We were at lunch around six weeks ago when Ms Lee the coteacher asked me if I could help teach guitar to the students during the Friday "club activities."* She’s a guitar player herself and had started teaching the students when the semester began in March. I normally use Friday afternoons to prepare for the next week’s classes, but I jumped at the chance because it meant more time to play guitar and a chance to share some music with the students.* I asked about the skill levels. "Mostly beginners," she said. She added a second later, “So, is it okay?” Of course it was! When could I start? As it turned out, I could start that very day. The clock on the wall said half past noon. Club activities would begin at two o'clock, which meant that there was enough time to run home, grab the guitar, and get back to school. I did just that.
We got going at two o’clock. I quickly saw that the students were indeed beginners. They were busying themselves with awkwardly moving between open chords, finding their fingering and their rhythm. The boys and girls (five total) clearly wanted to get playing, but they needed help with chords and rhythm first. Lee and I ran through the standard open chords to warm up. The students followed along. They did their best to keep up with us.
The only way to learn guitar is to play it, but an even better way is to learn from actual songs because they provide a context for learning. In the case of helping the students learn the chords elementary chords D, A, and G major, Ms. Lee led the students through "Reflection" [회상] by the Korean group rock group Sanulrim [산울림] because it rides on an easygoing D-A-D-G chord progression. I didn't know the song before she played it, but I instantly took to it. The students had been practicing the song before, but they were still struggling with the steady rhythm and the changes.
Lee also asked me if I had anything to teach the kids. Immediately, Link Wray's classic 1958 instrumental "Rumble" came to mind: If the kids were going to learn basic chords, they should learn them from the classics. Moreover, “Rumble,” while an instrumental, represented a key piece of musical (and American) history. It brought the power chord to the masses.
I got to work on teaching the song. Lee herself didn't know know the song, so I jumped to that great music resource, Youtube, and found someone's "video" of it. We listened. Heads nodded. I demonstrated the famous D-D-E and D-D-A riffs a few times. Everyone caught on. Now, as any guitarist would know, "Rumble" has a tricky B7 chord followed by a descending E scale run. The E scale isn't difficult to play, but it takes practice to get right. The B7 though...after 14 years of playing, it’s still a hard chord to get right! Still, we gamely ran through the song. I knew something was clicking because Ms. Lee and one of the boys in the group latched right on to that descending scale run and wouldn't stop playing it. Repetition’s one key to learning. Guitar and English have that in common: The only way to get better is to practice, practice, and practice.
And from there, we jammed. We jammed on “Rumble,” we jammed on “Reflection,” and we jammed on exchanging our music. I learned a cool Korean number; they picked up a classic American one.
*Teachers, take note: If there is any way whatsoever that you can contribute something to your school’s various programs, do so. It will benefit you for several reasons:
- You’re an integral part of the community.
- You’re not just there to teach. Commitment to work and considering work as family mean plenty over here.
- You get more time to do stuff you enjoy.
* Every Friday afternoon, the students get two or three hours away from regular classes to pursue extra-curricular things like music and board games.
* I'll have to post some stuff on Sanulrim, for their first three LPs are quality fusions of 60s pop and 70s rock jams.
Sanulrim - Reflection
Link Wray - Rumble
The Ramones - Rock 'n' Roll High School