Lessons

LESSON DETAILS



First, here's the generic stuff that sounds exactly like all the other teachers you'll find:

Since 1998, I have taught music lessons, primarily guitar,  with students aged 3-75, ranging from absolute beginners to advanced professionals.

I tailor lessons to fit each student's interests, learning styles, and overall circumstances. I have a classical guitar degree but enjoy and teach a wide range of styles. I love teaching above all, sharing ideas with students and helping them grow as creative musicians.

Standard rates are $30 per half hour, $40 per 45 min. or $45 per hour.

First lesson is always free, no obligation!

I now teach out of my home studio in Portland, Oregon; may come to students' homes in the area for an extra fee; and also offer live video lessons over the internet.

E-mail aaron@wolftune.com or call or text (734) 707-8828 to set up a first meeting or ask any questions.



These options aren't as generic:

Discounted (maybe even free) lessons may be an option…

Habla español bien? Quiero mas practico con el idioma, así que enseño lecciones de guitarra en español por una tasa rebajada!

Bartering for lessons is possible, including:

Help me bring about a better world by assisting in some way with my non-profit startup: Snowdrift.coop

Another option: help me develop materials for my new cognitive-science-inspired, creative-exploration-focused guitar method using exclusively Free/Libre/Open tools and licenses that encourage free sharing and adaptation by everyone. Even a beginner's perspectives could help with this project.

Contact me to discuss these or other options.



Some extra info:

How to choose lesson length?
  • In 30-minute lessons, I focus on priorities, make sure assignments are clear, teach necessary ideas, and check for bad habits. A little bit of improvisation, theory, and other skills can be covered. A half hour can be effective, especially when students practice well at home and do the work of further studying on their own.
  • A 45-minute lessons offers more time to monitor practice habits, review more assignments, do a full warmup, and cover more questions and ideas.
  • 60-minute lessons can include time for creative projects, more improvising, listening to music and discussing it, exploring, theory, discussion of learning methods, and/or a more relaxed pace while still covering everything that the shorter lessons include.
  • Some students choose longer lessons every-other-week instead of shorter lessons every week. This works well for students who are organized enough to keep up with things on their own between lessons.


MY BACKGROUND QUALIFICATIONS

Guitar

My most formal studies have been in classical guitar, including my degree in music performance from Eastern Michigan University, 2004. I have explored a number of other styles including flamenco, blues, American folksongs, pop, rock, funk, country/bluegrass, jazz, and other styles. Though I appreciate the value of tradition and working within an idiom, my main interest is in musical universals and cross-cultural perspectives.

Other music pursuits

I have vocal experience in classical choirs, folk music, rock bands, and barbershop harmony. I have been involved in music technology and recording, including publishing three CDs of original compositions (mostly electronic music). I have studied and performed on the Chapman Stick since 1998, including two dedicated years in a full-time pop/rock band. The same band was also an award-winning barbershop quartet.

Music academics

I have extensively studied music theory, psychology, ethnomusicology, and physics of music, as well as composition and songwriting. Lately, I have focused on on the science of music perception and cognition. I'm also interested in the economic, cultural, and political issues surrounding music (such as institutional biases and the problems with copyright restrictions on culture, among other topics). I have taught community classes in music theory and music perception.

Teaching Experience

Among the many students I have taught, several studied with me for many years. One student started when I was still in college and she was in 3rd grade and then continued through many stages over the next decade until she graduated from high school and moved on. Another student started with me at age 3 and continued through the next 7 years to become a fluid improviser, expressive flamenco and classical guitarist, and creative songwriter (he continues now with another teacher, since I moved across the country from Michigan). Another started with me at age 8, continued for many years, and is now a professional guitar teacher himself.

I have also coached professional musicians, providing new challenge and perspective beyond the traditional approaches with which most people are familiar.

I have worked with students with many different personalities and interests. I always feel it is my duty to respect students where they are at and figure out how to provide the most positive, appropriate level of challenge to bring out their best potential. I also happily refer students to other teachers and resources when I think they will fit better for their needs.


GUITAR LESSON APPROACH

I encourage all students to explore multiple styles including classical, popular, experimental, traditional, and cross-cultural. I utilize resources from hundreds of different books, repertoire collections, software, and other media. Additionally, all my students learn to improvise, to discover patterns in musical structures, and to consider the nature of music with perspectives from science, culture, and self-reflection.

Lessons other than guitar

Although guitar is my specialty, I can teach in a few other areas.

I have some formal training and teaching experience with voice, although I am not qualified to teach operatic voice particularly. I teach vocal technique basics, creative vocal styles, expression/interpretation, and my particular expertise: vocal harmony and tuning theory.

I also teach beginning level for guitar-related instruments such as ukulele, bass guitar, Chapman Stick, and introductory level for other plucked/hammered string instruments. [I can teach basics on keyboard/piano as well, but my studio is not set up for keyboard instruction at this time.]

I offer supplementary lessons focused on theory, perception, creativity, and/or music technology for students already comfortable with basic instrumental technique or who are also taking separate traditional lessons with another teacher.


MY LESSON PHILOSOPHY

I start with understanding the nature of musical instruments, of sound itself, and of music generally. I make it clear that the standard approaches are not the only ones. I still teach standard approaches alongside other alternative directions. Some students focus on traditional techniques supplemented with some creative pursuits, while other students choose to start with alternative tunings or techniques and focus on creative exploration.

Some music teachers have spent all their time working on technique and learning the jargon of music terminology. Such teachers know that music is expressive, emotional, and culturally meaningful; but they can't explain why. I have studied the traditional Western approaches to music technique and theory up through advanced levels, but I do not find the explanations fully satisfying. Structural patterns are interesting but are merely the observations and not the explanation. Form is not function. Students can learn patterns in scales, chords, progressions, rhythms, and more; but these do not explain how or why they work nor which elements are fundamental to music and which are just peculiar cultural developments.

Strict teachers with a limited perspective risk falling into terrible attitudes like these:
“35 chords... some you will use, others you may never use.  Either way you must learn them all...” - Jon Buck, from Play Guitar in 10 Easy Lessons, 2007

“Cradling the neck between the thumb and first finger is fatal to the development of correct technique: its sole redeeming feature is to provide instant recognition of a player's incompetence.” - Vladimir Bobri, from The Segovia Technique, 1977
Here is a much healthier philosophy:
"Any musical instrument can be as hard to play as you want to make it. And if you wanted to be a person like Andrés Segovia or Merle Travis, why it would take a lifetime of training. But for most of us, playing the guitar can be about as simple as walking. Of course, remember, it took us all a couple of years to learn how to walk."
    -Pete Seeger, from the Folksinger's Guitar Guide, 1955
Note: Merle Travis (a legendary country-jazz guitarist) did precisely the sort of cradling that Vladimir Bobri dismissed as "fatal." Nonetheless, Travis fully deserves the honor of being mentioned alongside Andrés Segovia. They used very different techniques, yet both were superb virtuosos.

Pete's message is worth reiterating: Any musical instrument can be as hard to play as you want to make it. Moreover, there is no correlation between music quality and difficulty. Anyone can easily write an extremely challenging piece of music that sounds meaningless and uninspiring. It is harder to write a piece that is easy to play yet magnificently beautiful and expressive. Of course, there are also pieces that are both wonderful and difficult.

True mastery allows a musician to play whatever they like. But mastery demands incredible time and effort. While some students are deeply dedicated to music, most students have many competing interests — as well they should! I believe in keeping music in perspective (considering all the other valuable pursuits in life!).

Rote learning versus creative and conceptual learning

Some students who prefer to just learn by rote and only want to be shown how to play their favorite songs just like the recording and that's that (some teachers assume that all students are like this). Rote music learning — whether through mimicry of recordings, being shown visually where to put fingers by a teacher, or through following the step-by-step instructions of Western music notation — is similar to paint-by-numbers (or, at more advanced levels, like freehand copying of existing paintings). Painting-by-numbers takes work, can be fun, and can help develop technical skills. Also, painting-by-numbers is a great way to study masterworks with more engagement than just looking at the finished painting. There's even room for interpretation and deviation depending on how open-minded and adventurous someone is. Rote instruction can be appropriate in many cases.

A higher level of creativity and expression is found in stylistic instruction. In painting, stylistic instruction may include tricks for painting a nature scene with mountains and clouds; or students may learn historic approaches to portraiture or other specific skills. In music, common chord progressions and scales can be taught along with common song forms. Students may then be creative in how they apply these techniques. There is infinite creative potential within any of the various genres of art and music.

There is also value in completely undirected exploration. Some of the most groundbreaking and remarkable art has come from artists who found their own direction without any traditional training. Among the most original artists are also those with traditional training who later worked to break the rules, to combine styles in novel ways, or to identify new directions for exploration.

I adjust my teaching to the goals of each student using a mix of rote instruction, stylistic instruction, free exploration, and directed challenges for testing rules and find new forms. But I also use another approach: conceptual scientific understanding.

There are universal guiding factors to music (and to visual art) that are based in physical reality and human psychology. There are physical facts about instruments (or about paint) that limit our possibilities. Listeners mentally group musical sounds in particular ways; we are susceptible to certain illusions; we are especially sensitive to certain types of sounds or images (notably the human voice and human face); we can only process a limited amount of information at once; we develop schematic expectations based on experience, and so on.

By understanding these psychological and physical factors, students can understand the world behind their rote experiences and follow purpose-driven creative directions. Instead of just following traditional rules or experimenting randomly, students with scientific understanding can thoughtfully and intentionally make music surprising, exciting, calming, and so on. Of course, a scientific approach can provide insights into the nature of our existence and our relationship to the world — a worthwhile end in itself.

How does this affect my teaching?

Compared with many other teachers I know, I am a little less interested in the greatest-hits canon, whether classical or popular. Even when I teach classic techniques, I encourage creative interpretation from the very beginning. Though I appreciate many music styles and teach respect for tradition, I'm uncomfortable limiting instruction to fit within stylistic boxes. In the end, I want students to have broad perspectives and to appreciate music for what it means to each of them. I appreciate the writings of music teacher and author W.A. Mathieu who, in The Listening Book,  goes so far as to suggest that only around a quarter of one's time should be spent on "other people's music."

While I am sympathetic to the ideals of originality and creativity, I do not enforce such emphasis (see Nina Paley's marvelous article on the Cult of Originality for perspective). Many of my students find deep meaning in learning traditional techniques and playing music written by others. Not everyone is equally motivated by composition, improvisation, or other creative directions. I'm happy to see students progress and have fun regardless, though I still encourage all students to have broad perspective and think critically.



General philosophy and explanation of the title of this site

This gets a bit more abstract and tangential

For most of human history, music learning happened within the context of segregated (yet dynamically fluctuating) cultures and classes. Musicians picked up on whatever they heard and have always fused and morphed different musical traditions; but the scope of music that any one person could hear was limited. In the 21st century, however, this situation has changed dramatically. The past century brought dramatic globalization and cross-cultural interaction as well as the development of recording technology. Now, the internet has blurred all the boundaries and provided open access for anyone to be exposed to just about anything.

Even within only guitar music, navigating the extreme diversity is completely overwhelming. When asked what music one likes, the most common answer today (in my experience) is "everything." I'm not even sure how much today's kids listen to the same pop songs as their immediate friends (tell me if you know of research on this). Everyone can choose whatever they like for their portable music devices, so diversity is the new norm, both within one person's listening and from person to person.

Teachers of popular music now often emphasize the hits of American pop/rock canon since the 1960's, thinking that this is what students want to learn. But I think it is because the teachers choose these songs that the students know them, not the other way around. In my observations, most younger students become familiar with Stairway to Heaven and Smoke on the Water mostly through guitar lessons, either their own or through their friends who are guitar students.

Indeed, teachers don't just explain known music to students, they largely are responsible for introducing students to music and culture — and that is a hefty responsibility. Some teachers are so enthusiastic about their particular musical tastes that they are happy to indoctrinate their students. But I'm not one of those teachers. For better or worse, I don't embrace any particular tradition. I want to celebrate and appreciate our 21st century diverse global culture.

Yet there is something lacking about simply living with diversity. Sometimes, I wish I lived in a more defined culture where I could fit in more and be a part of a deeper heritage. Most people have similar reactions and struggle to find their cultural place today. Here is a simplistic and imperfect historical background of how people have reacted to the developments of globalism and technology:

Modernism was a movement started in the late 19th century which actively broke with traditional culture to promote new progress in music, art, architecture, and life in general. With an optimistic focus on achieving universal truth and happiness, modernism promoted democracy, science, and globalism. Modernists used novel structures based on mathematical and scientific principles, promoted experimentation, and rejected traditional cultural expectations and forms. Modernists claimed their creations to be objectively superior replacements for old traditions. They proposed to replace a divided, superstitious, prejudiced, fractured world with a utopia providing well-being to all through modern science.

Postmodernism was a reaction against modernism's presumptions. Postmodernism focuses on acknowledging the many different perspectives of our multicultural world. While modernists presumed objectivity, they were, of course, full of their own cultural biases. Postmodernism highlighted these problems and worked to revalidate traditional cultural art and values. Yet as postmodernism evolved, it moved toward complete relativism, ironic culture, and denial of all objectivity. Postmodernists seem to view all judgments and actions as reflections of prejudice and political power. Postmodernism can be stressful because it challenges ideas of truth and universality without providing a real replacement. Postmodernists today imply (often in extremely convoluted language) that everything is about symbolism, cultural constructions, power struggles, and identity. In doing so, they disregard (or at least downplay) the vast and profound universal features of human nature and common experience.

I use the ridiculous term post-postmodernity to refer to the time and intellectual place in which we live today. There is now a long history of artists and philosophers in traditional, modern, and postmodern circles; the world is more confusing and fast-paced than ever; and I am just trying to make sense of things. I remain agnostic — meaning that I don't think fallible human beings can know anything with absolute certainty, but I still accept many things with reasonable certainty.

Through scientific research, we have developed ideas that successfully predict and explain much of the world as we experience it, and these theories have led to such things as modern medicine and technology. The modernist dream of creating a more prosperous, happier world for all is not dead. If everyone can acknowledge our universal humanity, we can better surpass our us-vs-them tribal tendencies.

Yet we must also acknowledge the serious issues of cultural identity, privilege, power, and subjectivity that are important to our experience. In art and music, we can celebrate the insights from all these perspectives. We have scientific evidence of universal human appreciation for beautiful scenes with trees and flowing streams and of universal enjoyment in dancing (or at least tapping your foot) to a musical beat. These are due to our basic human biology. Of course, there is also much to be said for novelty and cultural diversity. I don't want a world where everything is mixed together and distinctions are erased. I don't know all the answers, but we should understand and appreciate all these influences and influences that make up our world today.

I imagine readers now saying: "Why even deal with all this philosophy I just want to rock out!" or "I just want to make beautiful expressive music" or "I'm just trying to work on how to control my finger position!" Well, let's be practical. Anyone truly confident and happy in their task at hand, great. I spend much of my time in lessons just working on practical things or learning great classics, jamming, or singing songs. But as a teacher with the responsibility of guiding my students, I deal with these philosophical concerns. I am not comfortable being only a traditional classical guitarist or a folk singer or an experimental composer (et cetera). I am interested in exploring it all. All of this and more are within my culture today, including the philosophical ideas.

Like the postmodernists, I am concerned about cultural biases I see in society — especially in education. But I reject postmodern ideas of absolute relativism and everything as fundamentally symbolic. Though we live our experiences in cultural context, the bulk of our experience is biological. Differences are easy to see because they stick out (because of the nature of our human cognition). But common universals are just as important to recognize. We could not even empathize with others at all were it not for shared common experiences.

Here are some ways that my philosophy plays out in my teaching:

I'm not one of those teachers you'll hear claiming that my instrument is somehow the best. Every instrument has different qualities, and I just happen to know the details of guitar more than other instruments. I try to keep that in perspective. But while no instrument is the best, they aren't all equal. A trumpet built with one valve upside-down and hard to reach would be an objectively worse trumpet. I happen to feel that the Chapman Stick is largely superior to the electric guitar, although they each have some pros and cons. Practically speaking, the novelty of the Chapman Stick, in contrast with the ubiquity of the guitar, may be more significant to the music experience (for better or worse) than any acoustic or physical factor.

My approach as a teacher is as a knowledgeable and thoughtful guide through this complex world of styles, techniques, cultures, and musical potentials. I challenge students to achieve based on their individual goals, interests, and abilities. I let them be in charge of their creative directions; but I am willing to direct students and make decisions when needed. I express my opinions while trying not to impose them.

Pop/folk teachers typically teach just enough theory to be functional, and they assume that the goal is to play or explore within the attitude and idiom of their particular cultural background. They may or may not use notation, and learning is often approached through lots of listening and mimicking of recordings. In contrast, classical teachers often teach a regimen of progressive learning through music notation, famous composers, and very careful, technical practice.

I understand the pros and cons of various approaches. I don't restrict students' potential by insisting they play traditional music or with traditional techniques. On the other hand, there are known techniques that work while other approaches risk injury. I provide clear direction and strong goals when appropriate, but I encourage experimentation when healthy. If I know of resources or a teacher where a student could learn their particular goals more effectively, I will refer students to them.

The goal is to understand music and be able to use this understanding to enrich your life. Music can communicate in powerful ways, can regulate mood and emotion, can be just a fun challenge, and can be social. Music study can provide focus, expression, physical coordination, and emotional and intellectual inspiration.


If you actually read all this philosophical ranting, you might like to read some of my other articles (many of which are more concise than this actually):
Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.