Day #8 of my 10-day challenge. My Colorado Bass Career Recap.
“The student has become the teacher.”
On the show “Kung Fu” the character Kwai Chang Caine (played by David Carradine) was a Shaolin student who’s Master called him “Grasshopper”. Eventually he satisfies his required learning and the Master proclaims he has now “become the teacher” and he then Kwai goes off to the old west and uses martial arts on bad guys. Pretty cool.
Here’s a look back at one of the most significant parts of my Denver bass career: Teaching private bass lessons.
If you’ve been following this thread of posts then you know I quit delivering furniture in order to be around music instead of armoires. I worked at Lakewood’s Rockley Music Co. from 1985-1987 doing instrument repair and working the retail counter. I was young, anxious and immature but I did my best and I really liked working there. I learned a lot from Bob Rockley and Nina Rockley about instrument repair the retail music business. I have re-haired hundreds of violin bows, restrung thousands of guitars, and can disassemble and re-solder a french horn if I wanted to.
One day I talked with Nina about teaching some bass lessons at the store. Customers had inquiries about bass lessons and there was a need there, so I gave it a try. I hadn’t gone to school to learn how to be a teacher, nor were there computers to make it easy. Even though I didn’t know what I was doing, I thought that a beginner could learn from what I had to share with them. Indeed, I could show them major and minor scales, pentatonic scales, modes, chord types, chart reading. I could use a Walkman to transcribe bass parts for students when they’d bring in a cassette with a song they wanted to learn. And so it began in 1985 that I became a bass instructor. My first student was named Chas S.
I still use the primitive hand-made diagrams and curriculum worksheets I created way back then. I never used method books with students, I handled each student individually according to their needs. When computers became available I had fun making more lesson handouts and music theory guides for my students. I have been teaching during the era where the technology evolved from cassettes to cds to mp3s. I have transcribed hundreds of songs for students and have a large library of tabs and transcriptions from many decades. I have learned a lot of songs that I otherwise wouldn’t have if not for my students. I know a ton of Metallica, Nirvana, Rush, Sublime, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Primus, Rancid, Mudvayne, P.O.D. and other great music thanks to my students. I have made sure that every student knows about root/5th/octave, triads, chord tones and scales no matter what kind of music they’re into playing.
As I have been sequestered at home here during Covid and simultaneously packing for my upcoming move I have been organizing records and memorabilia. I reviewed my many years of Day Planners (remember before smart phones?) and the names and phone numbers for my students. It blew me away to read the names again, and to recall just how many students I have worked with through the years. Amazing really, and humbling. I did my best to be a good instructor despite my personal challenges. There were years where I had a roster of 35 students per week! That’s a lot for a bass teacher. These days I have reduced my student load, but still enjoy helping these fine folks and I still have a lot to share. I will most likely continue teaching when I move to KC later this month and I will continue online lessons with Denver students after I relocate.
Looking back at my Colorado bass career has been surreal for me and has reminded me of a lot of things. I really enjoy live performing and I love recording in the studio, that’s my favorite thing. As far as teaching, I initially taught bass lessons because I needed the extra money. There were some years where my teaching income was my primary source of earnings and I wouldn’t have survived without it. The main thing I recognize about my private teaching practice is that I shared what I know with integrity and enthusiasm. I’m such a geek, but I am grateful that so many students trusted me to be their teacher. I taught bass at Rockley Music, Wildwood Music, Guitar City and out of two of my home studios. So many bass lessons! It is also very heartwarming to see several of my former students still playing, some of them at a very high professional level.
Thank you so much to all of my students and their parents for your support and trust.
Here is an added thought or two that I didn't include on Facebook...
I learned a lot from being a private instructor. I discovered that people learn at different paces, and also that I preferred doing custom-tailored lessons over a cookie-cutter method book approach. Sometimes I knew I had really helped a student with a breakthrough. There were times when I welled-up with tears because a student was doing such a good job. I bit embarrassing to be wiping tears from my eyes, but I can't help it when it happens!
Of course, I wish that things in my life had been better during the majority of my teaching years and that I hadn't suffered from depression and difficulties. (I'm doing much better now, thank you.) I am all the more grateful that so many students trusted me and supported my business during those many years.
This post is dedicated to good friend and former student Tedd Calhoun who recently passed. I called him “Grasshopper” and we had a good time with that. Here’s to you Tedd, and to all my former and current students. I am grateful for the opportunity to be your teacher.
Peace and love dear readers. Now, go practice!