Wordlessly Working

Eight videos in, and there is a three-way split concerning opinions on my recent run of wordless workshops:

  1. It’s a refreshing change!
  2. I absolutely hate it.
  3. Patrick, you are out of your mind.

This is all fascinating to me because I have over one thousand video workshops on YouTube alone. I have been creating online content since 1997. Making new educational material without constantly reevaluating the teaching process would fit the definition of insanity often misattributed to Albert Einstein.

Mere repetition does not lead to perfection. You can do something over and over for fifty years or more and still suck at it.

I am in a weird time of my life. Readjusting to being almost deaf again (possibly for good this time) and going through extensive dental work. I was in a similar situation ten years ago as a newlywed facing a massive health crisis. As each of us grows in experience and skill in the pursuit of our art, we are also shaped by the everyday events in our lives. Faced with the realization that I will most likely need to communicate through ASL as I grow older and my remaining hearing fails, it only makes sense for me to explore teaching complex ideas without the aid of descriptive speech.

There is also an interesting reductive element to teaching in this manner. The lessons are unencumbered with opinions, jokes, or anything else. There is the song, the rhythm, the chord progression and the major scale. If you are versed in the basics, you already have everything you need to play along.

So, love or hate the wordless workshops, I will be working this way for a little longer – at least until the next idea comes along.

The Saint James Infirmary Blues

For Amy.

Dm             A         Dm
It was down to old Joe's barroom
              Gm     A     A7    
On the corner by the square
Dm                   A        Dm
The drinks they were served as usual
Dm            A         Dm
And the usual crowd was there

On my left stood old Joe McKennedy
His eyes were bloodshot red
He turned 'round to face the barroom
These are the words he said:

I went down to St. James Infirmary
To see my baby there
She was lyin' on a long white table
So cold, so white, so fair

I went down to see the doctor
"She's very low," he said
I went back to see my baby
And, Great god! She was dead

Let her go, let her go, God rest her
Wherever she may be
She may search the whole world over
She'll never find another man like me

Now that's the end of my story
Bartender, pour another round of booze
And if anyone should ask you
I've got the St. James Infirmary blues

The Teaching Gig

People are always asking me where I learned to teach. They also make silly statements about my natural teaching ability.

Right now the Internet is hopping with people looking to make a buck with their hobby. Rather than sharing knowledge to ensure that skills and traditions are passed on to the next generation, there is a contingent simply looking to take for themselves.

Weak music teachers tend to present music as a series of memorized actions. This approach has never worked for folk music because it presents an improvisational art as something static.

To better understand the difference between static and improvised, watch these two workshops on knife defense:

In this first clip, well, watch and see…

In this next clip we have my teacher, the great Remy Presas.

Teaching is not just showing the steps of a process. Memorizing robotic movements makes for terrible music and can be fatal in a fight. In my opinion, a good teacher presents the concept, inspires inquisitive thought and provides a set of basic skills the student can build upon. It is a skill built over time from experience, compassion and love of the craft.