Austin truly is the live music capital of America—this rockin’ city boasts 50 percent more requests for adult guitar lessons than any other U.S. city on Thumbtack. What makes Austinites so music happy?
What’s your music specialty?
There’s a teacher for every type of student in Austin. Laurie’s been teaching for over 30 years. Her music specialty is anything and everything on acoustic or electric guitar. She was a singer/songwriter for 20 years on acoustic, but also plays in rock bands. She loves teaching music theory, as well. Arnold went to school for electric guitar, and ended up falling in love with classical guitar. He’s been teaching and playing ever since. Christopher studied classical guitar in undergrad and received his PhD from Stanford in music composition. He teaches classical, rock, jazz, as well as music composition and music theory.
Who are Austin guitar students?
All the instructors agree, everyone plays guitar. Laurie’s youngest clients are 4.5 year old twin girls, her most senior student a respectable 82. Christopher’s youngest client just turned 5, but he says the majority of his Thumbtack students are in their 40s. The genders are also fairly balanced—Arnold shares that around ⅔ of his clients are men and ⅓ are women. They range from all demographic and socio-economic backgrounds…everyone just shares the desire to play. Laurie agrees, it’s everyone from retirees down to young kids. She also does a lot of mentoring through music, working with kids who struggle with emotional challenges, ADD, or just need kids who have a love for music and need to connect in that way. If money’s an issue, she’ll find scholarships or help find a way to get them an instrument.
What do Austinites want to learn?
Some just want to start and others want to go next level. Arnold often works with beginners, so his goal is teaching them the fundamentals: note reading, proper rhythms, and proper technique. With the right foundation, he says, they can then tackle the style they want. He enjoys getting people started from scratch—learning about the instrument, how to sit with it, and then getting into those three core basics.
Beginners often want to improve their skills quickly and get beyond playing just a few chords, says Laurie. Her advanced students who might be stuck in a rut often need to work on theory. She loves teaching theory as applied to guitar and bass. She worked with Deven Ivy from Residual Kid for 3.5 years (he’s 16), and he’s now touring in Europe and playing SXSW. She says it’s so fun to see those students with creative minds who love to play. Whether beginner or advanced, with adult students she says it’s important to develop trust with the clients.
Students who want to tighten up their skills make up much of Christopher’s clientele. His advanced students are making requests for jazz and for music theory, while some of his more beginner students just want to learn to play songs.
What does it take to learn guitar?
Patience and a good guide, according to Christopher. A bad foundation is worse than no foundation, he says. Your progress might be slow and steady, but don’t give up—even when you get frustrated. Keep an open mind, stay dedicated, and maintain a consistent practice. These coupled with a good guide will get you there.
Wanting and trying are essential for Arnold. He urges people to get a feel for it, and just be willing to give it a shot. He likens it to starting a paper. When you’re staring at that blank page it’s daunting, but once you get going there’s a groove and a rhythm that will carry you forward if you keep working at it.
Commitment to finding the time to practice. If you want to be a guitarist, says Laurie, you have to create time in your life to practice. Work it into your routine. The technique and skills required take repetition and practice.
Why do you think Austin has 50 percent more requests for adult lessons?
Three factors, says Laurie. The average age is 32, so there are a lot of young people here. It’s a relatively stable city economically, so people are able to pursue passions like guitar. And the third (and most important) reason, it’s such a musical town. Austin is saturated with music, there are bands on every corner, so there’s constant inspiration.
Couple that with the fact that everyone has an old guitar lying around they’ve been meaning to learn to play, says Arnold, and you have the demand for lessons. He sees guitar as a way for people to find balance in busy lives.
A desire for more music education is also a component, says Christopher. He has students who are hungry for music theory and a good teacher who is able to get under the surface of the music and teach them how and why of it.
Any tips for hiring a great guitar pro?
Find someone with a diverse music background, suggests Christopher. Find a technically skilled player who is also an excellent teacher. Look for someone with a good reputation who will push you, and have you leaving the guitar session feeling good.
Communication skills are key, shares Laurie. She echoes Christopher, saying they can’t just be a good musician, they also have to know about reading music, technique, understand theory, and know a diverse range of music styles—not just one thing.
There should be give and take, says Arnold. Students can come in with their plans for what they want to learn, but a good teacher will guide them and provide valuable lessons about guitar as well.