What if you were Jimi Hendrix’s Guitar Teacher?


Im a guitarist and a composer. I’ve also spent a large amount of my time teaching; teaching as a music classroom teacher and as a peri (one to one) guitar teacher; and I wanted to raise a few questions for my fellow educators and musicians…

Many of our most loved guitarists, Jimi included, don’t or didn’t play ‘correctly’, sorry, but its true!… Jimi’s thumb over the neck, or Wes Montgomery’s picking hand thumb obsession would make a lot of us guitar teachers loose sleep.

Many guitar teachers, and syllabuses teach what is claimed to be a ‘right’ way of playing our instrument or even on how to approach music itself (and no I don’t just mean in the classical world!). The right wrist position, the right approach to theory, the right way to hold your guitar etc etc..

And, why not? teachers are here to teach after all?…right!? – we don’t want students ‘doing it wrong’ do we!?!

My question is; If Jimi had experienced (no pun intended!) this type of lesson and had gone along with the rules, would we have had a Hendrix? and more to the point …Imagine for a moment (presuming you’re a guitar teacher) if you had of taught mr Hendrix, would you have corrected his hand position? Or forced him to turn his guitar around? Would you have told Wes Montgomery to stop just using his thumb? Or told Van Halen to stop tapping around and to play properly!!!? Have you been responsible for stopping jimi the 2nd from rocking our world?!?!

So, as you might be guessing I reckon many guitar teachers out there are in danger of stopping the next Jimi, or in fact any instrument teacher, from quashing creativity…

I think what made Jimi ‘Jimi’ or what made Wes ‘Wes’ was their creativity, creativity in bucket loads. The fascinating thing about creativity is we can all do it, but the conclusions we reach are always entirely individual. So I reckon this creativity thing might be pretty important right?…perhaps we should teach that?

It confuses me how even though its often the creativity and originality that makes us love an artist in such a fanatical way, its that very thing which is often left behind in music education. Much of our music Ed culture is instead seemingly obsessed with justifying a right and a wrong or a good and a bad. In fact its so weird in some establishments that pieces of paper (certificates and all that!) are used as badges of ‘Im this good and I did it right’ and without it some of you ‘aren’t that good and did it wrong’. The certification process has needed a ‘ruler’ a ‘right way’ to aspire too, and a ‘wrong way’ to avoid. Ultimately, you mustn’t do it wrong, because if you do…. well…anything could happen, terrible terrible things!! Check out the Arts award for a great example of measuring without quashing originality.

My journey to being creative took a good while. For many years I was striving to sound like others, (I guess thats where we all start ,right?). I was obsessed by theory and scale shapes, I was terrified I would ‘do it wrong!’. I needed to validate the endless hours I spent playing with tangible knowledge, the understanding of music theory. I became a creative void, churning hendrix lick after hendrix lick (slightly ironic!), glued to scale shapes and stylistic patterns. Eventually frustrated by my lack of originality I began de-tuning my guitar, deliberately disorientating myself, forcing my musical ear to work hard, and detaching myself from a lot of the ‘rote learned’ knowledge I had spent years obsessing over.

Of course it was ruddy scary, I was sure as hell ‘doing it wrong’ a lot, so wrong in fact that I had never done it before, I had no idea what I was doing….and ladies and gentlemen from the unknown comes new and exciting things.

The result was this kinda thing…tunes like.Edinburgh. I now use a different tuning in almost every piece of music in order to be absolutely creative, and its not quite so scary now, but its still new every time. Percussive techniques etc came as a logical progression, ultimately I was in creative flow and doing things for a musical and emotive purpose, rather than trying to do it ‘right’.

Since then I’ve concerned myself with applying this new freedom to my teaching. Below are four ideas that I think can help deliver creativity as a guitar (or any instrument ) teacher. Four points that when kept in the back of the mind consistently have helped me to avoid killing off another Hendrix…of course, they are not ‘rights’, or ‘wrongs’…just another creative idea…

1.You do not always know better.

There is no right way or wrong way. I know a way and I think its darn good, but your student may develop a better way, even if that student is six years old, give them room to develop their own approach. The problem solving that their seemingly illogical technique demands will help creative thinking and result in original ideas…hell, you might even learn something!

2.Give them bricks and mortar, let them make a house their own way.

yeah, its lazy aint it!? but seriously, we don’t want to create clones… if for example teaching a twelve bar blues, why not teach the foundations, then offer a whole host of different glimmers of inspiration, perhaps a full version from an artist, then perhaps a lesson on melodic strumming, then maybe look at some scales. Let the student put the building blocks together. Okay, its the long way around but the results are far more valuable.

3.Teach vs facilitate

No need to always push that knowledge. Relax mate, your student will progress, but let them breathe, be there to support encourage and guide. Not to dictate to.

4. Encourage students to work together/group work.

Seems simple, but I really find that getting students of any age to work together is hugely successful in nurturing creativity and originality. Work on turning a poem in a piece of music? or creating a soundscape? anything, but let them work together and just facilitate. (This is a project Ive been working on regarding group lessons, check it out..and if you want it in your school get in touch.)

okay so I wana hear your approaches too… email me contact@chriswoodsgroove.co.uk

A final word: I love some of the amazing leaps forward in music education that we have seen in recent years, and I am constantly inspired by the work of my peers; this blog is about the parts of our music ed culture that are not so inspiring. I also do not oppose learning theory, or learning the works of other artists, or in fact playing with a logical or economical wrist position… I just think we need teach it in creative way.

Stop Hitting Your Guitar – Seriously!?!

Like many people across the globe I remember the day I opened an email to find Andy Mckee’s ‘Drifting’ video. For those of you who haven’t seen it (do you live under a rock?) this tune contains percussive guitar techniques (aka hitting your guitar, or Percussive Acoustic Guitar).

Now, my reaction at the time was something along the lines of ‘why is he doing that?’ ‘Whats the point?’ ‘You need to get yourself a drummer mate?’….(sorry Andy!)

If you hadn’t guessed; my opinion on Andy Mckee’s ‘Drifting’ changed – in fact my outlook on music changed. I am in fact a fan of Mr Mckee – the man is a musical marvel, one of the worlds awesome musicians and an inspiration to me and players across the globe – he is most certainly very very musical! All hail Andy!

Since then I have carved a career which, in reality, owes thanks to percussive techniques. Many of my compositions contain percussive techniques (like this); I wrote a book and DVD on the subject, as well as two apps, a regular article for Acoustic Magazine a video series for GuitarInstructor.com all influenced by percussive playing and more. Im sure a large proportion of my bookings, especially at the start of my career, have come from using this approach. And in the end, I have now found myself on the receiving end of the same idiotic attitude, that I once had…

I’ve seen social media posts that express ‘stop hitting your guitar’ from guitarists whom I seriously respect. When I release a video a handful of irritating people will comment ‘stop hitting your guitar mate’. And of course I have also experienced this in the real world. The most prominent example occurred at the Ullapool guitar festival (which if you haven’t been, you must go its amazing!) A couple of years back I was lucky enough to perform, and soon after I delivered a workshop, alongside some great players. We asked the attendee’s what they wanted to learn…and they answered ‘not that percussive stuff!’. hmmm….cheers guys.

So, its pretty clear some people have an aversion to percussive playing, including me at one point. Some just don’t enjoy the sound…and fair enough. But why are so many people genuinely angry at it! why ‘o’ why!!!?

Im pretty confident we can split these lovely folks into two categories…

  1. ‘Argggh! I’m bored of seeing this stuff!’ – those people who have seen far too many percussive guitar videos.
  2. ‘Stop doing that, its not musical, there’s no point!’ – those people who just think its for showing off and really is a bit silly.

Category one: There is plenty of percussive guitar players. I can’t say I’m bored of it, because I don’t listen to it all the time. Like all of us I can choose what I listen too. So…I guess thats the first group covered.

Category two: Now this an interesting one. This is essentially the reaction I had when I first saw Andy Mckee hit his guitar. My opinion changed as I grew up, and I realised three key things – three important points some of the anti-percussion camp should take on board… here we go…

Firstly and most crucially; you don’t need to judge music, or even create an opinion on it. No one really cares what you think, and rightly so, because who on earth are you to judge? Perhaps the music has been written as an emotional soundscape and to the composer a certain technique helped them to communicate this, or perhaps they used those techniques to show off, or simply further their playing. Perhaps they wrote it just to irritate you! It really doesn’t matter, if you don’t like it…move on, its just another experience you silly billy!

Secondly I realised techniques are tools, and tools are good. Just like a pull-off or a slide, ‘hitting your guitar’ is a technique to help you communicate something, just like your vocabulary – its as valid as any other tool. If you are a player and you are refusing to learn this technique or tool you are being very silly indeed. You wouldn’t refuse to learn a new word would you, or refuse a screw driver for your tool box? ‘ooo no I don’t like screw drivers, everyone’s using them nowadays!’

Thirdly, I learnt to (try) not let my own insecurities interfere with my musical opinions. That’s right, insecurities! – They make us into angry judgmental people if we don’t keep them in check.

I think that anyone criticising someone for using a technique has to take a good look at themselves before they voice this. Is this jealousy perhaps? Can you not do it? Are you jealous of the amount of time someone has spent on creating something? I was obviously jealous of ‘Drifting’ …I think I still might be! Clearly there has to be some kind of emotional reason for actively disliking something that is of no detriment to you, the environment, humans or puppies. I was once that person.

Of course there is one final category; those people who are criticising players for ‘bad’ percussive techniques. These guys are the worst!…the real musical lemons….

Lets face it, some people are rubbish at guitar….some people are also rubbish at cooking, or in fact some people are rubbish at being a human. The later of course effects society in a negative way and is certainly worth criticising. But ‘Dave’ (a fictional guitar player!) who posts a video of himself playing a new composition where he battles through three minutes of painfully out of time percussive hits is not bad for society. ‘Dave’ is in fact good for society, he is a wondrous thing! And whats really cool is ‘Dave’ will get better… ’Dave’ has tried really hard to create something, something exciting, something creative and then he has shared his efforts with the wider world. I wish the category of criticiser in question would ask themselves, ‘What did I do today?’