A Glimpse into Dr. Kostelnik’s Past
Getting to know the professors here at Southwestern is truly one of the best parts of your Southwestern experience. It’s one of the many benefits that comes with having small class sizes, and demonstrates the kind of attitude Southwestern expects out of its professors. Recently, I attended my one-on-one guitar lesson with Dr. Kostelnik, and I was struck by how effortless teaching seemed to him. During that lesson with Dr. K, I wanted to know why that was so I asked him. What follows is my inquisitive mind, trying to get to know the man behind the guitar.
Q: How long have you been teaching?
- Dr: K: “The very first time I ever taught a lesson was when I was an undergraduate. A girlfriend at the time recommended somebody to take a guitar lesson [from me]. Of course this guy had an electric guitar, and I was just a novice classical guitarist. I didn’t know anything about teaching anyway. I don’t remember the lesson at all, I just remember that it didn’t go well, but I was doing it! [laughs] But I started to support myself with teaching around by the time I was finishing my undergraduate degree. I was about 20 years old. And all throughout my masters and doctorate I taught private lessons, small group ones with kids and private lessons with adults.”
Q: When did you first pick up a guitar?
- “I was 10 when I got my first electric guitar. I loved rock and roll. I wanted to play AC/DC. I took lessons for maybe a couple of years. I really loved the sound of the guitar. I wanted to be able to do it, and turns out I’m really good at it, or because I’m so interested in it, I’m good at it? After a couple of years, I was able to play well enough by ear so I spent time listening to records. I made the connection/realization that there’s an aspect of speed to pitch and how fast things vibrate, if they vibrate faster than higher, slower than lower. It was so interesting to me.”
Q: Why do you think playing guitar came almost naturally to you?
- “I had a lot of initiative I think. I always wanted to fiddle and never wanted to quit. I always keep coming back to a problem so I could figure it out. Towards the end of high school, I thought I would go to college to study it as a music major; however, I didn’t know anything about classical guitar. I had no idea how to play it. I kinda vaguely understood how to read music. When I was 18, I had to start from scratch and I think there may be some benefit in that. You can better learn how to teach how music works, what the language of music is, music theory, and learned physical aspects of what you’re learning.”
Q: Is that where your teaching philosophy comes from? Teaching the basics no matter how “experienced” you are?
- “That’s the beauty of this: you’re supposed to come completely naive. I love all my younger students, of being someone’s first teacher. It’s really critical to get some things right in the beginning. So maybe, that had some effect of where having to learn it later, that helped me understand something about the process others may have taken for granted. I can’t take anything for granted teaching wise.”
Q: Does that help you help students who are struggling a lot at first?
- “For sure. Most of the stuff I know how to do, it has to do with the fact I remember learning it. I remember looking at music notation and saying ‘wait a second that doesn’t make sense.’ I actually remember being very angry. My first lesson as an undergraduate I didn’t even have a classical guitar so I had to buy one, and my professor wanted to start from the beginning. I remember trying to learn how to read music, and I couldn’t understand it because the thing about classical guitar is that not only do we play one melodic line, we play more than one line. I couldn’t figure it out. So my teacher chose something I could kinda understand. Once I started to get that, it gave me a little bit of an inkling. After the 2nd week, I finally got it. And honestly just for me, the fact I could play a baseline and the melody line at the same time and maybe sometimes have a third voice was the coolest thing [smiles]. And I never touched my electric guitar after that. I just lost interest in it.”
Q: Is the complexity of classical guitar what you love about it?
- “Oh yes. I can read all of it now. It’s like a language to me. Because it is a language. I don’t just understand where to place my fingers, how long to play a note, I understand what to do with it. Which is the thing about this because it’s full of all kinds of information. Explicit information. You put a note head on that line and it tells you to play that note, and if it’s this shape then it tells you to play for this long. You can understand very specific, explicit things, but there’s all this implicit stuff that you just need to know because you’ve been taught to understand elements of style and components of theory. Like that ought to be loud because that’s a note that wants to lead to this note. Loud and soft, fast and slow. It’s simple things in the more complex version of it that’s what’s interesting to me about music. All the beauty of each individual line, because when you’re playing the music, you are able to hear and control not just one line, but two or three that are happening independently.”
Q: What is your take-away from teaching?
- “Being a Teaching Assistant really gave me very specific knowledge about the act of teaching itself. One thing I learned, and something I transfer to all my beginners, is that most everybody gets confused on certain things which is easy to do because we’re human. But if I can talk about what’s confusing to my students right away, not only does it dispel the problem, but it helps to learn the process. Things go faster. . . It’s nice to know that so you can take it and throw it away so you can start to learn the correct way. That’s the logic of the system.”