I remember vividly the first time I touched an electric guitar. I'd just turned 13, had played around with this plastic guitar-thing belonging to my brother that had this box you'd strap to the neck and then push buttons on the box to get different chords!! Right away, I had that box off and figured out what it did and started playing chords the right way on the little plastic ax! But when I finally got my hands on a real electric guitar, it was truly love at first sight, touch, sound, etc.; that love affair has only deepened with time.
About a year after I started playing, I started teaching guitar to junior high school students. As I grew, so did my students and experience, as well as my love for teaching itself. My most promising student during my high school period became a professional musician, and still remembers my "Three Inviolable Rules for Guitarist Excellence"! (In fact, he had to remind me of the wording.) I continued to teach in college, stopped temporarily for graduate school, and then began again. I wound up as a University Professor, and continued teaching guitar on the side.
Now that I'm retired, my own music practice and study has increased, and I have restarted my music teaching career, which I find very rewarding. One thing I'd like to share is my teaching philosophy and approach to individual tutoring.
HB's Philosophy of Learning Guitar
According to many musicians who know many instruments, guitar is one of the hardest to learn. Our right and left hands must work in tight coordination but independently, and we must push the string right behind the fret or we get that so-obvious *thud*. Our right hand must hold the pick at the appropriate angle, whatever that is, and learn to do fast triplets and other odd-numbered runs that confound alternate picking. And we still must be able to whip off at least 16th notes, error-free, if we're to be taken seriously. And if the physical challenges weren't enough, there are five places to play middle "C"! At least on a piano, it sits still!
OK, now that the excuses are out of the way, we can talk about learning how to do it! I do not have a canned program, set of instructional books, or any other structured approach that removes the flexibility so essential to learning in an atmosphere of experimentation. One of the first goals, in fact, is identifying the ideal approach for each individual student.
This is not to say that I don't use books, DVDs, and other media that are right for the purpose; of course, I do, and cherish the really great ones I've found over the years. I just want to emphasize that every student I take on is recognized as a unique guitarist, with her/his own way of doing certain things, many of which aren't wrong just because they don't look exactly like the way I do it.
A common liability of sticking with one certain program is that students can get the message that if their hands don't look exactly like those in the book's photographs, they're "doing it wrong". My philosophy, and that of any pragmatic musician, is that if the chord sounds clean and clear, it's being played correctly, no matter what it looks like. In fact, the unique way that each person stands/sits, holds a pick, strikes the strings, uses vibrato, holds his/her left thumb, and many other factors combine to provide every musician their unique sound.
I do not teach students to read single note lines unless they're dying to, and I categorically do not believe that reading single-note phrases is essential to be a "complete" musician. History and current events are loaded with great musicians who never bothered learning to read. I'm not saying that it doesn't confer advantages; it does. But although I'm a great keyboard sight-reader, reading fast single note phrases on the guitar is pretty dicey for me.
HOWEVER - In contrast to single note lines, being able to read a chord progression is absolutely, vitally important! You're jumping the gun trying to study advanced topics like improvisation if you can't sight-read a chord progression at virtually any speed and in any key. If you can't do that, you'd better not show up at a decent jazz open mike session somewhere you plan on returning to.
Some players, especially the older, more experienced ones, can grumble if new guys don't know "the book" by memory, but there are usually charts for common tunes floating around. If someone gives you a chart to follow along while everyone jams, they'll all expect you to be able to fit right in. If you crumble into little pieces, you'll feel terrible, and it'll take a long time to live down such an embarrassment. Fortunately, it doesn't have to happen.
How We Begin
After our initial contact, we'll schedule a (free) session to get acquainted, and just talk, play a little, I can show you some examples of teaching materials I use, and you can show me your current level of proficiency (and visa-versa, if you want). Usually, this is sufficient for you to decide whether this looks like an association you feel you can make good progress with, that you feel comfortable around me, etc. Similarly, I'll consider the potential for my being able to help you quite a lot, and also ponder whether we'd be a good personality match for the long haul.
Usually, the decision is obvious by the end of the first session. My last contact was with a guy about 15 yrs. old and his Dad, and it was clear to all of us within 15 minutes that it wasn't to be. He had a huge amount of remedial work to do, and since I don't work with beginners, it didn't happen. But it was fine, no hard feelings, no one out any money.
My preference is to conduct lessons in my home, but that's all it is - a preference. I have a large house with a huge music room, which contains all of the amplifiers, guitars, effects pedals, etc. that you could wish for. There's also a powerful Yamaha P.A. system with two monitors. I also have several computers and a small playback system for listening or playing along with tunes. By the way, the neighbors say they can't even tell when I'm playing, even when we've been playing loud! However, if circumstances or just personal preferences dictate that lessons occur in your home, that's no problem.
How We Continue
When we've agreed to take this journey together, I like to spend awhile, each with guitar in hand, and talk about what it is, specifically, that you want to achieve on the guitar. It may actually be a question you've never given serious thought to, especially if you don't practice much. But you'll quickly see that without specific goals to work toward, people feel directionless; even worse, they have no way to measure their progress! What a horrible atmosphere to try and learn in!
Once your goals are defined, you'll pick the one you want worse than the others, and I'll suggest an initial approach to work toward it. From there on in, we'll keep assessing how you're doing, trying different things, using some interesting tools to help achieve speed, and work together at whatever pace you can assimilate. If I had to choose a level of proficiency that I most want all of my students to achieve, that's easy - for them to become musically fluent. It takes work to achieve, but once you have it, you'll never forget it (unless you try), and it's absolutely prerequisite to becoming a great improviser - the highest state of the art.
You can get an idea of my approach to various facets of guitar musicianship by looking through the pages under "Musicianship" on the menu bar. Enjoy, and I hope to hear from you!