On learning, playing and teaching music – Philip Ockelford, Guitarist and Teacher

Guitarist and teacher Philip Ockelford
Philip Ockelford is a guitarist from the UK and he recently signed up as a Teacher on Drooble. We appreciate his efforts to bring knowledge to the community with his videos so we wanted to know more about him and his music! :)

 

We live in strange times to be a musician. I think our value has never been lower, and yet the demand for music has never been higher. Consequently, relying on simply being, for example, a guitarist, isn’t enough anymore. I teach, I play, I record, I shoot videos, I repair instruments…the list goes on.

Tell us something about yourself, what’s your musical background, a few words about yourself?

I was a late starter on guitar. Both my father and my younger brother played piano, but they’d never let me just get on and try it, so I stayed away from it. Fast-forward to just before my 20th birthday, and I was asked (on a night out) what I wanted as a present; we were watching a band at the time, so I said “An electric guitar”. Even then, it was still a couple of years before I REALLY made the effort; I had ideas for songs, but realised quickly my lack of knowledge on guitar was holding me back, so I started to learn, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

As for influences, Brian May, Rory Gallagher, David Gilmour, Mark Knopfler, Joe Satriani…where do I stop?! I like listening to anyone who can play, and my tastes are pretty broad, which I think is healthy. I sometimes spot phrases in my own playing as originating from some of the greats (I did a session recording yesterday, and one phrase said “Gary Moore” to me), but I’ve been playing for long enough that I sound like myself.

How did you start ‘Play Your Guitar’? What is your personal motivation to do what you do?

Like so many things in life, Play Your Guitar happened rather by accident. Back in 2003 I was about to be made redundant from yet another office job, so I’d decided to go self-employed, and had retrained as a proof-reader. Just before leaving the office, a colleague had asked me to rescue a guitar he’d neglected for years (it took me seven hours just to get it clean!). He was delighted with it upon its return, and was keen to get playing, but realised he didn’t know very much, so asked me for some advice. I spent an hour with him, and he insisted on paying me for my time. As I drove home, I realised it was the easiest money I’d ever made. I thought proof-reading would be my main income, and teaching guitar would be a back-up, but I soon ditched proof-reading because I was spending so much time teaching!

Things are tougher now than when I started, because there are more teachers, but fewer students (and their parents) prepared to spend the money. Plus, and this is critical, the internet is awash with videos and guitar TAB, so people go to these first, despite the fact that they’ve no idea how accurate these are likely to be. There are teaching opportunities to be had, but at a lower price than before.

Consequently, I am moving more online than I’ve done previously; I’ve always had a website, but am getting into online session work, and of course, lessons, so somewhere like Drooble is ideal.

Teaching can be very rewarding, especially when you have a student who ‘gets’ it, and whose enthusiasm is fired up. I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve very literally watched some of my students grow up! Some of the little kids I started teaching are now at university, or about to graduate; I even helped some of them to get in. Yesterday, I realised a former student of mine was now following me on Twitter; he was a boy who’d just lost his mum to cancer when I met him, and though he struggled initially, music became the thing that lit the darkness for him, and thus it was a joy to teach him. Just before he and his family moved away, he gave me his favourite album as a gift. As for him now, his Twitter profile picture is of him playing guitar at a gig – how could you not feel good about playing a part in that?

I also think teaching MAKES you a better player for so many reasons. For a start, it makes you examine and question EVERYTHING you do; if you can’t justify it to yourself, how can you when a student asks the most important question of all: “Why?”. You do that, you start to realise what the best methods are, so you improve. Students also force you to listen to songs you might otherwise avoid, just because they want to learn them. Although this sounds bad (and sometimes it really is no fun), I try to find the challenge that each song presents – there’s usually one good thing that you can come away with that is as much a learning experience for you as it is for your student.

Watch Phil explain the ‘Fretting technique’ and the only four reasons it ever goes wrong:

What do you think of Drooble?

The internet, and particularly the social media side of it, is a double-edged sword. It’s too easy for people to vent their negativity for no good reason. For example, I think the worst thing about YouTube is the ‘Dislike’ function. If it’s a genuinely offensive video, then yes, you should register your displeasure. But if it’s just a guy playing a guitar (like on my channel), and you don’t like it, switch it off, or move on.

In terms of Drooble, I think it has great potential, but like anything of this nature, it will become what its community makes of it. Provided a positive spirit of support and encouragement exists, it will do well, and I hope to be a part of that accordingly. I definitely believe that the positive side of the internet is the ability for people to connect, whether it’s because of a skill they need/want to learn, or simply to say, “I like what you like – keep doing that”.

Things like that can lift you up. For example, I did a session recording for a guy who wanted me to sound like David Gilmour. Having received my work, he left this review: “Extremely good result. Sounds to me as I have got one of the great guitar masters to play for me”. Okay, it’s not very modest, but for a complete stranger to tell you that, it’s simply amazing. THAT’S what places like Drooble should always be about, and I hope that it is.

What would you tell every young person, who’s just starting out his/her career in music?

So many different things! Here are a few…

BE CURIOUS

Let me explain this by using something that I tell every student. Learning is a two-stage process; it’s HOW, and it’s WHY. Once you’ve learned how to do something, you should then learn why you do it, and by that I mean, “why is this method the way that I’m doing it, and why does it work?”.

Let’s say you learn how to play the chord of C on the guitar. You’ve struggled, you’ve had lots of failed attempts, but now you can make the right sounds to justly say that you’re playing that chord.

But there’s more you can get out of it than just playing that one chord. If you then learned that the notes of the C chord are C, E, G, and then you looked at a map of the fretboard, you’ll realise that these three notes can be found all over the place. This means that you can play the chord so many different ways.

Now, you could simply learn every shape in every position, but by simply knowing the construction of a single chord, you can APPLY this knowledge to work out where the other shapes are.

HOW simply gives you one answer; WHY gives you endless possibilities.

BE OPEN

It’s great to learn your favourite songs, but be open to learning material and styles you might otherwise avoid. For example, I spent a couple of years gigging in an Elvis Presley tribute band (don’t laugh). I don’t mind Elvis’s songs, but I was never a particular fan, so why do it?

It was an opportunity to step outside of my usual playing preferences, and it would force me to up my game with songs and stylistic demands I’d never really tackled before. As a consequence, both my rock ’n’ roll and country playing have improved, plus I met the drummer and bassist I would then form another band with!

DON’T BE DISCOURAGED

There will always be players that you meet who are simply better than you, or so it might seem at first glance. If they really are better than you, watch and learn from them. By doing this, you’ll improve, and you might find that there’s something in their playing that actually isn’t as good as yours.

For example, I started attending a class about a year after I first took up the guitar. When I arrived early for the first lesson, there was a student playing Joe Satriani’s ’Surfing With The Alien’, which is a technically demanding piece. I panicked – this was supposed to be the beginners’ class, and I definitely couldn’t play that! In an effort to calm myself down, I tuned my guitar, then started running through the chords that I knew.

The other guy stopped playing, peered at my guitar, and asked what I was doing. When I told him I was playing some chords, he looked puzzled, and said, “What are those?”. I now realised why this apparent virtuoso was in my class – he’d learned HOW to play like Satriani, but in a mechanical fashion, in that he didn’t know WHAT he was playing, or what any of it meant.

What challenges are you facing as a musician? What do you think about the music industry’s condition nowadays?

As I mentioned earlier, teaching is becoming less well-paid, and I would say the same is true of live performance. People spend less on a night out, they don’t go out as much, and venues are closing. It’s a ridiculous situation, and it’s so short-sighted; for example, for every one billion pounds the Arts costs the UK economy, it puts TWO billion back in. Funding for music in schools is being sacrificed, and I have seen too many departments make do with increasingly unserviceable equipment.

We live in strange times to be a musician. I think our value has never been lower, and yet the demand for music has never been higher. Consequently, relying on simply being, for example, a guitarist, isn’t enough anymore. I teach, I play, I record, I shoot videos, I repair instruments…the list goes on.

I think things will change, or at least, I hope they will. Both Fender and Gibson, the two biggest makers of guitars, spent the 1970s wringing every penny out of their companies, completely at the expense of quality. By the early 1980s they were on their knees, and their reputations had been ruined. Thirty years later, they’ve built themselves back up, and they’ve done that by putting quality over quantity. I hope the same realisation occurs within the music industry, and that quality musicians are valued accordingly.

As people get more and more connected online do you see services providing matching between those seeking help and those interested in sharing knowledge as the future of music collaborations?

I certainly think it will become a greater part of it. There are already a number of collaboration platforms, and, of course, sites where you can exchange files; consequently, whole albums are being recorded by musicians who never once stand in the same room as one another. I hope that people still meet, and share the thrill of building a band or a song, share a stage, and so on, but the online world is here, and we’re all having to adapt.

Open words

I hope some of my ramblings have made sense! I hope you get the joy out of your chosen instrument or genre that I do, and if I can help you with something, please let me know.

If you want to hear and learn more from Phil Ockelford,  follow him on www.drooble.com/philip.o

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