I took a few sessions that showcased exercises with and without instrument in hand and stretches and even games for little kids to make practice fun. The stretches and exercises were to help with muscle strengthening and muscle memory. I can see serious classical teachers doing these in lessons and classes, but it would be a little harder and far less common to bring them into non-classical private guitar lessons. However, if anyone has interest, all they need to do is ask me and if I ever see a need or relevance for them in lessons, I will bring them up.
I took all of the guitar sessions I saw and the first one was called "Correcting Left Hand Position Problems." Luther Enloe was the teacher and he gave two very simple techniques for addressing improper technique for the fretting hand. He gave great names to the incorrect hand problems:
- Lobster Claw
- Palming the Neck
- Hanging Thumb
- Hidden Flexed Thumb
- Over Arched Wrist
- Straight Fingers
- Peekaboo Left Hand
He had two fixes for pretty much every problem.
- Water Bottle Advanced Organizer - Hold a water bottle the way you normally would: between the fingers and thumb without the palm touching the bottle. That's how you hold the neck of the guitar. Perfect for positioning the hand to reach the bass strings which is often a problem down the road when first we begin teaching everything on the high E and B strings.
- Palm-Bracing Chromatic Exercise - Grasp the guitar in a comfortable position (see above;-)) at the 5th fret or higher. Maintain contact between the palm and the guitar neck (I think this is kind of like training wheels until your hand gets used to the positioning on its own). Place all fingers on 4th or 5th string, one finger per fret. Once you can hold your hand in that position, play simple ascending and descending four note chromatic scales 10 Xs per day. Keep the palm touching the neck.
Luther also talked about holding the guitar in the traditional classical style of playing to provide four anchor points for the guitar (rather than the fretting hand being the only anchor, hence acting inadvertently as a fulcrum). I realize this isn't realistic for many folk, pop, blues, and rock players, but I have seen people at P.S.G.W. with something called a "neck-up" (google it or ask me) which helps with this positioning.
Finally, I'd like to relate a few simple things that Aaron Stang taught in both of his session. He believes that making music and playing guitar is a combination of knowledge and creativity. He wants students to bring both to the table and let them play off each other and see what happens. He says that one reason teaching music on guitar can be so frustrating and confusing for students is that we often start from the high E string and move up the strings from there, which makes no sense: E, F, G, B, C, D, G, A, etc. Furthermore it gives us these hand position problems that Luther previously mentions. His solution is to start teaching the guitar from the bass strings down: E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, etc. It's alphabetical and makes more sense. Also, having students (when they can) reach up to those strings, automatically puts their hand in the correct (water bottle) position.
Aaron also talked about an easy and fun way for younger students and beginners to learn chords (most of what guitar players do is play chords - AND one of the most difficult things for kids and beginners). He said to show them an E chord, then show them how to move that up one fret, and finally, show them how to move it up two more frets from there. What chord is that? Who cares? (a G7b5-9 or something like that). The point is that it sounds really cool (Spanish, Flamencoish) and they only have to learn to fret one chord, but by moving it around the neck, they get more sounds. From there, they can get creative with just those three chords (no barring - just sliding the E shape around). Next, you tell them to find other places on the guitar that sound good with those first three positions, and soon they're off writing their first song and exploring. It also helps get the strumming hand going to work on rhythm and learning how to strum in general. After that, they can jump down a string to Am and do it all over again.
Finally, he talked about moving a note within a chord: Real simple things like flatting the third in an E (lifting the first finger off of the G#) to make and Em or flatting the third in an A to make an Am. From there, students can get creative and start moving the 5th and around or adding a 7th. One of his biggest points was it doesn't matter what chord we're making. What matters is that we are exploring, learning sounds, shapes, and patterns and what goes well with what (and what doesn't). He talked about how most great songwriters don't know all the chords they're playing; they just explore until they find something they like, hence bringing it back around to his original point of knowledge meeting creativity and having fun together.
All in all, it was great to attend this conference and learn from other players from different genres and even different instruments. Above are the main things I took away from the conference off the top of my head without going through all the notes I took and all the materials I received. This is the synthesis.
Last, they put together a bluegrass band one night and they were all world class players, and they all were on fire that night, but one of them really stood out and humbly blew all the others away. She was a 22 year old mandolin player from Nashville with poise, humility, stage presence, and chops the likes of which I've never seen (and yes I've seen the Del McCoury band more than once, and Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys). Her name is Sierra Hull. I highly recommend you check her out.