UD#98 The Tale of Billy the Gap Hunter

Posted on

UD#98 The Tale of Billy the Gap Hunter
from Ukulele in the Dark with Guido Heistek

It is really hard to fix a problem you are not aware of. 

I heard this story some time ago. I can’t remember who told it to me. And, full disclosure, I know very little about tennis and may have gotten some things wrong. Here goes. 

The back hand…

There was a tennis teacher who noticed that her student was bending his elbow too much on the backhand. She told him again and again to keep his elbow straight and she was getting more and more frustrated. She moved his arm through the proper movement, but the student would quickly fall back to his old ways. Finally, losing hope, she decided to try something new. She videoed her student doing a backhand. She didn’t really expect that the stubborn fellow would get much out of seeing himself, but she figured it was worth a try.  

The student watched the video with a furrowed brow.  Then, he turned to his teacher and said, without a hint of sarcasm,

“You know, I think I am bending my elbow too much.”

The teacher was speechless. Shortly after this, the backhand problem was resolved. 

From my ZOOM teaching studio…

I’ve been thinking lately that it is not so important what I notice about my students playing. It is more important what THEY notice; and also what they are NOT noticing. 

Let me give you an example.

Billy the Gap Hunter… 

I was working with a young student. He’s a kind of precocious kid. He likes his lessons, I think. But, he doesn’t like to practice. We have been working on a little uke piece called Spanish Melody.  It is a waltz that has a pluck strum strum pattern to it. When it’s played well, you can almost see the couples twirling around the dance floor. When Billy played it, he paused between each bar. Like this:

Pluck strum strum ……Pluck strum strum ……. Pluck strum strum…..

It was like a new driver hitting the gas, then the brake, then the gas, then the brake. Jarring!

He cheerfully played the whole song that way. 

I felt less than cheerful throughout his performance. The thought crossed my mind that he might be trying to drive me crazy and thereby get out of future lessons. I tried to let that thought pass.

He finished the piece and we sat, there in silence. He seemed to be waiting for me to say something, so I asked him, “How did that go for you?”  “Great!” he replied. “Any trouble spots in there? Things we need to work on?” “Nope.” Hmmmm…

The rest of the conversation went something like this:

Me: “Can I tell you something that I noticed?” 
Billy: “OK.”  
Me: “I noticed that you were leaving a gap between some of the bars.” (I didn’t say every bar, even though that was true) “Did you notice that Billy?”
Billy: “No”

It occurred to me at this point that he had no idea he was leaving a gap between every bar. He was not trying to drive me crazy. He was just unaware. But what to do? I thought about recording him and playing it back, but I decided to try something else. 

Clapping and counting…

I got Billy to do some simple clapping and counting in 3/4: 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 etc.

We did a variety of things like stressing different beats, just to get into the feel of a nice even waltz. 

Then, I asked him to play the first 8 bars of the piece and count along. He was still leaving gaps, but I could see that he was noticing now because it disturbed his counting. The next part was unexpected and fun. 

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

I asked him to play the piece again, and I told him his job, this time, was to be a GAP HUNTER! If he noticed himself pause at any point he was to say: “GAP!”

“Okay, Billy?”  “OKAY!”

I could tell Billy liked this idea. 

It went something like this:

Each time he yelled “GAP!” it was like he had discovered buried treasure. He really seemed to be enjoying himself. I was starting to enjoy myself, too. I relaxed. 

“Okay, Billy,” I said, “Now for the tough part. I wonder if you can LEAVE OUT the gaps. Do you want to give it a try?”

He gave it a try and…drumroll…he managed to play the piece with only a few pauses. Pretty smooth! A huge improvement!

Way to go Billy!

I really liked how this scenario played out.

Correction in lessons doesn’t always work out this way. But, this instance showed that discovering mistakes can be something fun and worth celebrating.


All for now!


P.S. I am regularly adding new lessons to Ukulele in the Dark. Please subscribe to my mailing list below to receive every lesson right when it comes out. Be sure not to miss a thing!


* indicates required