Updated: May 13
Several students have asked about my constant emphasis on memorization. It’s my belief that internalizing these concepts is vital to growing as a player. Relying on printed materials, while handy at the outset of grasping new material, is not a long-term solution.
Through my many years of teaching and talking to players at all levels, I find there are a lot of players that want much of the hard work done for them by the teacher. I understand that attitude completely, as the instrument can seem overwhelming and wanting to “hurry up and start making music” on the guitar is a powerful feeling.
The problem with that approach is we have all chosen arguably the most complicated instrument to learn music on. It has been compared to “flying a helicopter”, and I believe that is an accurate comparison. Our instrument is very difficult to master and therefore requires retaining info through memory. That mental and muscle memory allows us to achieve musicianship at a high level and helps us to move toward our goals.
The PFM teaches musicianship on the steel guitar, and therefore it requires students to take notes and sometimes write their own tablature (when it’s not provided with a particular lesson) based on what I vocalize during the video. The student is the final beneficiary of the note taking process because, when taking any classes in any subject, physically writing down lessons increases the comprehension level.
I am teaching this Course by drawing on my own experiences and observations. I want players to understand the “how’s”, “why’s”, and the emotional nuances. I teach concepts and techniques, then show ways to apply this knowledge to your individual goals as a musician. What’s inside the Course is my “hindsight perspective”, sharing what I have studied and practiced to infinity…I am pulling back the curtain of my thought process and sharing the same insights that helped me on my musical journey.
MY MEMORIZATION LESSON
This is my story with learning the pedals: I started very young (at age 8), and was taught how to learn from a Hawaiian player, Wanda Breuning. Wanda was a brilliant non-pedal teacher and said from the start that she would not teach me the pedals. Instead she taught me how a steel was played, how to make music on it and how to teach myself, the same approach that I am laying out for all in this course.
I was 6 months into my lessons when my Fender 400 arrived and when I came back playing some of the songs she taught me using a few pedals, Wanda noticed I was looking at my pedals while playing..and not at my bar. Her comment to me was “Stop looking at anything but the bar hand. You will always play out of tune if you stop watching anything but the bar”. She was a strong believer in never building bad technical habits (and she herself played at a mastery level of a Jerry Byrd). At this early age, Wanda instilled the practice habits I have used ever since.
Of course I said: “But I need to see where my feet are going!” She replied “That’s because you don’t have them memorized. The truth is, we don’t look at our feet when riding a bicycle or driving a car…why is playing music on a pedal steel any different?”. I then learned where my pedals were, the intervals involved and was quizzed about that info until I had it down cold. She was really teaching me! She always taught me what I needed to know, not always what I wanted.
In that spirit, when you watch the Course some lessons will have tab and some won’t. That’s intentional, because I want everyone to memorize the instrument, and most of the time showing the pedals is not necessary to what I am teaching. When it is needed, I will show the pedals.
THE FUNDAMENTAL RULES APPLY
Also, I would suggest everyone think about playing music on the steel as I do, using this analogy….I am a basketball player in grade school learning all the basic skills, strategies, and the sports rules to redundancy. Fast forward, I am now signed to an NBA team as a pro level player. Guess what they have me practicing over and over to redundancy? Same as grade school: free throws, dribbling, passing.
Why? Because muscle memory is required to retain and then to recall and perform all the fundamental basics, strategies, and rules. I am trying to lead students to where they will no longer need a paint-by-numbers approach. My goal is to witness them playing freely, playing anything their heart’s desire.