Phil Hitchcock – Guitar instructor

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Guitar instructor Phil Hitchcock has been teaching guitar techniques and application to eager Manning-Great Lakes students for 20 years. Phil teaches lessons in electric and acoustic guitar playing, plus also bass guitar and ukulele at ‘Gemini II Music School’, situated near One Mile Beach …

With over 30 years’ experience in the music industry, Phil has toured and played with members of top Australian bands, including The Executives, Zoot, Pirana, Tamam Shud, L.R.B and Blackfeather. He has also played with Rock ‘n’ Roll royalty such as Normie Rowe, Stevie Wright, Renee Geyer and G.Wayne Thomas.

In previous years, Phil has been instrumental in both booking drawcard name bands and performing either solo or with lineups. He has supplied quality sound reinforcement systems for many Australia Day concerts in John Wright Park and a number of successful Relay for Life weekends for the Cancer Council of NSW, in Tuncurry.

FOCUS spoke to Phil about his love of all things music …

Communication, inspiration, knowledge, patience and being a good observer … are these the traits of a good guitar teacher?

Patience, most definitely. You never know when a young student is going to eventually flower into a budding musician. Being a good observer allows a tutor to find and then develop a student’s strengths and not to be blinded by any weaknesses.

Of course knowledge, not only of many styles of music, is essential – but more importantly, how to convey this information to an individual student. This involves artful communication skills (often coupled with a bit of comedy relief).

How much theory do you teach?

As much as the individual student can handle. I think it’s important to be introduced to the fascinating traditional rudimentary ‘language’ of music and all of the magic (from the ‘mathematical to the mystical’) that it encompasses. I always try to teach both Manuscript Notation and also ‘Guitar TAB’.

It is often said that music encourages development in our children. Why is this? Do you encourage your students to learn how to read music? 

I do try with all my students, although some will dismiss it out of hand. “Contempt prior to investigation can be the installation of ignorance in a young mind,” I always say, so I often persevere.

Those who learn how to read music often do better at other subjects at school. Why this is, I’m not sure (perhaps it opens more neural pathways in the brain). This I do know: that they do a lot better socially. Music is FUN! Also, it’s made for sharing.

Are guitar tabs or ‘numbers on strings’ a good or bad thing? How might guitar tabs reduce the nuances of music?

Guitar Tablature (or ‘TAB.’) is a very basic format to instruct the guitarist where to put his fingers on the fretboard for notes or chords; it lacks expression of timing, however, but if the melody is familiar, then it is a very simple, easy format for guitarists who don’t read manuscript to play a popular piece of music.

Some aspects of traditional notation can be incorporated into TAB. to give the timing of a piece, allowing far more expression. A great amount of TAB. can be found on the internet for popular songs, but I’ve found the majority of them, in my opinion,to be erroneous at  best!

As a four-string instrument, the ukulele is an excellent choice for children to start playing. Has there been a resurgence in  ukelele playing in recent times?

Yes, thanks to the likes of artists such as Jason Mraz, Ingrid Michaelson, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and even George Harrison of the Beatles turning their hand to the Uke with great success. The ukulele is Hawaiian in origin and came to favour in the early 20th century elsewhere in the United States, and from there spread internationally.

The singer and comedian George Formby was perhaps the UK’s most famous ukulele player, though he often played a  Banjolele, a hybrid consisting of an extended ukulele neck with a banjo resonator body. Demand surged in the new century due to its relative simplicity and portability .

How many guitars do you own?

Not enough (or too many to mention). My main workhorses are Fender Jazz Bass when I play with the band, and on my solo gigs I use a Maton Acoustic or a Fender Stratocaster. I also favour a couple of Takamine acoustics on occasions.

More recently, I have acquired a cherry red Ibanez ‘Artcore’ AS73T semi-hollow double cutaway electric (reminiscent of the Gibson ES 335) with a Bigsby style tremelo arm … great for both live or recording applications.

You play in a three-piece band and do solo performances. Where do you perform?

I will be playing a solo gig at the Bellevue beergarden from 2pm Sunday 19. I will also be playing solo on Friday 3, 17 and 31 August @ The Colonels Café, Forster Marina on Little Street, Forster (near the South Street roundabout).

The three-piece Rock/Boogie/Blues band is called ‘VICE’. We play a lot of private functions and parties, but keep your eye on the gig guide on my website for updates of local performances at a club or pub near you! (www.philhitchcock.com.au)

Do you have any upcoming events?

Annually, I put on the concert, Phil Hitchcock’s Guitar Extravaganza, featuring my students at a venue performing two or three songs each, either solo or in a small combo or band situation (or with me). This gives them all something to work towards and to experience ‘treading the boards’ in a live setting. Although mainly attended by friends and family members of my students, all are welcome.

Recently I’ve lent my hand to a sophisticated computer recording program in order to record more of my original material. (My first solo album, Love Never Dies, recorded some years ago is now still available and can be sampled on YouTube. Links are on the website.)

Thank you Phil. 

Interview by Karen Farrell.

This story was published in issue 66 of the Manning-Great Lakes Focus

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