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Thoughts, Experiences & Background on Teaching Guitar
I am primarily an electric guitarist. I use use a pick along with occasional use of my middle and third fingers of my right (picking) hand. This is my default teaching style. For electric bass, I teach right hand finger and thumb techniques and consider pick usage as ‘optional’. The majority of my performing background is ensemble-based. As such, when appropriate, I place emphasis on the player’s role in the ensemble/band setting.
Instructing the young beginner …
I am familiar with and have taught (and learned) using the Berklee Guitar Series as well as the Mel Bay’s Modern Guitar Method. I have also written my own methods, Fundamental Guitar and Beginning Music And The Guitar. Each of these methods teach standard music notation and assume pick technique is used. I have also taught beginning classical guitar using the Frederick Noad Solo Guitar Playing course and Aaron Shearer’s Classic Guitar Technique. Though not my specialty, I fully understand the basic techniques used in the classical style and am capable of introducing students to the style as well as other finger-style techniques. That said, it is not my goal to dictate a particular style, and feel that if a student is ‘leaning’ in a direction that may be better guided by an instructor with a focus on that particular style, then I will refer the student as necessary.
A note on reading…
Regardless of which teaching method is utilized, young beginners should learn to read standard music notation. I feel that being able to read music notation is an important part of learning the instrument and builds the foundation necessary to give future players access to the full body of existing musical works. In addition, the ability to read standard notation opens doors to the world of professional music and enables one to communicate her/his ideas using the world-wide standard language of music.
The fast track …
With the increasing popularity of Tablature notation learning to play guitar music quicker and easier than learning standard notation. This diagram-based method is effective, but has shortfalls. Firstly, not all music is available in ‘Tab’ format. Tab is primarily limited to ‘popular’ guitar music. Second, it cannot be used to communicate ideas to players of other instruments (well,other than fretted instruments). Also, it cannot illustrate the fundamental aspects of music theory, such as the ‘hows and whys’ of harmony and improvisational theory. Tablature does have its place (see below), but in the longer term, the young beginner would benefit much more from the inherent advantages afforded by reading music.
The casual adult beginner …
Music can be a wonderful way to ease the stress of our daily routine. Each adult student is likely to have different needs or desires in learning to play a musical instrument, and these needs should be addressed on an individual basis. Most of my adult students are interested in playing simple chords as accompaniment for singing popular music or improvising on simple song forms such as the blues. It would be counter-productive to insist these students learn to read standard notation. Weekly assignments should not be too demanding as the frustrations of beginning guitar exist for all ages. Remember, the goal for the adult student, in most cases, is to use music as a therapy to ease stress – not create it! I will try to make learning a pleasant experience.
The serious advancing guitarist …
There are guitar players of many levels out there. It would be impossible to generalize a method for all of them, and just as impossible to be the ideal instructor for each of them. Sometimes personal style matters, sometimes not. An interview would be necessary.
With all these things considered, let me attempt to generalize anyway.
It is my experience that a good set of basic skills (including basic reading skills) and a fundamental understanding of music theory is of key importance to the player seeking to expand her/his horizons. Good ‘ears’, technique and practice regimens are also critically important, but a solid foundation, musical knowledge and understanding (theory) ‘opens the doors’ (our mind). Most players already understand the importance of disciplined practice. Ear training can be practiced specifically, but is also learned inherently through listening analytically to other players or ensembles and learning what is going on musically.
I will address each of these aspects (basic skills, music theory, ear training and practice routines) as necessary.
Who am I …
I’ve played guitar since about 10 years old. I took lessons until I was a young teen, at which point I joined my first band. I started playing the club scene at 17. I was under age and had to remain on stage during breaks. I worked/played/lived in the New York, South Florida and Atlanta areas until 1980 when I enrolled at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. While at Berklee, I maintained an average GPA of 3.7. I studied guitar privately with Bill Bresnahan and Bob Harrigan. In addition to private studies, I participated extensively in ensembles and guitar-specific classes. My focus however, was on music arranging and composition for film, studying with Herb Pomeroy, Greg Hopkins, Robert Freedman, and Donny Nolan. After graduating from Berklee (’85), I relocated to Seattle, WA where I worked in the music business as a guitarist, bassist, producer, director, arranger and teacher. During my 10 years in Seattle, I taught at several different music shops, Northwest College and my home studio. Since moving back to the east coast I’ve remained active in the music business as player, writer, instructor and studio owner. I have recently relocated to the Raleigh, NC area and I’m doing the same thing here.
I look forward to helping keep music an important part of our lives.