Dots Special: Interview with guitar & bass teacher Richard Mackman

I’m always interested to hear opinions on various aspects of music from people who look at things from different perspectives, and I enjoy working out where people get their inspiration, tastes and motivation from. I find it’s a good discussion point, and that people who are truly passionate about music have some extremely interesting viewpoints.

I recently asked experienced guitar and bass player and teacher Richard Mackman about his love for music, and how his career has progressed since he first had the inclination to learn to play. Read on…

* Starting with the complete basics, do you remember the time you first felt compelled to learn how to play music? Can you describe it to me?

Seeing Noddy Holder on TOTP in March 1973 (I was 6) playing Cum on Feel the Noize was the clincher. I thought “Now then, THAT’S what I wanna do!” Here is the exact video:

* What was the first guitar you owned?

An Eko 12 string guitar that my cousin Chris gave me for a tenner back in 1982 for helping him move house – it was a great guitar, now sadly deceased though.

* What’s your favourite guitar that you’ve ever owned?

A 1985 Fender Strat, in black. I only paid £200 for it, it is my most comfortable guitar and sounds like cream.

Strat1 (3)

* Are you self-taught, or did you have any lessons?

I had about 6 months of lessons with a blues player when I was 17 – he wasn’t a great tutor, but we used to jam and improvise a lot, and I ended up then working for him in his shop on a Saturday for £5, and was a roadie for his band – this was invaluable experience.

* What is the first song you learned how to play on guitar?

Blimey, I think it may have been “When I’m 64” By The Beatles – there are some cool chords in that.


* How did things progress from there? Did you join bands, or just play as a hobby?

I started writing songs, mostly instrumentals, right from the beginning, long before I really tried to learn other people’s songs. My guitar was a vehicle for self-expression, and I was feverishly prolific in those early years with my compositions. I was then in two bands, one of my own forming and an established “indie” band on bass, both within 18 months of me starting to play.

* Have you got any formal music qualifications?

I have a diploma in Sound Recording and an ‘O’ Level grade A in Music!

* Do you have a preference of the type of music you enjoy playing?

I’ve always loved “Rock” music, whatever that means these days, but I started off with a bunch of exciting Hard Rock bands, and then moved through into punk, so I always have a formative soft spot for those genres.

* Have you ever gone a day without picking up a guitar?

Rarely – even when on holiday I’ve had access to guitars!

* How did you initially get into teaching guitar and bass?

I’d dabbled a bit early on, teaching a couple of friends/acquaintances. I was then made redundant in 1991, so thought “why not, I do not like working ‘for the man’”, so I decided to give it my best shot. I’ve now been teaching since March 1991.

* Where do you teach?

I have a very cool designed studio room in my house. It’s perfect, and I love the whole set up.

* You’re currently in a few different bands – does that interfere with your teaching, or vice versa?

I’m able to manage my time pretty well, with certain nights for each band to rehearse, some bands are more busy and regular than others. The Contrast takes a certain priority since we do have a recording contract but I have 3 other bands I’m involved with.

* If you had to choose between teaching or being in a band, which would it be and why?

I think I’d always want/need to do both, although I’d love to just have one band I was committed to that played live a couple of times a week. Teaching keeps the mind sharp, keeps the skills up, enables me to make a reliable living, and also to meet a bunch of cool people too, and I get to hear a lot of new music.

* Which guitar and bass players would you recommend that people watch and learn from?

Paul McCartney is pretty tasty on bass, the “classic” players offer so much, so looking at people that are iconic legends from the last 50 years is the way I’d tend to steer people. There are dozens – personal favourites such as Bruce Foxton, Jay Bentley, James Jamerson, Scott Gorham, Richard Thompson, Geddy Lee, Brian Baker, James Hetfield, BB King… the list is endless!

* Is there anything you don’t like about teaching?

The hours are flexible, but can be unsociable sometimes, people who don’t show up, or who argue the toss about paying the late cancellation fee really get on my wick. This is not just my hobby, it’s my living and people need to understand that.

* How do you deal with people who aren’t motivated to learn?

There is only so much enthusiasm, guidance and effort I can put in, but if students do not practice, don’t really want to do it, are unreliable or make excuses then sadly I cannot wave a magic wand and turn them into Jack White – they have to meet me half way and give it their best shot. When they do that I’ll give 1000% to enable them to be good at their instrument.

* What’s the best thing about teaching other people?

Inspiring people. Music IS the great communicator, it transcends all barriers and it is a joyous, inexpressible, benevolent thing to be involved in. Seeing kids learn from nothing to becoming really talented through my help is very, very rewarding.

* What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?

Try to consciously relax, clear your mind, and try and simplify the basic things I’ll be teaching you. One small thing done perfectly, added to other small achievements soon becomes the basis of your whole playing experience.

* What common mistakes should people try to avoid when learning?

Practicing irregularly and without a routine. Avoid getting into the habit of feeling you “can’t” do something – you can quickly become disheartened with that notion.

* If you could go back in time and give yourself some advice for learning guitar, what would you say?

Start early. I wish I’d have picked a guitar up and had lessons aged 10 instead of waiting.

* What’s next for you in the world of music?

I’ve a couple of new band ideas on the go that I’m very excited about; my new band The Expletives is a lot of fun, and we are gigging furiously through 2015. Come see for yourselves.

Richard Mackman has taught guitar and bass in the Greater Peterborough area for nearly 24 years. He has a wealth of experience, is passionate about what he does and is highly recommended by students both past and present.

He’s currently in four bands – The Contrast (bass), Sex Pistols tribute band Filthy Lucre (bass), The Expletives (guitar) and Ignition (bass), and as he mentioned has a lot of gigs coming up this year so you can go along and see him and the bands in action! He’s also part of an exciting new band, the details of which will be revealed all in good time!

If you’re interested in having lessons with Richard, you can contact him via his official website.


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