Guitarist of the Month: Tom Rawlins

“Someone thanks to whom I went to some cool small punk gigs, someone who was out to play anything rock and just enjoy themselves in London through our year together in Uni – meet Tom Rawlins! Here’s his story in his own words 🙂 “ – Neli

“I am Tom, a 27 year old Guitar, Bass and Ukulele player and teacher who fell in love with the idea of playing when I saw Marty McFly play Johnny B Goode in Back to the Future. It still took me a few years to actually pick up the Guitar and dedicate time to the instrument but since then I have gone from knowing nothing to running my own local guitar school (Medway Guitar School in Kent) and playing in cover bands as my job and it is a progression I am immensely proud of.”

What were you like when you were first starting on guitar?

I started playing properly at age 15 and though I could already piece together a few chords at that point I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I could not afford a tutor despite wanting one and did my best to piece together what I could from online lessons, books and live videos. I probably had more confidence in my ability than what was warranted but that misplaced confidence did get me a long way so I cannot say I regret it.

You are the founder of Medway Guitar School. How did you decide tо make your own music school?

During my years at Uni I realised I had a love of teaching; whether it was teaching my peers who played other instruments or breaking down theory, I enjoyed the feeling of seeing something click in someone and seeing someone develop as a player. I could feel an immense amount of pride in them and myself from that development and that feeling is very addictive. It made sense to me that when I left University that it would be a key part of my income as a musician..

What makes for a smooth transition from being a guitarist to also teaching others how to be guitarists too?

Just get started, maybe try with a few friends and family first and then develop out for teaching for a small fee, try not to massively undercut the market but enough to reflect that you are a new teacher. Remember the pupil is always number one. You have to keep in mind that we all struggled with areas of our development as players at one point or another and that we have interests in completely different areas. I always meet the pupil where they are at in terms of ability and interests and develop their learning around those aspects. Always be patient and encouraging and help them find their own voice on the instrument. Trying to create mini versions of yourself is the quickest way to dissuade pupils from playing.

What are some realistic goals a beginner should set for themselves when first starting?

Honestly the smaller the goal the better. I always start with a few basic tabs often as simple as a single string tab. It is massively encouraging for a pupil to walk away from their first lesson having already made music. From there I continue to use tabs to develop the pupils coordination and dexterity whilst introducing them to basic open chords to play a simple song of their choice. Don’t start with chords right away, they are crucial in the early stages of playing but you need to develop some confidence and familiarity with the instrument first and nothing is better for that than basic riffs and melodies via tab.

As a guitar teacher with years of experience, how do you personally set goals for the continuous development of your guitar skills?

There are huge number of things that go into choosing a goal. As a professional there is also income development to consider. In the last couple of years for example, I have branching out into covers work, my focus has been much more on singing and song learning. But I keep small part of practice to one or two small developmental goals. Keep the goals simple, small and suitable to the amount of practice time available. Avoid overwhelming yourself. You may want to increase your repertoire, develop your technique, chords, aural perception and rhythm all at once but if you only have an hour practice a day you will make little to no progress. One thing at a time, for example I am currently working a single exercise daily for my alternate picking (my playing to this point has been more legato and economy picking based) and a single exercise for developing altered licks whilst improvising either side of my song learning practice.

Music theory scares many beginner musicians. How do you approach the matter with students who are overwhelmed by the theoretical part of music?

I often find music theory is less scary for pupils and more that they assume it could potentially damage their expressiveness as a player. When you are learning the fundamentals it can seem like a bunch of rules rather than what theory actually is, which is an explanation of how music works. I do my best to explain this through a demonstration to show how theory has impacted my own playing and development, explaining how those who do not understand theory often end up falling into the trap of “following the rules” without realising. I then work through the theory very slow step by step, I always test a pupils knowledge continuously making sure they understand the current step in full before moving onto the next goal checking in and gently encouraging them all the way.

What is something you learned from your students?

I am always learning from my students. Believe it or not just going over the fundamentals of playing with them has taught me a lot. You come into teaching believing that you already know these concepts in and out and while you definitely understand them explaining them and answering unexpected questions around the fundamentals can get you to think about them in a way you never imagined before. It can certainly help you to reinvigorate their use in your playing. The fundamentals can seem boring sometimes but even the masters worked on them well into their playing development, just because you know them does not mean there is not more to learn about them.  

Is there something you’d like to experiment with in music, but haven’t had the opportunity yet?

I keep meaning to sit down and practice more keyboards. While I understand what is theoretically going on and I can string together a few chords and scales my muscle memory and technique is not developed enough to perform proficiently and I do really need to get a decent keyboard and work on it. I believe it will help me look at music in a completely different way and potentially open up future performance opportunities.

Before lockdown Tom’s function band Slam Dunktion were about to get started on gigging. The lockdown put a hold on that for now but they are currently working on a video for when the gigs get going again, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

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