There are a lot of different expectations when people walk in the door for music lessons. Some are misguided, some are unrealistic, and some are perfect. I've been teaching lessons for quite a few years now and this is a pretty comprehensive look at what to expect and what not to expect when taking music lessons. 

1. My job as a teacher is to guide you in learning; to help the student as they learn and practice. Think of me as a mentor and guide. I am not merely a dispenser of information or a magician. I can only work with what you bring me as a student. 

2. If your child is under 12 it is your job as a parent to make sure he is practicing. 
I understand wanting to teach children responsibility, but until they reach an age where they can really make decisions for themselves it is your responsibility as a parent to make sure that your child is practicing. I use twelve as a general age, but every kid is different. Until around middle school age almost all of my students (even my star students) have to be made to practice. Make it a non-negotiable part of the normal routine, like brushing your teeth. Would you let your kids stop brushing their teeth just because they didn't feel like it?

3. You will get out what you put in. If you practice 30 minutes every day, you can expect a solid, gradual enhancement in your musical ability. If you only practice your instrument a few minutes a week (or only when you see me) then don't expect much in return. 

4. I cannot make you a great musician, only you can do that.  I can guide you and give you tips to make your practice more efficient. I can give you exercises and songs that will challenge your ability and stretch you as a musician. But only you can put in the work to make something great out of it. 

5. Excuses for lack of practice (even great excuses) don't matter.  When I ask a lot of students about their practice time during the week the initial responses are generally, "I went to a birthday party this I didn't get much practice." "My grandparents were in I didn't get much practice." "My sister had a softball I didn't get much practice", etc. You make time for what you want to do, period. If you don't practice, you will not get better no matter how great your reasons for not practicing were. 

6. If you don't practice you will not enjoy lessons or the instrument and you won't be any good at it.  This seems like a no-brainer, but I have had students come through that rarely practice and wonder why music lessons aren't any fun and why they aren't improving. Our culture is catering more and more towards instant gratification. If you are looking for instant gratification, music lessons are not the answer. Being able to play an instrument is enriching and rewarding, but it takes a lot of time and effort. Is it worth it? Definitely. 

7. If you come to lessons unpracticed all I can do is watch you practice for 30 minutes.  This isn't fun for anyone, but you would be surprised at how often it happens. If you haven't practiced, there is nothing I can do except watch you work on what you should have been working on all week. I can't teach anything new. I can't even reinforce old techniques. Without regular practice, everything breaks down. As a general rule, no more than 10 minutes of our lesson time should be dedicated to working on material that has already been covered. I should listen to what you have practiced, give encouragement and correction, and then go on to new material. 

8. Practice involves working diligently and productively on a piece of music or exerciese.
Practice is not playing through your favorite songs over and over. 

I made this mistake for a long time. Playing your instrument at home is not the same thing as practicing. To be honest, practice time should be about 80% frustration and hard work followed by about 20% of sheer joy and fun. The concept of practice is simple: Take something that you are having trouble with and work on it repeatedly until you become proficient at it. This is the only way to practice. I have had students that "practice" for an hour each week, but only play through fun songs and never work on bettering the assigned material. This goes back to instant gratification. If you only play easy, fun songs during your practice time now you will never be able to play challenging, fun songs later. 

9. If you aren't practicing and are strugging with easy material don't expect to work on difficult songs.  There is a logical progression to everything. If we aren't working on challenging material, it's because you aren't ready to work on challenging material yet. I'll let you know when you're ready. 

10. Practice every day.  Learning an instrument is as much about muscle memory as it is learning to read music. As your body adapts to doing certain movement (playing notes on the guitar or grooves on the drums) you will become more proficient at it. Daily practice is the key. You  will be a much better musician if you practice six days for ten minutes than if you practice one day for sixty minutes. 

11. Have Goals.  Have things that you want to achieve. Your goals should be measurable and achievable. Here's some good examples:
"I want to play this song completely without stopping by next week." 
"I want to be able to play (insert song here) by the end of this semester" 
"I want to be able to play this song without looking at my hands"

12. Taking music lessons for "fun".  I have had parents tell me that they just want to make sure that their kids have a great time and that it's all about fun. Many times, these are also the students that don't practice because practice isn't "fun". Learning an instrument can be a lot of fun, but it takes hard work and practice too. I guarantee that your child will not have fun learning an instrument if they never practice because it isn't "fun". 


You probably noticed that most of the above were about practice. That is because that most of what is accomplished when learning an instrument is not accomplished in the lesson room. It is accomplished by putting in hard work at home. I struggled for a long time to find good practice habits, but I can assure you that they do pay off! I'm still not as diligent as I need to be with my practicing, but it does make a difference. 

                      I'd love to hear what you think. Feel free to post comments or questions!

The impact that Guitar Hero and Rock Band has had on our current musical state is undeniable. When I first started teaching guitar, I was saddened by the songs that most students wanted to learn. Most of it was whatever bland, pop artist was currently on the radio or rap. There's just not much that a guitar teacher can do within those genres. Enter Guitar Hero. All of a sudden my students want to learn AC/DC, Ozzy,  and Boston. Excellent! Now I've got something to work with. Guitar Hero and Rock Band have introduced the current generation to a lot of artists that they would probably have never heard, but will it make you a great guitarist or drummer?

First, lets separate the two and talk about guitar. Sadly, even if you can rock it out on expert on the latest guitar hero, it probably won't help you out very much in the real guitar world. Pushing buttons just isn't the same as having to learn to press down strings. But there are some benefits. It will help you with dual hand coordination. Translation: It may be easier for you to fret a note with your left hand and pick a note with your right hand if you've had some Guitar Hero experience. Depending on the song and your right hand technique (all downstrokes or moving the controller down and up) it may even help with developing more solid rhythm or alternate/sweep picking. So, if I had to rate Guitar Hero's ability to prepare you for the world of actual guitar I would give it about a 3/10, only slightly higher than air guitar.

Now we come to drums. Caveat: I must first admit that I have only had limited experience playing with the drums on Rock Band and haven't had the opportunity to try it on Guitar Hero. That being said, I think that drums on Guitar Hero/Rock band are an adequate preparatory tool for learning drum set. You get the feel of holding sticks and playing with multiple limbs (both hands and your right foot) and it definitely helps with developing a solid rhythmic foundation. While playing drums on Rock Band I had to stop midway through the song and refocus because I caught myself jamming along to the song and playing parts that may not have necessarily been flashing on the screen. The Rock Band drum parts are a very decent replication of what it would feel like to actually play drums. It also gives a feel for staying in a consistent tempo (speed) instead of randomly beating drums in whatever tempo the aspiring drummer may choose. Now for the negative. Although Guitar Hero/Rock Band is a great way to get a feel for drums, it is almost inevitable that bad technique will form that will later have to be broken. Live drums feel and sound different then rubber pads (and are positioned differently), so this will take some adjustment. There is also no Guitar Hero/Rockband provision for your hihat (left foot) technique. But more important is stick grip and hand technique. The "caveman approach" to drumming (manhandling the stick like a club) that Guitar Hero/Rock Band often causes is quite different from the grips and finesse used in modern drumming. To be fair, most students begin drums with this caveman grip whether they have played Guitar Hero/Rock Band or not. Guitar Hero/Rock Band only strengthens a bad technique through repeated exposure. So, if I had to rate Guitar Hero's ability to prepare you for the world of actual drumming I would give it about a 7/10, a noticeable improvement from banging on mom's pots and pans in the kitchen.

It is almost funny to me how many beginner students I have that brag about the level that they can play on Guitar Hero/Rock Band and assume that they will immediately be able to transfer that over to the actual instrument. I think that speaks to our instant gratification culture, but I'll save that for a later blog. 

In closing, here are two guys jamming out to arguably the most difficult song on Guitar Hero. Could these guys play this on real instruments? Not sure, but i'm impressed at their video game virtuosity:
So, i settled in on a new design for the site and I think I like this one a lot better. Granted, from observing the traffic to the site most people never saw the old format, but I like the sleek new look. What do you think? 

The goal of this website is two-fold. First, I want a place where I can point my students to check out lesson books and other things I may talk about during lessons. Secondly, I want this to become a resource for guitarists and drummers (with a little thrown in here and there about other instruments). 

I'm in the process of adding some new features soon including Product Reviews and Instrument Comparisons. Product reviews give me a chance to give feedback on some of the cool products I have had the opportunity to experiment with lately. I've got two product reviews that I'm currently writing that should be finished by the end of the week. I'm also excited about instrument comparisons. I often get questions similar to this, "What's the best drum set I can get?" or "What guitar should I get my beginning student?". The answers to these questions are always quite subjective depending on who you ask, but I'm trying to bring in a little more objectivity. The first instrument comparison will be between drum sets (complete sets and shell packs) and we'll look at wood types, cost, configurations, etc.