there would be obstacles and digressions, and for some reason I would never arrive.
“It was a second lucky accident, completely unexpected, that brought me and a guitar together again. I have to thank my son Sam for this, because he asked to have guitar lessons. Following my own instincts rather than his (since, as I realized later, what he really dreamed of was playing electric guitar in a rock band), I called Robert Luse one day and found myself invited, or obliged, to share a lesson or two in the interests of parental involvement. A few months later Sam had discovered how much he hated practicing, and moved on to other things, while I had spent an undisclosed sum on a beautiful new guitar and had somehow been persuaded that it was possible to start again, even 25 years later. If it takes a degree of insanity to do this, well, as somebody said, we all need an obsession in order to enjoy life, and it is so much the better if it happens to be something constructive.
“If I take up space with this story, it is only because I believe it is quite a common one. There aren’t enough good methods for the guitar, we don’t start early enough, and there is a paucity of interesting easy and intermediate music available for us to build our skills with. In fact, none of those early teachers of mine used anything resembling a method at all. It was a novelty to find in the Luse Method everything carefully laid out in a progressive manner, and amazingly comforting to realize that this time I was being protected from doing things I was not yet ready for. Once I pointed out to Robert that after following his method for several years, I would still barely qualify to play the very first piece I had ever learned all those years ago. He laughed and replied: “Still! And for a long time to come!” But I know so many other things now that were simply never explained to me before, and I am very happy with that. Once you embark on the search for sonority, you know it will take years, but if you can find the patience to enjoy all that comes along the way, that is not going to be a problem. Obviously the enforcing of technical rigour by itself could be a deadly experience, if it were not matched with an approach to teaching that is also musically and expressively rich. There is far more in this method, it has to be said, than can possibly appear on paper, since from the start its teacher offers so much to learn about music at every level, from the most fundamental questions of technique to the finest points of interpretation. At first, it was terrifying, like leaping off a cliff, to find I could do nothing right. On the other hand, as all guitarists will agree, even a very simple thing can sound really beautiful on the guitar, IF you can figure out how to play it well enough. And that, to me, has become the crux of the matter. It is just so much better to play something simple well, than to play something difficult badly.
“To put it in the simplest possible terms, it comes down to the balance between the right hand and the left. It’s the right hand that makes the music; I understand it now as being actually more important than the left. That, I feel, is what was most sadly missing in the way I was taught before. And that is what has been so carefully worked out and developed in the Luse Method, although I still doubt whether one can successfully learn it all just from a book, without someone to guide you with direct demonstration, and a lot of patient, repeated, correction. In recent years, I have been to Master Classes and seen people play things that require the most fantastic development of the left hand, while the right is simply not working. I wonder now how teachers could possibly allow this to happen, but they do.
“The other great new dimension that Robert Luse’s teaching has opened up to me and to all his pupils is performance. None of my former teachers, whether of piano or guitar, had ever addressed this question. I suppose they assumed that, since most, if not all, of their pupils were never going to aim at being professionals, there was no point in addressing it. But this affected the whole approach to what we were doing. It didn’t matter if we never learned anything perfectly, or even properly; and the psychological aspects of learning to share music effectively by playing for others – with all of the self-control that that must involve – were never discussed. It’s hard to think of how much teachers must compromise their own standards in order to reconcile themselves to this state of affairs, and I can only imagine that it is painful to many of them. With Luse, everything is taught as if it really does matter – no compromise! A new respect for the music is born, and we discover that we have set ourselves higher goals, perhaps, than we thought we were capable of. At the same time, most of us have discovered so much pleasure and excitement in our efforts, however modest, to perform for each other and for strangers, that we look forward to each new occasion. It’s a lot of work for the teacher to create these opportunities, so you can be sure we appreciate the dedication that it involves. But Robert has proved that all of us, from the youngest to the oldest, can achieve some measure of success and satisfaction here. The attention to performance influences everything we do. Practice acquires a new dignity. “Practise as if you were performing, and then, when you perform, it will be just as if you were practising.” Since I am not someone who naturally loves technique for its own sake, I have to pay special attention to this injunction. You could say I am still learning to abide by it, since my immediate impulse is always to plunge in heedlessly. Mostly I am only able to love technique as a means to an end. In this context, perhaps I may cite a thought-provoking passage from the book, Free Play, by Stephen Nachmanovitch, a violinist, which for me has been a helpful reminder about what we are practising for. He writes:
“The most frustrating, agonizing part of creative work, and the one we grapple with every day in practice, is our encounter with the gap between what we feel and what we can express. It is in this gap, this zone of the unknown, where we feel most deeply – but are most inarticulate. Technique can bridge this gap.Not only is practice necessary to art – it is art
When skill reaches a certain level, it hides itself. When skill hides in the unconscious, it reveals the unconscious. Technique is the vehicle for surfacing normally unconscious material from the dream world and the myth world to where they become visible, nameable, singable.”
“It has taken me a long time to understand this approach to playing more fully, but one day, Robert put it to me with an inescapable logic: playing to yourself is good therapy, but music is essentially meant to be shared, and it is this effort to communicate with others, to hold their attention and to move them, that is what music is really all about. Therefore, learning about performance really should be integral to the whole process, even for amateurs – which after all, means most of us. Unfortunately, this means aiming for perfection. Since that is almost impossible, who’s to blame us if we often fall short? On the other hand, how do you know what you are capable of, unless you dare to attempt the impossible? For myself, since my job depends very heavily on linguistic communication, the chance to bypass words for a change and to communicate wordlessly is very refreshing. It is also endlessly mysterious. Thank goodness there’s something that will forever elude analysis.”