Kenneth McArthur

Student ID: 64919

Bmus Popular Music Performance
Personal & Business Development

3rd Year 2014
Self Reflective Essay

Word Count: 3180

During my four years at Tech I have learnt various skills that have greatly improved both my
knowledge of the guitar and my ability to play it. It has greatly increased the variety of music I have
been exposed to and caused me to re-evaluate what it is that makes a good guitarist and musician.
Over the past four yearsI have spent every week learning about new genres and ways of playing
which I had previously known nothing about, these include jazz, gospel and funk. Although I was
previously fond of these styles, I knew nothing about the theory behind them, the techniques
employed when playing them and the way in which they were commonly performed and through
my studies at Tech my proficiency within them has grown tremendously. However within the past
two years it has slowly become evident that the way in which I was going about the study and
practice of new material could only benefit me up to a certain point. Although I spent hours and
hours a day going over the prescribed study material and even playing along to music I liked it
seemed that I had hit a plateau in my learning. What was originally a joy to spend all day practicing
slowly became tiresome and dull, and my ability to play the instrument on stage and in rehearsals
seemed to have hit a standpoint. It was upon noticing this it became obvious that I must have been
spending time on the wrong things, although the playing itself was not necessarily bad it wasn’t
getting any better and all the tried and trusted routines and exercises which had served me well
over the past were not effective anymore.It was because of this that this year I set up the new goal
to critically analyse myself and my playing and determiner mine what I needed to work on the most
and what the most time effective strategy was for maintaining what I could already do, but also
adapting to improving aspects of my playing that required the most attention.

The process itself began with implementing self analysis techniques in order to identify strengths
and weaknesses as a guitarist. This way I could make sure no time was wasted on the daily
practice of things that required little attention, something I had been doing for years without being
fully aware of it. I also had to take into account that music itself now incorporated a lot more to me
than it did before. In the past a general routine would focus on my technique, timing, writing pieces
of music and playing along to songs I was currently able to play. Although going about learning my
instrument this way had helped me a great deal during the learning and intermediate phases of my
musical education it had no way of improving the newer aspects of playing that I had been made
aware of over the past few years. I now had to rely on playing improvised music, having a much
better grasp of rhythm in all it’s variations and be able to read music. The best way I could think of
solving this problem was by using an honest and through SWOT diagram in order to determine at
what level I was now, and what I could achieve by becoming a more versatile musician. I then
planned on finding the best way in which to improve upon the aspects of myself and my playing
that needed the most work. What I ended up determining was that I did have various strengths as
a musician. I have been playing for a long time (since age ten) so I’m comfortable with the
instrument and know what it’s limitations are. Also I had developed a decent sense of rhythm due
to years of playing in rock and metal bands, most of that music has to be fast and tight so my
stamina isn’t too bad. Furthermore I am a little ahead of other guitarist who had a similar playing
history in that I listen to many genres of music and have done my whole life. This means that the
feel and sound of things like blues and funk weren’t completely alien to me during my early years
of playing and although I am by no means amazing at either I was at least familiar with some of the
concepts involved in their playing. Although I had a little experience with them, it is the playing of
those genres of music that was also my greatest weakness. I had very little experience with playing
any improvised music and I had almost no repertoire. This meant that my vocabulary was also
lacking, apart from a few standard progressions or licks I knew very little with regards to the
phrasing of improvised forms of music. I also was not used to communicating with other band
members on stage, whereas with rock and metal one could begin the song and know exactly how it
would go from moment to moment jazz and funk changed at whim, depending on band

The task of improving upon weaknesses such as these had to be thoroughly planned out for a few
reasons. The first being that each one of them would take years to perfect. Musicians spent their
entire lives perfecting the way in which they phrase melodies and improvise, often starting when
they were extremely young and performing live as often as possible. By the time I really had the
tools I needed to get my playing where I wanted it to go I was already nineteen and this meant that
there was a definite need for though on what I had been doing and what I needed to do in order to
achieve my goals. Since it made sense to use things I was already learning about to further my
study in other areas I decided that analysis of the ways in which I learn was the best tool I could
use at this point. This way learning could be streamlined so I could process information faster and
correctly. In this way it would be easier to improve on things that needed the most attention without
wasting any time. Something that was essential considering I was already spending an average of
six hours a day playing guitar or practicing without any improvement. The idea of being as efficient
as possible also meant that for the first time a written practice schedule was needed. Some things
could only be practiced once or twice a week due to time restrictions and if they were to get any
attention at all I would need a clear and precise schedule determining when and how much time I
would spend on each aspect of my playing. This also helped deal with the long term problem of
becoming side tracked by things I already had a habit of constantly practicing, thus stunting my
growth as a musician.

Within a few weeks of analysing myself, finding the best way in which I learn and using timelines to
structure my practice I immediately noticed a change not only in my playing but in the way I heard
and understood the new types of music I was attempting to play. The concentrated focus on
aspects that needed improvement had an unexpected knock on effect, making everything else
better. As I focused more on my aural skills and ability to discern different chords from one another
my phrasing seemed to improve. Whereas before I would listen to a jazz solo and hear only a
clutter of seemingly unrelated notes I could now hear patters and little melodic structures. This also
meant that my repertoire increased as well, learning songs became a lot easier as now I could
really hear what I was doing wrong and what I was supposed to do. The only thing that proved
difficult was keeping concentration for such long periods of time every day all day. The efficiency of
my practice routine meant that I was spending much more time on things that required much more
concentration such as reading and even things that I was used to such as technique practice
became more challenging as my attention to detail became greater, meaning less margin for error.
The routine had to be adapted to allow for more breaks in between study and practice sessions to
prevent me from forgetting things I had just revised and also to stop me from practicing things
incorrectly without being aware of it. I revised the timeline which was being used for my weekly
routine. To my surprise this actually benefited my ability to maintain focus greatly. Although it is
common for musicians to boast about practicing six to eight hours a day I quickly found out that
this approach is far from the most efficient or effective. Long hours dull the perception, and
eventually one loses ones sense of quality control. Through using various different methods of
practice that I was learning in the techniques module and structuring them in an efficient way using
self management techniques I found that one could achieve the same results one would get from a
two hour session in a half hour session as long as the routine was strictly adhered to. Time of day
also turned out to make a difference in the way I practice. Certain things were more easy to
practice at night than in the morning. Things that required a lot of concentration such as sight
reading and technique were better suited to morning practice whilst the more creative aspects of
music such as transcription and the learning of new songs were much easier late at night when the
world was quiet and I was free from the hassle of day to day life.

As I had already been involved in teaching others to play guitar all the things I learnt through my
own experience really affected my pupils in a positive way. It is now much easier for me to see how
others learn and what they need to focus on. My pupils, most of them children, began improving
much quicker as a result although they do not have the luxury of sitting and practicing guitar all
day. My plans are to continue with private teaching, expanding on the amount of pupils I have to
about ten or twelve. Because the quality of the lessons have increased and I already have four
previous music qualifications I can easily charge up to thirty pounds an hour per student. If I can
manage to have twelve students paying that amount each weekly then I should easily be able to
pay my rent and be on the road to making a comfortable living from playing the guitar. This is my
main goal at the moment and every plan I make for my future goes towards this. So far it has
already worked quite well, the number of students has increased from only one to five, and this
was through word of mouth alone without the need for advertising. it is my hope that once the
desired level of students has been reached I will be able to persuade them to attend lessons at my
house instead of me traveling to theirs. Not only is this the only way in which I will have time to
teach this amount of students but it will also eliminate my travel cost, increasing my profit and
taking me that much nearer to my goal.

Of course none of my progress would really have been possible without the implementation of the
models we learnt about in this module. Although I initially thought a large amount of what we were
learning was mainly common sense and could be used by anyone the process of recording ones
findings and using tried and tested analytical techniques helped evaluate myself in a more critical
way. The most useful of all the tools has by far been that of SWOT analysis. Using this I was able
to highlight the strengths and weaknesses I had before starting towards my goal. It also helped the
opportunities seem more real and achievable rather than just being thoughts or dreams. It’s also a
very versatile tool. Anything can be analysed using the SWOT method and it proved handy to
regularly use it as my playing developed in order to make sure I was on the path towards hitting my
long term goal of being able to bring my jazz, blues and funk playing up to a decent standard. It is
the versatility of this tool that has made it useful in almost every aspect of my career as a guitarist.
Career decisions such as whether or not to do a gig become a lot more clear and the right path
much easier to take using this model. It also keeps one in mind of the threats involved in the
market you’re working in, which is something musicians rarely pay attention to. Not only that but it
helped create a sense of myself as a brand. I realised that I have certain strengths and things to
offer which not necessarily everyone else has and without knowing any of this it would be
impossible to play to my strengths. Knowledge of the way in which I learn has also completely
changed the way I learn things about music, especially with regards to improvisational playing.

Honey and Mumford’s learning cycle has been perhaps the most relevant tool with regards to
musical development I have ever come across. His definition of experiential learning fits perfectly
with the creative process and with the process of implementing the things I was learning in order to
properly incorporate them in my playing. After the practice of each subject I would use the cycle to
review the experience of practice, judging what had been the most consistent flaws throughout i.e.
timing, feel, articulation etc. Once I had done that I would conclude whether or not I had achieved
that days goal, whether that be playing a piece faster or just more accurately. it also helped me
discern what the goals would be for the next practice session of the same subject. By doing this
there is always a natural progression towards improvement. When applied to the final Techniques
exam for this year I was able not only to learn the prescribed piece, but to play it far beyond the
desired tempo within two weeks. Before the application of this method of quality control with
regards to ones learning I would barely have been able to play it at half the speed required without
making mistakes and maybe even injuring myself after long hours of incorrect practice. As with the
SWOT model the use of this learning cycle proved to be useful in other areas as well. The most
obvious would be that of teaching students. Because the cycle itself works through a person
constantly assessing their learning outcomes I learnt that it would guarantee the progression of my
students if incorporated into lesson plans. In both the beginning and end of each lesson I would
recap the previous lesson as well as the one I had just done. It also helped to ask my student how
they felt about each phase of the cycle. This means that students constantly understand what their
teaching is trying to say and vice versa. It also helped show me the level of understanding that the
student had about the subject I was teaching them. For instance, if I had spent an afternoon
teaching a student about the fundamentals of playing in time and he could judge whether or not he
had met the goal of doing so. Another strength of keeping the cycle in mind with regards to learning
and teaching is it’s simplicity. Whether a person thirty years old or six, they still take in information
in the same way and because my students are all of various ages it meant that it had the effect of
making me better at exchanging musical ideas in a simple and effective way. This is what
eventually led to me improving my ability to communicate with other band members and quint in
sections which was one of my original weaknesses.

This in turn leads to another factor I have found in the proper use of these models - they work best
if used together. Similar to the way in which knowing more about one thing may lead to insight into
another, using these models in conjunction with one another as opposed to using just one of them
at a time is the best way to reach goals. However, when using them on multiple things such as
learning, teaching and performing together it is important to properly structure the subject of their
focus to keep things streamlined and time efficient. The way in which I had chosen to do do so was
by using a Gantt chart to plan out the hours I would spend practicing, teaching, working and
attending university. Without a clear and easy to understand schedule it becomes very difficult to
properly allocate ones time between sources of income and striving to achieve personal goals.
When using this planning method it is even possible to do a form of day by day planning in which
attention can be properly divided between rehearsals and practicing and attending to other career
related things such as answering emails, meeting people for various work, networking etc.
Although both the previous models are completely flexible in terms of what they can be applied to,
the Gantt chart does fall short in this area. This is partly due to the fact that the majority of what I
do is freelance. I found it difficult to stick to a chart accurately during the compositional process for
instance, often finding that it is difficult to time how long it will take to write a piece of music. The
same problem also applied to some areas of practice. If I had had a particularly successful practice
and was on the verge of achieving a goal I would often put in up to an hour more in order to make
sure I could achieve it. This means that the chart itself, although extremely useful, came more in
handy as a way of balancing my focus between overall aspects of my career and studies.

Once I was able to establish a routine of sticking with these concepts I managed to achieve every
single short to mid term goal I had set myself. Whether or not the combination of these and
perhaps other business models will succeed in helping me achieve long term goals like becoming
a good reader remain to be seen as things of that nature take much longer to generate work and
are harder to analyse. I am confident that they will however, I have become much more patient and
objective with regards to my learning and playing and have even overcome some of my initial
weaknesses and I definitely look forward to overcoming my threats and embracing my

Honey, P. & Mumford, A. (1992) The Manual of Learning Styles (Maidenhead: Peter Honey
Honey, P. & Mumford, A. (2000) The Learning Style’s Helper Guide (Maidenhead: Peter
Honey publications)
Kolb, D. (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and
Development (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall)
Kolb, D. (2000) Facilitators Guide to Learning (Boston: Hay/McBer)
Pahl,N. & Richter, A. (2009) SWOT Analysis - Idea, Methodology & A Practical Approach
(Grin Verlag)

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