Confident Chords: Taking Creative Music Learning Global

By Rob McManmon

How did Confident Chords get started?

I would like to say I just had a stroke of genius one evening whilst reading an intelligent-sounding novel, but the truth is much simpler than that. In spring of 2013, after just three short months of living in Austin, TX following my graduation from The Eastman School of Music, I took a job as guitar teacher at Gunma Kokusai Academy, an international school in Japan. And though I was stoked to be off to a new land, I was once again caught in this place musicians often find themselves, having to share the bittersweet news of new opportunities and having to stop lessons. But as I was going through this dance once again, confronted with wishes of good luck and of wishes to keep working together, I had an idea: offer my students the option of continued lessons over Skype.  

So, from the other side of the world, my U.S. students continued their lessons. I added more students in Japan, and then spent the summer in an Italian village on the French border. Now, I had students from the Americas, Europe, and Asia. It was there in Italy that I put the finishing touches on Confident Chords.

So, you travel a lot?

Yeah, you could say I have a bit of a travel bug. But this is something I find is actually a great advantage for my students. Not only does my traveling help me learn new music and methods to share with my students, many of them find it fascinating that they can glimpse these faraway places and even interact with students from other countries!

So far, students have had lessons from the U.S. (NY, CA, TX), Italy, Switzerland, France, England, New Zealand, Japan, & Okinawa.

What kinds of pros and cons have you run into so far with Confident Chords? 

One of the primary benefits of online lessons is ease of scheduling, eliminating such annoyances as rush hour traffic or waiting around at the studio. In fact, many of my students’ parents will be cooking dinner in the other room while we are having our lesson and then have dinner after the lesson. Additionally, students can have more after work/school activities (or even have lessons at lunchtime) because they are losing less time traveling to each activity and can take their lessons from home.

Another advantage of scheduling is that people who travel regularly and aren’t necessarily in the same place at the same time every week can still take lessons. I have one student who travels for work and regularly takes lessons out of his hotel room that day.

One thing I really value in music is the actual act of making music together–and as you may have noticed, there tends to be a slight delay when using Skype. So I began experimenting with ways to compensate for this delay and found that if I played slightly behind a student, their audio/video is in sync. This was a very difficult skill to practice the first few times!

Another question I often get asked by fellow musicians is, “how do you adjust for not being physically able to show a student something? For not being physically there?” For me, this all boils down to a lesson I picked up in Japan. In Japan, I had my first real experience teaching students whose primary language was not English. This meant that something an English speaker would take as such a simple direction (ex. “place your left arm here”) could be a difficult sentence to decipher. Then, I experienced this phenomena within Japanese spoken language. In Japanese conversation, you need to affirm what you have just heard, usually with the word “Hai”, roughly translated to ‘Yes’ or ‘OK’. Now, if you are in a conversation and you DO NOT hear the other person say Hai to your last statement, it means they did not understand you and usually you then try to rephrase what you are trying to say or ask them to clarify what they did not understand.

So, with these two experiences my teaching has evolved to have much more clarity and focus. I have found that the benefits of very clear and understood discussion with students is more than sufficient to overcome the physical barrier of remote lessons.

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