MY TEACHING APPROACH

Hi! Thanks for checking out my website. 

I would like to explain how I teach guitar, and why I do it that way.  I apologize in advance for being so long-winded, but it is important for you to find the RIGHT teacher, and this information will help you make that choice, even if I am not the right teacher for you.  For more extensive information about my musical background, please check out my BIOGRAPHY



THE IMPORTANCE OF GREAT BASIC SKILLS

My basic goal with my students of all ages is to get them to a place, as quickly as possible, where they can play the music THEY like, play it well, and are able to teach themselves going forward without needing a teacher. In other words, I try to turn my students into REAL guitarists, REAL musicians, as opposed to the kind of players who come home after school or work every day and keep hacking away at downloaded tab songs that they can't even play. I'm sure you know some of those "hackers", you may even be one yourself!!! There is an absolute wealth of guitar instructional material in the form of book/CD sets, DVD videos, YouTube videos, guitar magazines, online guitar instruction, etc. The problem is that if you don't have good basic skills on the guitar, all that stuff that's out there is impossible to follow. That's what I focus on: GREAT BASIC SKILLS (all you hotshots out there remember that even the most advanced guitar styles are still built on basic technical and musical skills). Even long-time players who have "hit the wall" and can't seem to progress always need some help with some aspect of their basic technique (read the testimonial from Doug Hubbard).   (back to the top)

PRACTICE TIME

Whenever you see a really great guitarist or other musician, it's tempting to say to yourself, "That guy/girl is really TALENTED, I wish I could do that!!!"

In reality, "talent" is almost a complete myth invented by lazy people to explain why they can't do something as well as somebody who is really good at it.  Any performer who you admire for their "talent" would be the first to tell you that they have spent many hours a week, for years, if not decades, practicing and working on their "talent".  Learning to play a musical instrument well takes a lot of work, but for people who really love music, that work is fun, even addictive.  Being musically "talented" simply means being drawn to music and having a strong desire to play music.  People who have the good fortune to grow up in a family that really loves music, or even plays music themselves, have a fairly strong advantage over people who grow up in a family that doesn't really appreciate music, but even that disadvantage can be overcome with a strong desire to play. This family musical background does give some people the appearance of having innate "talent," but the fact is, being a real player involves a serious commitment of time and effort for everybody, including "talented" people.  "Talent" really means "extreme motivation and full dedication". 

Many potential students ask me how much they should practice. The answer to this question is, "that depends on how good you want to be, and how long you want it to take".  For a busy young person or adult who has a fairly strong interest, an absolute minimum of 3 hours total weekly is the bottom line--anything less than this will result in very minimal progress, which will result in the student not being able to play anything that sounds like music even after a year or two. This is a fact, based on over 30 years of teaching experience that I have had. I have actually had young students go from their first guitar lesson to playing on the David Letterman show in the same amount of time that some slacker students are still struggling with basic chords (this is really true!!!!) I will not mention any names !!!                                                              

A student with a strong music background on another instrument, or even guitar, may be able to progress faster than a total beginner, but if you can't fit at least 3 hours a week of practice into your life, then you should probably take up stamp collecting or some other suitable hobby!!  I am well aware of how busy people are these days, but people who are pretty serious about playing the guitar well often put in an hour or two every day, and that's not a problem for them because they love music.  Serious musicians who have professional or semi-professional interests usually devote most of their spare time to practicing, many hours a week.  I generally seek out students who have a fairly serious level of commitment, and for this I make no apologies.  If you (or your child) is considering taking lessons with me, you should be prepared to practice because you want to do it, it's as simple as that.  My assistant teachers may be more suitable for a young beginner who wants to "try it out" for a few months to see how they like it, but they will still be required to get in 2 hours a week, no questions asked. Anybody who falls below this 2-hour-a-week threshold is classified as a "babysitting" case, and will be dropped (some of our "babysitting" cases are 50-year-olds).  If you are a real music lover, you will enjoy practicing and seeing yourself turn into a great guitar player, so practicing will probably not be an issue for you.  We are very supportive teachers, and we understand that life is very busy these days, but we are looking for students who have at least a moderately strong commitment to learning music.  We also refuse to teach anybody because their mother wants them to do it (this includes all you 50-year-olds).     (back to the top)

I put a great emphasis on the development of really strong picking technique, and this is the area that almost all "hackers" are deficient in, and many of them don't even realize what's holding them back.  I have never even heard of another teacher anywhere, or even any books or videos that really address the issue of right-hand picking and strumming technique from the ground up (or left-handed picking and strumming, if you play left-handed).  This most fundamental aspect of guitar-playing is largely ignored by guitar teachers the world over.  And yet I have found that if I can develop a student's picking hand in the first year of playing, over the course of 2 or 3 years most of these students will become fairly strong players, capable of playing even really "hot" guitar like fast bluegrass/country flatpicking or Led Zeppelin/Stevie Ray Vaughan style smokin' rock guitar.  I put the same emphasis on picking technique that a great drum teacher will put on learning the rudiments on a snare drum. Learning to use down and up strokes correctly is the key to everything on the guitar (except for fingerpicking, which I teach as well).

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For all beginners, as well as some experienced players who need some help, I use a couple of books that I wrote a few years ago for developing basic skills very quickly.  The cool thing about these books is that you can practice the strumming and picking exercises along with audio CD tracks or MP3 downloads that accompany the book.  From the very first lesson, beginners will be playing along with these tracks that I recorded with bass, drums, and acoustic and electric guitar, very similar to playing with a band or playing along with a commercial recording.  Practicing these basic skills in the book along with the CD tracks or MP3s absolutely works wonders with beginners, and it takes only a few months in most cases for students to be able to play some tunes that you can actually recognize!!!  My books also develop a rock-solid foundation in basic guitar technique that enables most students to keep developing into better and better guitarists, even years after they have had lessons with me. The trick is to get novice players started with good basic picking and rhythmic skills, then they are practically guaranteed to become good players pretty quickly.   (back to the top)

Most teachers promote the illusion that you can start playing songs right off the bat, even at your first lesson. This is a really incompetent way to teach, and is totally misleading to inexperienced musicians.  Think about it.  Do you really think it's possible for a beginner to play a Led Zeppelin riff, or a Brad Paisley lick, or a bluegrass run, or fingerpick like James Taylor?  Even some of the punk rockers that aren't very good guitarists are still out of the reach of beginners that dont even know 2 chords.  A beginner guitarist has about as much chance of being able to play a famous guitar song as a first-grader has of being able to write a critically-acclaimed novel.  And yet, that's how most guitar teachers try to teach. It's ridiculous. That being said, my students who are "doing their homework" will start playing songs even within a few weeks, as their skills develop, but the difference is my students will actually sound good!  Being able to play some cool songs that you like is important--that's what its all about! But putting in some serious effort in your first year toward developing solid basic skills will enable you to play probably 90% of all the popular guitar songs in the world, and play them well, just like the record!! We all know some long-time guitar hackers who can barely strum a Jimmy Buffet song at a cook-out, and yet I have 12-year-old students who can play Stevie Ray Vaughan solos note-for-note. THE DIFFERENCE IS BASIC SKILLS. That is what I emphasize, and I am good at it (I have had a lot of practice).

Guitarists who try to learn to play using nothing but song tabs are usually doomed to failure, even though it may take them a number of years to realize it!!!   (back to the top)

  • Holding the pick ( this is a critical area that is neglected by most teachers)
  • Rhythm guitar 101
  • Strumming techniques and styles / Keeping good time
  • Crosspicking
  • Chord Vocabulary and Chord Theory
  • Alternate Picking / Lead Playing
  • Ear Training / Developing a great "ear"
  • Improvising / Jamming
  • Music Theory / Chord-Scale relationships
  • Fingerpicking (Travis/Atkins style, Blues, Ragtime, Folk)
  • Hybrid Picking / Chicken-Picking
  • Reading and Writing Charts / Nashville Number System
  • Playing Songs that you like and playing them exactly like the recordings
  • Songwriting (If you are interested)

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Essentially, I try to develop really strong musical instincts in my students.  The real essence of almost all guitar-based music has a lot to do with strong rhythmic "feel" and flow--"groove".  All the great guitar music that people love, whether its rock, country, blues, jazz, R&B, bluegrass, whatever....it all has a strong rhythmic feel, even mellow stuff like James Taylor or Jack Johnson.  So, I really stress rhythm and "feel," the same elements that make a great bass player or drummer.

This video by Big Ron Hunter is an outstanding short lesson in playing with great "feel" and "groove".  Watch his pick hand; that is exactly how I teach my students to play -- always maintaining the rhythmic groove!!

It's important to find the right teacher. For many people, I would definitely be a great choice, but I am NOT the right guy if your main interest is: 

Classical - I have some classical background on other instruments, but I do not play classical guitar, and do not teach it.

Jazz - I am a jazz lover, but do not really play jazz guitar, and do not teach it.

Heavy Metal - I have no personal interest at all in metal guitar, and do not play it or teach it, even though my method would still give you a strong foundation to pursue metal guitar in a competent way.

I can help you find  a really good teacher for any of these areas if you contact me.   (back to the top)

I would definitely be a great teacher for you if have an interest any of the following styles/areas:

  • Rock and Roll / Rockabilly (50s) 
  • All 60s and 70s Rock, Pop, and Soul 
  • Classic Rock (Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Hendrix, Clapton, Santana, Floyd, etc) 
  • Blues and Blues Rock (Delta Blues, Stevie Ray, Allman Bros, etc) 
  • Southern Rock (Allman Bros, Skynyrd, etc) 
  • Some Alternative Rock (REM, Pearl Jam, U2, Chili Peppers, etc) 
  • Some 80s Rock (REM, Smithereens, Dire Straits, Bodeans, etc) 
  • Country (traditional and contemporary) 
  • Country Rock (Eagles, Steve Earle, Jayhawks, etc) 
  • Americana (Wilco, Son Volt, Gillian Welch, Old Crow, Avett Brothers, etc) 
  • Singer / Songwriters (James Taylor, Indigo Girls, Jackson Browne, Fogleberg, Dylan, John Prine, etc) 
  • Bluegrass (traditional flatpicking, Doc Watson, Clarence White, Allison Krause, Flatt and Scruggs, Tony Rice, etc) 
  • Traditional Blues (Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Boy Fuller, Robert Johnson, Keb' Mo', etc) 
  • Fingerpicking (Mississippi John Hurt, Chet Atkins, Travis style, James Taylor, etc) 
  • Pop (Sheryl Crow, Taylor Swift, Coldplay, Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, etc) 

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If you write with your left hand, making the decision to play left-handed versus right-handed guitar will probably affect your success as a player much more than any other factor. This is an area that I take very seriously, because I have had experience with a number of left-handed students  who came to me for lessons after they had already spent a few years messing around on a right-handed guitar trying to teach themselves. These "lefties" trying to play right-handed struggle with pick technique 100% of the time, and often are not able to take themselves very far, even with a lot of practice over several year's time. The fact is, mastering the use of the pick constitutes about 90% of mastering any guitar style that uses the pick, so if you are trying to pick and strum with your least-coordinated hand, you are operating under an extreme handicap. It is very frustrating for the student and the teacher.That being said, two of the coolest and most legendary rock guitarists of all time, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers Band were "lefties" playing right-handed. However, both of these guys did almost everything that they are known for in a fingerpicking style--Duane, of course, wrote the book on modern electric slide guitar, and Knopfler played some of the tastiest and funkiest rock guitar solos ever recorded, but they used their fingers of their right hand, not the pick. The "lefties" I have taught who started right-handed before they came to me often can develop a strong fingerpicking approach, but I have rarely been able to turn a left-handed/ right-handed guitar player into a really hot rock or country flatpicker, even though some of my younger students who studied with me from an early age from the ground up have turned into fairly strong players, although the upper levels of really fast playing are probably never going to be in reach for them.  

The bottom line is that if you write with your left hand, you would be better off learning to play guitar left-handed. If you have been playing for a number of years already as a right-handed guitarist, your best bet may be to figure out some fingerpicking styles that you  may want to pursue, just like Knopfler and Allman did. I will be glad to discuss this situation in depth with you at any time. Music stores generally just tell "lefties" to buy a right-handed guitar, which I consider to be extremely bad advice. After all, Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney both wanted to play left-handed, and their acheivements are beyond dispute. Also, a lot of people simply "inherit" a guitar from an older sibling or parent, or Santa Claus, and they just start on the right-handed guitar that they have to work with. However, left-handed guitars are widely available, and I can help you track one down. An inexpensive right-handed guitar can even be set up to play as a left-handed guitar for a young beginner who just wants to try it out before buying a real left-handed guitar. So if you want to discuss this topic with me, please call or email and I will try to help you make the best decision.   (back to the top)

Although I try to help my students become very versatile players, I do not generally work with them on learning to read standard music notation (the type of music notation, for instance, that  pianists and horn players read).  This particular skill takes a great deal of practice, and has very limited use in the real world of popular guitar. Most professional guitarists that are involved in any type of popular music other than playing jazz standards do not normally read standard notation.  It's just not a skill that will help you in rock, country, pop, or blues, except in academic settings.

Contemporary guitar players mainly need to develop a functional knowledge of theory, a great ear, solid rhythm, a vocabulary of licks, and a strong understanding of different styles.  I am classically trained on a couple of instruments, including piano, and I have been reading and writing music since I was young, so I speak from the standpoint of knowing how to do it.  If you are planning on studying guitar at the college level, it is a skill that you will need, but its much easier to learn basic reading skills on the piano, because of how the keyboard is laid out so graphically.  I would recommend piano lessons to any guitarist that is serious about learning to read music well.  I can teach you to read on the guitar if you want to do it, but it won't be fun, and it won't be easy.  There are really no good books that are fun to work out of.  There is very little application for reading music in the world of popular guitar music.  I normally emphasize reading the types of charts that rock, pop, blues, and country guitarists actually use: mainly chord charts (including the Nashville number system) and tablature (tab) charts.  I try to prepare my students for the real world of guitar playing, not the academic world.  I will work on reading standard music notation only if a student specifically requests it, and has the commitment to do the work that it takes.   (back to the top)

My approach on bass is rooted in traditional rock, pop, R&B, blues, and country of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Bass guitar was a really important instrument in the classic era of record-making, and can still be a strong force in contemporary musical styles (Flea is really the "lead-player" of the Chili Peppers). If you want to play bass in a mainstream rock band, or a country band, or a blues band, or a Southern rock band, or a soul band, or even a jazz-influenced band, I would be a great teacher for you. I would not be the best teacher for you if your main interest is the "slapping" technique which has been popular with some bass players ever since the funk/disco era. I could get you started on that technique, but that's about all. I focus on the classic traditional style of bass playing, the kind you hear on records like "Whipping Post" by the Allman Brothers Band, or any Motown song, or "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place" by the Animals, or "Sweet Child of Mine" by Guns & Roses. Listen to these songs---that's the real stuff, and thats what I teach. I think the hippest bass part ever recorded on a hit record is Bob Babbitt's bass on "Midnight Train to Georgia" by Gladys Knight and the Pips in the 70s. That is as good as it gets. Check out these bass parts in the YouTube clips below !!!!

Good traditional bass players are getting to be hard to find, and I encourage many of my guitar students to learn bass as well, because a good bass player ALWAYS has a gig!!!!

CHECK OUT THESE COOL BASS SONGS:

I teach banjo, mandolin, and dobro in a secondary capacity, because it's almost impossible to find a really good teacher for any instrument, and competent teachers of banjo, mandolin, and dobro are practically non-existent. I certainly do not consider myself to be a virtuoso on any of these instruments, but I am a solid utility player on all of them (especially banjo), and I can teach a beginner the basic skills and get them to a point where they can continue teaching themselves. A number of people that I have worked with on these instruments are in popular performing bluegrass groups. Just as in the guitar world, there is a lot of intermediate and advanced educational material available (including YouTube), but there is almost nothing to help a total beginner get started correctly from the ground up, with good basic musical skills and good technique. This is what I specialize in. On banjo, I focus on traditional Scruggs-style picking, with a strong emphasis on great timing skills and learning to take a sheet of tab and make it sound like Earl Scruggs himself. That gives you a foundation to really turn yourself into great picker. I have some great bluegrass play-along tracks that enable you to "play along with a band" while you are learning. It works!!!

On mandolin, I focus on developing great pick technique, which is actually almost identical to good guitar flatpicking. Picking technique is the big stumbling block for mandolin students, just like it is on guitar. I have a substantial amount of experience and success teaching traditional guitar flatpicking, and I apply this expertise to my mandolin instruction as well. My play-along bluegrass tracks also work well with mandolin.

If you want to learn the dobro, I could get you started down the right path if you have a background on either guitar or banjo. The dobro is tuned and picked similar to the banjo, but it is also a relative of the guitar, so some prior experience on guitar and/or banjo would be a huge asset in understanding how to play this unique but beautiful instrument. Having a really good musical "ear" is imperative to play the dobro well, and I think that it is easier to develop a good "ear" on a fretted instrument, where the notes have a fixed pitch. On dobro, every note that you play has to be played in tune by holding the steel in the exact place, and this can only be determined by using your "ear". So I would probably require any potential dobro student to have some previous background on guitar, banjo, or any other instrument that requires using your ear to play in tune (which is the case with most instruments except for drums and keyboards).   (back to the top)

I maintain a part-time staff of one or two assistant teachers, who are usually former students of mine who have been specifically trained by me to teach my method using my beginning book/cd set.  These teachers are extremely patient and very nurturing with younger students in the 8-13 year age range, and they are closely supervised by me to assure that the students are learning the most basic skills, and also enjoying themselves.  When a young student has mastered some of his/her basic skills, it will be time for them to start with me.  Many young people who started with my assistants and then "graduated" to me have turned out to be excellent guitarists and musicians.  Starting with one of my assistants is a great way for a younger person to "try it out" in an easy-going, very relaxed environment, just to see if he /she likes it.

Check out more about my assistant teachers here.    (back to the top)

There are millions of guitarists throughout the world, thousands of them are famous.  Nobody can do it all, and I don't pretend to.  Anybody who claims that he can do it all is a poser!!!  However, for someone who is interested in some of the mainstream artists and guitar styles from the late 50s through the rock explosion of the 60s and 70s, classic country, folk, and bluegrass, some of the more musical alternative rock of the 80s and 90s, or just about any older or contemporary artist who is a real guitarist, I'm the right guy.  If you are a songwriter who wants to really improve your guitar chops, I'm the right guy.  If you are an older player who is "stuck", I can help you.  I have had a lot more female students in recent years, probably due to the success of such talented girls as Sheryl Crow, Taylor Swift, Patty Griffin, etc.  I am a huge supporter of girl guitar players, and I would personally like to really turn out some girl players who could burn it up!!!!   (back to the top)

I generally set up a free consultation at my studio with potential students, so that they can meet me and we can discuss our "game plan".  There is no obligation for this consultation, it is simply a way for us to meet each other and discuss what you want to be able to do on the guitar, and what type of music and artists you like.  I can also check out your guitar to make sure it plays correctly and is set up for easy "action".  I can help you get your guitar adjusted, if necessary, and I can also help you get a great deal on a good beginner instrument if you need one.  Please contact me if you would like to schedule a consultation, or let me know if you have any questions that are not answered on this website.  I would also be glad to speak with you on the phone at anytime.   (back to the top)


Check out my BIOGRAPHY page if you want some information about my background.

Photo Credit: Don Wirth

Photo Credit: Don Wirth

Here's a picture my friend, legendary bass player Don Wirth, snapped. He told me he was entering my "vintage" Toyota into the World's Dirtiest Truck Contest, but I think he secretly just wanted a good picture of his Rickenbacker 12-string (yes, that is the exact same model that George Harrison played in A Hard Day's Night).