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Why teach?

Poet William Butler Yeats said the following: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” I love this, because It implies the discovery-making process for the student, the excitement of encountering new things.

For the teacher, it implies a focus on discovering the interests of the student, and using those interests to establish a relationship in which the student feels valued and heard.

Why teach?

There are many reasons to teach, but for me, it comes down to one thing: the opportunity to have a positive impact on someone’s life. Having that gives me a sense of purpose.

Having a positive impact means helping students:

  • build confidence
  • nurture a sense of self-worth
  • love learning
  • be able to deal with failure
  • become satisfied, well-rounded people

As for me, I get to

  • spend time with interesting people
  • have a positive impact on the lives of others
  • learn more about myself and the needs of others
  • grow and to stretch as a teacher and musician
  • become a better communicator
  • find the key to each student’s growth

Doing this is a privilege. In order to do it well, I strive to bring these qualities to do the work:

  • kindness
  • patience
  • clarity
  • empathy
  • and as the following quote implies, an open mind

“Take risks. Try new things. Encourage creativity. Learn from your students. Expect a lot. But always allow for the unexpected. Don’t be afraid to give your students control, because you will often be surprised at the direction their hearts, thoughts, and dreams will take them… and you.” Angie Miller, English and Language Arts teacher.

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Parents’ Page

Parents need to know that they are leaving their child in a safe and nurturing environment. Along with a Doctorate in Music Composition and a Diploma from MacEwan University in Guitar Performance, I have another diploma from MacEwan University in Early Childhood Development, and I worked in the field for a number of years.
So I have a lot of experience with children, and I’m able to bring patience, empathy, and a sense of fun to guitar lessons.
I also have an open door policy. Parents are welcome to remain in the room for the entire lesson if they like.
There are a lot of resources on the web about getting your child into music lessons. This one gives you some good reasons for doing it, but it’s only one post. I encourage you to do your own research. Perhaps the best type of research is to take advantage of a free lesson.
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Free Introductory Lesson

The free introductory lesson is offered as part of a four-lesson package. It achieves a number of things.
  1.  It’s crucial that you feel at ease with the person teaching you. The introductory lesson gives you a chance to see if we’re a good fit.
  2. You can check out my teaching space. There are many things that contribute to your learning. Feeling comfortable in the teaching space is one of them.
  3. I can demonstrate my teaching approach. I use a student-directed approach.
  4. We can decide on a learning plan based on what you want to achieve. You will leave with a monthly, short-term plan related to your long-term goals.
  5. I can make clear what my expectations are for helping you achieve success. This involves a discussion of practicing, and how to fit it into your schedule. This relates to the monthly short-term plan: when, what, why, and how to practice.
I make the free lesson contingent upon a four-lesson package because I believe that this gives the student (and parent, if applicable) the necessary experience and information to make a solid decision about continuing.
If you decide not to continue after four lessons, the skills and knowledge you receive will benefit you if you decide to find another teacher. It will also, of course, be useful in any playing situation.
And just so you know, a decision to study elsewhere is never taken personally by me. It’s important to me that you find the right teacher.
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Student-directed learning

A lot has been written about student-directed teaching.
For my purposes, it means taking my student s interests into account. This is essential. It’s difficult to get people to practice if they’re working on things they aren’t interested in.

Guitar skills

There are two broad categories of skills that a guitar player works on: rhythm playing and soloing. Everything you can learn on the guitar (outside of avant-garde techniques) falls under one of these two categories.
So instead of teaching chord technique using a song that I provide, why not use a song that the student provides? I can teach the same techniques regardless. The student is more likely to practice, and less likely to get frustrated.
Of course, I may need to provide supplemental exercises to improve technique, but these are given with the overall goal of learning something they want to learn. This is inherently motivating.


Along with creating motivated, interested students, this approach creates autonomy. Since the student is encouraged to pick material they want to learn, they are able to ultimately take responsibility for their own learning.
They not only begin to look for material they like; they look for material that may be more like work, but which they know will make them better. Doing research like this means that they are able to find material on their own.

The ultimate goal

With the student-directed approach, the ultimate goal is that the student will be able to teach themselves. They will be motivated, interested, independent, and informed. And they won’t need to pay for years of guitar lessons.
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Shredding is easier than you think

There’s nothing magic about it. All it takes is work and consistency. If you do the following every day (not every third day, not every other day. Every day), if you keep working even when you’re pretty sure that you won’t succeed, then success will be yours.

Not everyone wants it badly enough to do this.

Procedure #1

  1. Get a metronome. There are plenty of free apps. Or you can buy one at your local music store.
  2. Choose a scale
  3. Put the metronome on a really slow speed, slow enough that you will be able to play the scale perfectly at least 10 times in row. The game most people play is that you make any sort of mistake along the way, you have to go back to the beginning. So if you make a mistake on the 9th repeat, you go back to number 1.
  4. When you can play it perfectly 10 times in a row, bump the metronome up 5 clicks. Some people say 1 click. That might be necessary at higher speeds, but at the beginning – with the metronome between 60 beats per minute and 120 – progress by 5 clicks.
  5. Keep raising the tempo until you can’t go any faster. Go back to the last speed you could play perfectly, and play the scale 10 times. Stop once you’ve done that.
  6. Do this every single day.

This procedure works for a lot of people. It takes a lot of self-discipline and honesty. It’s common to convince yourself that the mistake you just made isn’t a big deal. If you want to do this right, every mistake needs to be counted.

Procedure #2

This procedure is a lot more detailed. I use it with students who need to work on efficiency in their fretting and picking hands.

The left hand

The point of this exercise is to train the fingers to move as efficiently, as independently, and in as relaxed a manner as possible. Keeping the fingers relaxed and as close to the strings as possible ensures maximum speed. They don’t need to travel as far, and they maintain stamina longer.

The exercise

Place your fingers lightly on the sixth string at frets 5, 6, 7, 8. Don’t push the string down. Concentrate on relaxing.

Move your index finger to the fifth string without taking your other fingers off the sixth string. Don’t lift the index finger any higher than you need to. Just let it kind of fall to the fifth string.

Again, without moving any other fingers, move the middle finger to the fifth string in the same way you moved the index: efficient and relaxed.

Do the same with the ring finger and the pinky.

Moving up

Continue until you reach the first string. Then, starting with the pinky, move to the second string, again not pressing down. Leave the pinky in place and move the ring finger up to the second string. That’s the most difficult move for most people. Continue with the middle and the index.

You won’t have gravity working for you on the way up. Pay attention to how different it feels. Stay as relaxed as possible, and go all the way to the sixth string. Be aware of the difference in how it feels at the top of the neck, as opposed to the bottom.

Depressing the strings

Now do the same exercise, but depress the string just enough to make a tone. Don’t press any harder than you need to. Very slowly press into the fretboard while plucking the string. Stop pressing as soon as you get a tone. People are often surprised at how little they actually need to press.

Let each finger relax as the next finger depresses the string (i.e. Press with the index, pluck the string, then press with the middle while relaxing the index finger. Relax the index finger just enough to leave it resting on the string.) Pluck the string with the middle finger down. Continue this process with ring finger and pinky. Be patient. This is extremely detailed work.

When you start on the way back up from the first to the sixth string, you’ll need to lift each finger off the string so you don’t mute the tone. The best (and most difficult) way to do this is as follows: starting with the pinky depressing the string and the other fingers resting lightly on the strings….

  1. Play the note that the pinky is covering
  2. Lift the pinky and place it lightly on the second string while at the same time depressing and playing the note under the ring finger. This is a difficult move. Go really slowly. Remember, you’re training your fingers, not making music.
  3. Lift the ring finger and place it lightly on the second string, while at the same time depressing and playing the note under the middle finger on the first string.
  4. Lift the middle finger and place it lightly on the second string, while at the same time depressing and playing the note under the index finger on the first string.
  5. Lift the index finger and place it lightly on the second string.
  6. Continue up to the sixth string.

This exercise produces extreme finger independence and efficiency. It will drive you crazy at first. Be patient.

Throughout this exercise, try to eliminate tension as much as possible.

The right hand – alternate picking

Alternate picking is arguably the most common and effective picking technique. It basically consists of moving down and up with the pick.

Hold the pick between the thumb and index finger as shown here. The pick is held on the edge of the index finger, not on the pad.

You can pick from the wrist or the arm. The wrist motion is the one you use when turning a key in a lock. The faster you play, the smaller the movement. At a certain point you will start moving the forearm up and down, using the elbow as a hinge.

Always start slowly, and concentrate on staying relaxed.

One string

Use the following exercise to start. As you can see, the whole thing is on the high E string.

After the downstroke, try to get the pick back to the string quickly enough to stop the string vibration, and create a staccato effect. You’re not plucking it again; you’re just resting against the string. Same with the upstroke: get the pick back on the string quickly. No tension!

Move from stroke to stroke slowly. Make the stroke, get the pick back on the string quickly, and rest there for a second. Then continue. Then gradually speed up using the metronome. At a certain point, you won’t be resting the pick on the string.

The point here is to eliminate extraneous pick movement, and getting to the next pick stroke as quickly as possible. This is fundamental to shredding.

Two strings

Same idea, but go from the E string to the B string and back.

Getting from one string to another is where the majority of mistakes happen. This is because you need to make a larger movement with the pick than the one you make playing on one string. This inconsistency in distance initially confuses the picking hand. 


And finally, the scale, circling back to beginning of this post. You can choose any scale, but I like to go with aeolian, otherwise known as the natural minor scale.

I like aeolian because you have to shift when you go from the fourth string to the third, and again from the third to the second.

And like all of the modes, one of the strings has only two notes. All of the others have three. This is a common asymmetry that you need to get used to.

And yes, you can learn three-note-per-string scales and eliminate this asymmetry. Do that too, but allow your hands the training that enables it to switch gears from string to string.

If you want more information, this is an excellent post.

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Why guitar lessons?


It isn’t hard to start, but it’s difficult to continue. There are many reasons for this, but the two most common are a pre-existing routine that crowds out practice time, and uncertainty about what and how to practice.
Once you know what and how to practice, guidance from someone who has been doing the same thing for much longer, and has training and experience gives you the ability to move along the path quicker. This gives you success, and the motivation to continue. Theory, technique, learning chords, songs and solos are the core of the learning process.


If you feel stale, need new ideas, or need to talk about what you’re working on, getting feedback from someone who understands – and has been in your position before – can help.

Organizing yourself

For each student, I construct a weekly practice plan. This takes the form of a flow chart that they can refer to during the week.
For a beginning lesson in strumming, it might look like this, depending on the student.


This clearly outlines what to practice (everything on the chart is discussed in-depth during the lesson), and how long to practice it each day. It’s important to see how long it will take. That way, you can figure out how to fit it into your schedule.
Breaking it into chunks implies that you don’t have to do it all at once, although it’s a good idea just to make sure it gets done.

The optimal result – independence

The goal is to get students to the stage where they can confidently teach themselves. It is not to keep them around as long as possible so that you can make more money.
At the end of every month, the student and I assess their level of interest and commitment, and discuss the best course of action. This could be ending lessons, continuing on the present course, or introducing new types of material. If they decide to leave and get stuck later, or want to learn something new, they can come back for however many  lessons they feel they need.
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