Take lessons with me!

Looking for music lessons in Portland, OR (or perhaps over the internet)? I teach all ages and levels and all sorts of musical styles. Along with traditional approaches, I offer a unique emphasis on the science and psychology of music and on creative exploration. Visit the lessons page to learn more.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Guest on the Unformatted podcast with Ryno the Bearded

This past week, I was a guest on a podcast show called Unformatted. The host, Ryno the Bearded, does podcasts dedicated to Creative Commons music, and Unformatted is the looser chat/interview show.

Check out the podcast at http://rynothebearded.com/2014/09/mere-exposure-effect

The show is a bit over two hours long and covers topics including: copyright, music business, economics, participatory vs performance-based music, philosophy of art, barbershop harmony, software freedom, and more. Overall, it's a good casual summary of my whole personal story of my life and career and how I came to my current understanding and feelings on these topics.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Many Ways to Introduce Guitar (or related instruments)

There's no one right way to start learning the guitar.

Even within the scope of strict classical guitar, teachers debate all sorts of things: Should we start with the plucking-hand alone or including the fretting-hand right away? Start with rest-stroke or free-stroke? Start with only rote listening and following of a teacher or use standard notation? Start with single note melodies or with chords and arpeggios?

Break out of classical assumptions and the options grow exponentially. Start finger-style or with a pick? Start with standard tuning or open tuning or other alternatives? Learn simple songs or simplified versions of more complex songs? Focus on solo guitar or guitar as accompaniment to singing or guitar as in a band context? Use tab or notation? Start with blues, rock, pop, Flamenco, folk-songs, or another style?

Even all those options have cultural assumptions. So, I prefer to start by teaching the basic physics of the guitar (which are truly universal to all styles and approaches). Then, we can explore the options creatively! However, despite my love of open-ended creative exploration, I've found that many students do best with the plain old traditional approaches. It varies from student to student based on personality, interests, and experiences from other studies (both musical and otherwise). With so many different things to learn, even advanced guitarists with decades of experience may remain totally unaware of some of the basics in other directions than the ones they know.

I already posted a lesson video on the rhythmic foundation of guitar. That's one great way to start. Today, I'm sharing a handful of other lesson videos which are still are only a sample of the countless approaches to the instrument.

If you have any trouble with the streaming videos, you can download the files directly at archive.org/details/guitar-intros.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Rhythm Guitar Lesson

I've been teaching guitar lessons professionally for around 15 years, and certain things keep coming up. I've been wanting for a long time to record the core set of lessons that I teach various students on day one. I can't teach every student everything, but there are a dozen or so ways to get started playing guitar. Each approach has a different focus.

Here's the first of the series:

Of course, there are a lot of details not covered in the video. So here I'm sharing further notes that touch on things I typically cover in the next several lessons (with varying amount of detail, depending on each student).

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Homage to Pete Seeger 1919-2014

Today, I reflect on the passing of one of my few great heroes. Pete Seeger was first and foremost known as a musician, but he was much more than that. For Pete,
music was a vehicle. At his core, he was an activist for cross-cultural understanding, civil rights, a healthy environment, love, justice, and inclusion.

In my own essay about my teaching approach, I  quoted from Pete's guitar book which somehow cut right to the core in a way none of the other 400+ guitar books I've read have done. His sense of perspective was just wonderful, and he cared about people more than about music.

I don't need to provide any biographical overview here as Pete has been, thankfully, recognized and honored by millions of people. The Wikipedia page linked from the picture above goes through the details. The simple fact is: the core energy that Pete had was unfortunately unusual. He was a man of deep integrity who lived all his life working for a better world.

I grew up listening to his music and conscious of his notable roles in the civil rights, environment, anti-war, and labor movements. Still, it wasn't until I began my own deep explorations of folk musics from around the world and struggling with my own feelings about my music career that I really came to appreciate Pete more deeply.

As a musician, Pete was the essence of what I call being expressive instead of impressive. Im- means in. To impress someone means that the energy goes inward from them to you. By contrast, to be expressive means to send your energy out as a gift to others. That is the core of Pete Seeger as a musician: a performer who didn't care about his performance. Every element of his music was about tearing down any walls between himself and his audience. Unlike other sing-along concerts and pop music idolatry, nothing about a Pete Seeger experience was contrived. He cared only about making everyone else feel appreciated, welcome, and connected. He wanted nothing more and nothing less than for everyone in the world to join together in harmony, recognize our common human heritage, and work together for peace and justice worldwide.

I could go on and on about how the core values that Pete expressed inspire me and provide such a great model for a life well-lived. For what it's worth, I know Pete would celebrate the cultural freedom and open participation that I am promoting now through my website: Snowdrift.coop.

Pete Seeger lived a humble and sincere life of great service. I encourage everyone to learn about his legacy and continue the important work needed to achieve a peaceful, healthy world where we can all sing together in harmony while celebrating our connections with each other and the rest of living things as well as our marvelous diversity.

Addendum: Probably the best example of Pete other the prototypical examples of his most famous songs, All Mixed Up written in 1960:

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Move to Oregon, announcing Snowdrift.coop

Up to now, I've been negligent in updating this site in 2013. Here's the brief explanations and highlights:

After 15 years of teaching in the Ann Arbor, MI area, nearly moving on to various other directions over the years (a time in a touring rock/jazz/jam band that was also a barbershop quartet, an almost move to California for a PhD), I've moved on to a new stage. My wife got a fellowship position through Portland State University and, on unfortunately short notice, we moved 2,300 miles across the country to our new home in Oregon City. We don't know how long-term this is, whether we'll stay in Oregon after this or what.

(UPDATE: We stayed in Oregon! Moved into Portland in August 2014! Future not absolutely certain, but, at this point, we intend to settle in here.)

I plan to keep teaching and may try video-chat lessons over the internet, although I know that won't be the same and won't work as well for certain sorts of lessons.

Most importantly, this move has allowed me to focus on the major project that has become my main passion over the last year: Snowdrift.coop.

I've avoided making big announcements as the site is still in early development, but we're starting to reach out to more people now. We're especially interested in finding volunteers who support our vision.

In summary, the purpose of Snowdrift.coop is to be a platform which will bring together communities of supporters to help creative projects of all sorts that will all be of the highest ethical standards. The projects we support will all be free to everyone to access, modify, and share. They won't have obnoxious ads nor spy on you. The way we envision achieving this is by a new type of matching pledge system to bring everyone together to fund development. Visit the site to read about the details.

Aside from the hassles of moving, most of my time has recently been spent on Snowdrift.coop. Learning some programming and other new skills has been challenging and fascinating. I've met many amazing and interesting people and communities.

Still, if you happen to be near Oregon City Portland and interested in guitar lessons, or want to try online lessons, let me know! Teaching has always been and continues to be my passion. I just hope to be able to share my insights and resources more widely with the whole world with the support of Snowdrift.coop once we have it actually operational.

Thanks especially to all my students in Michigan who I had the privilege of teaching over so many years! I wish you all the very best, be in touch!

I'm not sure what the future of this site will be, but if you want to keep up with my progress in the near future, get involved with us at Snowdrift.coop.