Q. What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
A. Shop around, and don't settle. You're paying your hard-earned money for a service, so be as sure as you can be that you're going to get what you're looking for. Talk to a handful of teachers and compare their offerings, knowledgeability, references and testimonials to each other.
Most teachers' motivation is directly proportional to their quality of service. If a teacher seems apathetic to gaining your business, she's most likely going to have the same apathy toward your lessons.
Be most interested in teachers who take the time to answer your questions, provide background on their qualifications and experience, and respond to you in a timely manner.
Q. If you were a customer, what do you wish you knew about your trade? Any inside secrets to share?
A. The most important thing in finding a good guitar teacher is to make sure that he or she is responsible and reliable. It seems cliche and should be a given, but too often I hear stories of students constantly waiting for their teacher to show up, who then arrives late and unprepared.
Such an approach shows a teacher whose commitment is sorely lacking, and this inevitably shows through in a student's lack of potential progress.
An instructor I would want to learn from would be where he says he's going to be, when he says he's going to be there, and does what he says he's going to do.
If there's a "secret" to quality instruction, it goes back to the focus on strengths, rather than weaknesses. Many, many instructors tend to focus on somewhat unnecessary material, like sight-reading standard notation. This is a waste of time if the student is sitting there, knowing how to read piano music, holding a guitar that she can't play.
Q. What important information should buyers have thought through before seeking you out?
A. Before you start looking for a guitar teacher, it's important to really ask yourself why you are wanting to learn guitar. Is it just a hobby? Do you want to pursue a career? Are you looking to be the Next Big Thing?
All of this is not only very important information for a good teacher to know about you, but also for you to use in gauging a potential instructor's ability to meet your needs.
You should also have some days and times in mind for when you can take lessons, as good teachers are almost exclusively very, very busy, and have limited openings.
Lastly, know how much you expect to pay for lessons, and try to avoid pricing that seems too high or too low. Exorbitant pricing can indicate a scam; suspiciously low pricing indicates teachers who are not confident in the value of their own services.
Q. Why does your work stand out from others who do what you do?
A. The system I teach, developed by David M. McLean and an integral part of the Skinny Devil Music Labs (SDML) goes far beyond standard once-a-week lessons, and I take an active role in the development of the students who have put their trust in me. My approach is uniquely catered toward the needs of the individual, and though housed in a standard curriculum, flexible for students who have a specific focus on aspects of the music industry.
Expect to experience guitar lessons far different from those normally found in this and other areas. I teach it this way because it works. My student base is large, and I keep students for a very long time, for very good reason.
Q. What do you like most about your job?
A. As I said before, teaching guitar is my passion. Frankly, when I chose music as a career, I didn't expect teaching to become a path for me. Through David's guidance, however, I almost instantly fell in love with it.
Nothing makes me feel more satisfied than when I see my students reach, and normally exceed their personal goals. The look on their faces when they light up after nailing a lick that's been troubling them, or suddenly grasping an elusive concept that opens up a world of possibilities, makes me feel like I am offering a valuable service and making a difference in their lives.
And I know how they feel, because I've felt that myself under David's instruction, and it's the best feeling in the world.
Q. What questions do customers most commonly ask you? What's your answer?
A. One of the most common questions students ask me is, "How much should I practice?" Without exception, I answer their question with a question: "How good do you want to be?"
Jimi Hendrix took his guitar to the grocery store, laundromat, walking down the street; he was obsessed with the instrument and it showed in his greatness. The students who succeed the most are the ones who gain the same (or similar) obsession. That's why the SDML system is committed to focusing on strengths, rather than weaknesses.
When students are compelled to direct their time and efforts to the aspects of playing that they enjoy and excel at the most, they tend to also organically grow in the areas that lack, and therefore become a whole and confident guitarist.
Q. Do you have a favorite story from your work?
A. It seems like I gain a new story every week, something that makes me feel proud of my students and very fortunate to do what I do. It would be impossible to choose a favorite.
One of my most memorable experiences, which happened very recently, was when a former student was instructed to write a paper for a college course. The topic was to be "a career worth pursuing." She chose guitar playing, interviewed me, and wrote an extremely flattering and touching piece, detailing her experiences as my student.
That essay is something I'll hold near and dear to my heart for the rest of my life. It was the quintessential example of how my work has helped someone see the possibilities that a world filled with music can provide.
Q. What do you wish customers knew about you or your profession?
A. Guitar teachers are often pigeon-holed as washed-up musicians, or struggling musicians trying to make a few extra bucks to make ends meet. This is a difficult badge to overcome, and is the reason I take great pains to brush it aside.
Unfortunately, the stereotype isn't without good historical basis.
The SDML system, however, is different. Teachers in our network are required to pass rigorous testing and training before they're permitted to acquire students under the system's name and criteria.
Many guitarists also assume that lessons are either for those who suck at guitar, or that they'll be forced to learn whatever style of music this instructor is familiar with. Neither of these things are true in my lessons. Many experienced guitarists have jumped their abilities, and I teach whatever style the student is interested in.
Q. How did you decide to get in your line of work?
A. After several months of intensive training, my teacher suggested that I give teaching a try, by acting as a substitute for him one day. The lessons went incredibly well, and the feedback from the students was extremely positive.
I continued to substitute teach for a few months, then slowly began building my own student base in my off time from work. Eventually, classes grew to the size that, when I got laid off from work, I was able to move into teaching full time and business exploded. I still have a significant waiting list to this day.
Teaching isn't for everyone, but it's definitely become an integral part of who I am both personally as well as professionally.
Q. Do you do any sort of continuing education to stay up on the latest developments in your field?
A. In addition to being a teacher, I am and always will be a student of David McLean. Despite my large base of knowledge on the instrument, each week he manages to find new ways to hone my skills and introduce new (and sometimes mind-boggling!) concepts in analyzing and/or creating different pathways to music.
At the moment, I'm involved in developing a new, comprehensive training program for guitar instructors as part of the SDML expansion project in 2011. It's a ton of work, but I find myself being auto-re-educated (if that's a word) and even seeing areas I can improve on in my own teaching and playing. It's a continually evolving process, and I expect it always will be.