Teaching Style

Beginning guitar students often want to play too fast or learn a song that may be too difficult too soon seeking only immediate gratification. Truly most all popular musical styles like: pop, punk, rock, funk, folk, blues, jazz etc. require a moderate to high level of technique (physical dexterity, accuracy and speed) just to play a song at the correct tempo.

My teaching approach is connected to the proper way to practice slowly with proper technique. I show students what to practice, how to practice it and why there practicing a specific technique, exercise or ultimately a piece of music they wish to perform. I break down all aspects of the physical, theoretical and the practical applications of guitar playing. I teach through my own performance examples, listening to music with students and give verbal examples of how specific skills on guitar can be applied in many musical situations. (I write down excercises and use a variety of books and audio to achieve this, please see books link at bottom left) Many years of one on one teaching has shown me that when a student sees the bigger picture along with the smaller parts necessary to achieve desired results from hearing me play the examples while providing further explanation regarding why learning with correct technique and theoretical understanding is important they are more eager to practice with the proper technique, discipline and passion necessary to achieve the positive results there after. They always seem to have a fun filled and rewarding experience during that kind of demystification process of learning to play the guitar.

John with FenderEach time you practice you are training your mind to think and behave in a certain way which tells your hands what to do. If you make a lot of mistakes that’s a bad habit your creating in your playing and your overall thinking process. Attempting to learn and practice too fast, seldom if ever leads to good technique or mastery on the guitar and creates another bad personal habit of constantly being rushed in the way you approach learning that accomplishes nothing fully. If you remember that “repetition is the mother of skill”, and you apply this concept with the proper energy, focus and technique regarding your guitar playing you will see massive improvement in shorter periods of time and a much more thorough understanding of musical concepts you thought were once out of reach. I guarantee it!

I’m going to repeat this concept over and over in different ways trying to embed it in your mind in the same way you should come toward daily practice on the guitar or during any discipline of study. Thoughtfully and passionately! Remember, it takes time for the brain to absorb a concept fully enough to allow the bodies physical dexterity to be accessed by our conscious selves. Only when material is fully digested can you apply what you know either while improvising or in the way you approach daily study. So slow methodical practice will undoubtedly lead to faster more accurate guitar playing and a better grasp of all musical concepts. It’s always more beneficial to learn each concept thoroughly, breaking it down into smaller more digestible pieces and work on performing the technique slowly and accurately. It’s that simple! Rushing has NO place in good guitar playing.

So if you continuously make mistakes while practicing or you can’t remember the material your trying to memorize, you’re going too fast or trying to stuff too much information in your head at once. Also, because everyone learns differently, the process of studying to play an instrument like the guitar is also a lesson in teaching ourselves how to learn and digest worthwhile information not just musical information.

Orca Workshop Pic 4When you hear a great song just know that hours upon hours went into it’s creation and performance from the first moment each musician picked up their instrument when they were usually a young child. The musicians who wrote and performed your favorite music did so by the slow repetition of practicing specific techniques the proper way over and over and over again with great focus. A so called musical genius or prodigy is usually no different from you or me, they just applied the proper musical techniques with great consistency and unrelenting passion. Yes! You need passion for everything you do to propel it to the highest level.

To understand what a musician must know to play their instrument with skill, to solo and improvise or perform music with other musicians can be a daunting task for beginner students of all ages. With this in mind I immediately stress proper physical technique: correct posture, how students should hold their pick, position there thumb on the neck and play close to the fret to create the best overall sound and ease of play. Proper technique is the core of all playing, and the the techniques I teach will allow a student to branch of into any style of guitar playing later on. Within the first 2 lessons I teach to use a metronome and tap their foot to begin learning to keep a consistent beat. Rhythm is of paramount importance and must be developed early on and as other physical skills are integrated as the learning process develops. I also play with students during our lessons and always try to teach by example through playing with a passionate spirit and putting forth the kind of emotional interpretation the music requires. Dynamic, how loud or soft a note is struck are also immediately integrated.

So think of technique as Yin and passion as Yang. You need them both to make beautiful music. As students learn to keep a steady pulse through while tapping their foot to the metronome playing basic rhythms on one note. This is developed separately from reading music and thinking about where and how to place their fingers on the guitar. I can’t stress this enough, the huge importance of playing with a consistent beat. If a student is not playing music in good time their music will be unable to captivate an audience or more importantly inspire the student themselves.

I also teach students to understand basic music theory, the language of music, because it allows each student to navigate more fluently throughout the guitar fret board and communicate effectively with other musicians. Notes, scales, chords, songs and improvisational concepts become much easier to see, remember, understand and access when not just perceived as singular concepts but as a harmonious union of parts that come together in specific ways when music is created. By communicating through a basic knowledge of music theory musicians who play different instruments and musical styles can collaborate more smoothly and effectively. With a basic language of music theory under their belts musicians can focus on the joy and emotional nuance of playing their instrument rather than trying to explain what, when or how to play together. Saying things like “No dude!! put your finger over there!”. That’s no fun for anyone.

John with Fender

I believe the more songs a student learns as they progress the better but only when they can to perform the necessary techniques at a desired level that wont create new bad habits. Unlearning bad habits is a chore no one wants to do or has too if they learn correctly the first time. The use of two hands and the micr movements neccessary to achieve a good tone and actuate proper technique when approached haphazardly can create allot of undesirable bad habits. Just like playing a sport, students need to know the correct rules and techniques of how to throw, kick or hit the ball before their able to play within a game effectively. That’s why team sports at all levels practice sometimes five days a week and even for months in the off-season before they perform in a game. Performing on the guitar or any instrument is very similar in action to performing in sports (although obviously playing the guitar is similar in concept but has techniques and the goal is not to win or beat someone it’s to unify).

I use a wide variety of exercises, studies that involve the left and right hand, rhythm exercises, neck navigation drills, playing simple melodies, basic chords and many more tools and songs that have come to be called my layered, accelerated and targeted teaching method.

Regarding playing a song. What everyone would like to do as soon as possible. As soon as a student has an appropriate level of basic physical technique and a visual and conceptual understanding of the guitar I will instruct students to play popular songs picked out by myself and each student, not just exercises in a guitar method book. I will incorporate technique, reading music notation and tab, music theory, song form and ear training concepts through playing songs and while continuing to sparingly use guitar teaching method books for practice in specific areas of musical study when necessary.

Something often overlooked in the study of guitar or any instrument is the prerequisite that to become a skilled guitarist or bass player involves good organizational skills. So I instruct students in how to create a repertoire book with three ring binder and plastic sheet proctors, how to devote a drawer for all things guitar related and so on. It may sound anal and funny but I have witnessed students with a new zest for learning and obtain rapid growth as players when they became more organized and their guitar materials where ready at hand.

I also teach students to research the origins of music they listen to and desire to perform somewhat like a music historian. It’s good for students to know who wrote, performed, recorded and produced their favorite music so they may perform it with greater authenticity and transcend the knowledge they have acquired to enhance their own creative process as guitarists or composers. I encourage students to take the time to explore music stores that sell professional music equipment and learn as much as they can about the names and uses of the kind of equipment they use and any other gear that may help fill in the blanks when it comes to performance, songwriting, recording and studio production. I feel it’s really important to take the necessary time to answer student questions about all kinds of musical gear, music history etc. because I feel it is invaluable for a young guitarist/musician/composer to understand as much as they can. Music is such a vast subject. The more music vocabulary and overall understanding of music and all it’s faces that students have, the better equipped they will be at identifying how they relate and interact with the music. they will have greater skill at identifying their strengths and weaknesses which will provide them with a greater opportunity to succeed at any musical endeavor they undertake.

Well I guess to sum up my teaching approach, I strive to instill in students a great respect and understanding for their musical endeavor on all levels.

I believe that there’s music inside all of us. With a few simple tools, planned out goals, some dedication and hard work, most all students can learn how to bring the music that’s inside them outward, for themselves and others to enjoy.

Congratulations on the magnificent choice to learn how to play the acoustic, electric or bass guitar and experience first hand how incredibly enlightening and rewarding a true musical experience can be!

John in Concert