Open to Learning

This is one of two posts I’ve been meaning to write since I attended ASCD13 in Chicago over my spring break.

After I attended the ASCD Conference in Chicago, where I learned so much, I went home to my parents’ place for a different kind of lesson.

My parents are ordinary, yet extraordinary.  Although both amazing, I’ll talk about my mom later, this post is about my dad.

My dad has been my most consistent teacher.  He isn’t a teacher by trade, but a very curious man with a sharp mind.  Over the course of my life, he has taught me how to shovel grain into an auger, clean a pipe (that’s a future blog post), pull wrenches, change the oil, drive a tractor, build a bookshelf, drive a standard transmission car, test grain for dryness, ride a bike, how to debate, and a whole host of other practical and interesting things.  He also taught me to work hard and inadvertently, because of my personality, taught me perfection was what I was to strive for.

When I was 12 I began taking organ lessons.  I had always wanted to play the piano or the organ, so finally it began.  I practiced quite a bit and loved playing and learning more.  I had a strong musical background up to that point.  We had taken ukelele in school and I had also played the stand-up bass.  My dad was also in a band.  They practiced at our house and we went to their dances.  However, music was never anything he taught me about.  He gave me feedback about my playing – not always entirely encouraging feedback.  Maybe I needed to practice a little more was his advice.  Coupled with a built-in anxiety of performing and making mistakes, his feedback made it very difficult for me to play for him or even talk to him about music.  A sad moment in our history together because he was self-taught and had an amazing ear.  Well that all changed this trip.

My dad has terribly crippling rheumatoid arthritis.  He hasn’t played the guitar or the fiddle in almost 25 years.  He misses it and he misses singing (which he says he can’t do anymore)!  When I was home at Christmas my cousin fitted a guitar with raised strings and gave it to him with some glass slides, so he could play it as a lap guitar.  After I was home at Christmas, I thought it was about time my dad and I learned something about music together.  So when I went home after Chicago, I pulled out his old guitar and he pulled out his new guitar and we played together.  After a tuning fiasco, a broken string and a stringing lesson, we were back in business.  AND it was amazing.

His guitar is tuned to Open G – each fret he then uses the slide to make a new chord.  My knowledge of scales and the musical staff along with his ear and how to make chords on a 6-string were a perfect match.  He taught me and I taught him; we learned together.  It was so awesome to sit and be comfortable, laugh and make mistakes together.  I asked him what is favourite old songs to play in the band were and he sang and taught me new chords and I taught him how to use more than his ear to find chords on his slide!

After our second session of playing together, although I didn’t know how much he was enjoying it, I was pretty sure he was having as much fun as I was.  I wasn’t worried about making mistakes and neither was he, we just enjoyed the experience.  I knew it was important to him after he came home from one of his Canadian Tire shopping trips.  He had visited Wentworth Music that day as well.  He brought me home a chord book, super easy instructions and diagrams.  He was so happy to give it to me.  Then we sat down and he made me play bar chords, as I had told him I wasn’t ready for those yet.  And I made him sing, I told him he just needs to practice a little more.  He just laughed and agreed.  We were able to give each other feedback, without me being offended by it.  He took my feedback just as easily as he gave his.  He taught me the concept of playing in a key and using the 1-4-5 chord principle.  I taught him about minor and major correlations.  We taught each other – with the help of his new favourite toy, the iPad and the internet – how to tune a lap guitar to open G!!

I’m learning, always.  This experience taught me to set a little of the old fear aside and be open to learning together, enjoy the growth in making a mistake, and truly realize the freedom in not being perfect.

I will make this a tradition every time I go home!

The picture below shows us trying to tune his guitar together.

Are you sure it should be tighter, we both ask, right before I get up and crank it, breaking it off and almost making us both short an eye!

Are you sure it should be tighter, we both ask, right before I get up and crank it, breaking it off and almost making us both short an eye!