I have been teaching music lessons in Ann Arbor, MI since 1998.
I have experience with students aged 3-70, ranging from absolute beginners to advanced musicians wanting coaching or deeper technical, theoretical, or creative understanding.
Lessons are tailored to fit each student with respect for their goals, learning styles, and overall circumstances.
Most students commit to weekly lessons, but some do every-other-week, and flexible scheduling is possible as necessary.
Lessons are $30 per half hour, $40 per 45 min. or $45 per hour. A scholarship discount is available based on combined financial need and exceptional dedication.
How to choose lesson length?
- In 30-minute lessons, I focus on priorities, make sure assignments are clear, teach the necessary ideas and check for bad habits. A little bit of improvisation, theory, and other skills can be covered but there's not time at every lesson for everything. A half hour is enough to be effective, especially when students practice well at home and do the work of further studying on their own.
- In 45-minute lessons, there is more time to monitor practice habits, review more assignments, do a full warmup, and cover more questions and ideas.
- In 60-minute lessons, there is time for more creative projects, 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. Or, if students are more ambitious, 60-minutes allows more rigorous technical focus or performance rehearsing.
- 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
My primary studies, including for my Bachelor of Music degree, have been in classical guitar, but I have explored a number of other styles. I have taken particular interest in flamenco, blues, and American folksongs; but I also have some experience with pop, rock, funk, country/bluegrass, jazz, experimental, Latin American, and other styles. Though I appreciate the value of tradition and working within an idiom, I've always been interested in understanding musical universals and cross-cultural perspectives.
Other music pursuits
I have vocal experience in classical choirs, folk music, rock bands, and barbershop quartets. I have been involved in music technology and recording for many years, 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 (which used no guitars — even though all of us were guitarists). The same band was also an award-winning barbershop quartet.
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, among other topics). I have taught community classes in music theory and music perception.
GUITAR LESSON APPROACH
Some of my students have been with me for many years progressing from basics to advanced techniques and theory. Other students have started with me and then moved on to teachers who specialize in styles beyond my expertise (such as heavy metal or jazz).
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
I teach guitar primarily because that is where I have the most experience.
I also teach voice, where I also have some formal training. I am not qualified to teach operatic voice, nor am I qualified to teach advanced vocal technique. I teach vocal technique basics, creative vocal styles, expression/interpretation, and my particular expertise: vocal harmony and tuning theory.
I also teach beginning to intermediate level Chapman Stick and beginning level for guitar-related instruments such as ukulele and bass guitar. [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 (in a manner appropriate to the age and background of each student, of course). 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, so that they think that's all music is. 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. Too often, structural patterns in music are given as explanation. Patterns are very important to recognize, but 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, 2007Here is a much healthier philosophy:
“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
"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."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 Seeger, from the Folksinger's Guitar Guide, 1955
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 a piece of music that is extremely challenging to play yet 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
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. Cognitively, people group things 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 are able to 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 what is going on 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 create music that is surprising, exciting, calming, and lots more. 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 rote reproduction of the same greatest-hits canon, whether classical or popular. Even when I teach classic techniques, I encourage creative interpretation from the very beginning. And though I appreciate many music styles and teach respect for tradition, I am not fully comfortable 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. 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. Students who will most benefit from my instruction are those who want to think outside the box, be creative, reflect on their experience, and really understand the basic nature of music.
General philosophy and explanation of the title of this site
For most of human history, music learning happened within the context of dynamic but geographically- and socially-defined cultures and classes. Musicians picked up on whatever they heard and have always been fusing and morphing 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 that kids today listen to the same pop songs as their 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 do not feel a part of any particular tradition; so I am not inclined to encourage students to embrace one tradition over others. 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, denial of objectivity, and ironic culture. 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 deny (or at least disregard) the vast and profound universal features of human nature and common experience.
I'm using the
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, for many purposes, the Chapman Stick is superior to the electric guitar, although that opinion must be highly qualified because they each have 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.
You might like to read some of my older articles: