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Achieving success

To achieve success on the guitar, you need to work on it. I’ve developed strategies over the years to help students pick up the guitar and practice. It’s not always easy.

Getting the guitar in your hands

Just picking up the guitar can be hard. Anything that isn’t a habit takes a little more effort, but having a few strategies makes it easier. The following have proven useful for many of my students.
1. Create alerts on your phone for each day of the week. When the alert goes off, you have five minutes to pick up the guitar.
2. Before going to bed, check your schedule for the next day, and write down when you will practice. As a reminder, put that wherever you eat breakfast.
3. Pick up the guitar with the intent of practicing for only five minutes. Students often don’t pick the guitar up because they don’t think they have enough time. But five minutes isn’t long, and once you have the guitar in your hands, you’re usually there for more than five minutes. Especially if you’re trying to get better at something.
4. Use the pomodori technique. This was developed as a way to deal with procrastination. Simply get a timer, set it for however long you want to practice, and then stop as soon as it goes off. This motivates students by removing open-endedness. If you know when you’re going to stop, you tend to be more focused in your practicing, and you’re more likely to actually practice.
5. Have your guitar on a guitar stand, and have the music you’re working on that week on your music stand. Picking up the guitar is easier if you don’t have to prepare to do it. Make sure that you can just walk in your room, pick up your guitar, and start playing.
6. Attach to habit. Practice immediately after something you’re already in the habit of doing. For example, if there’s a show you watch every day at the same time, practice for 15 minutes once it’s done. Or practice right after you play your favorite game.
7. Have the end result uppermost in your mind. For example, if you’re practicing a difficult move between two chords, keep in mind that they’re part of your favorite song. When you’re working on details, it can be difficult to see the big picture.
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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. For this reason, I have an open-door policy. Parents are welcome to remain in the room for the entire lesson if they like.

My teaching approach

In order to provide motivation and to create a sense of fun in the lessons, I take a student-directed teaching approach. For my purposes, this simply means following my student’s interests. A simple example is allowing them to choose their favourite song to work on instead of one that I choose. The things that get used when learning a song – chords, strumming, rhythmic control, groove, tempo – can be taught using any song. Allowing a simple choice like this increases student autonomy and motivation.
I understand a child’s need for a variety of stimuli when learning music. That’s why I use many different activities aside from actually playing the guitar. iPad music apps, recording, playing keyboard synth, singing, writing song lyrics, standing up and moving around while playing are all options, depending on the child.

Buying a guitar

The following suggestions reflect my present knowledge in terms of the amount of product available; they are intended to give you a starting point for talking with someone at your local music store. The Acoustic Music Shop, Avenue Guitar, and Long and Mcquade – all on Whyte Avenue between 99 Street and 109 Street – are good places to check out.
It’s important to buy a guitar that fits you. Not doing so can result in all sorts of physical problems.

Strumming arm positioning

A guitar that’s too large will push the shoulder of your strumming/picking arm up. This will eventually lead to neck and shoulder problems, which can lead to tendinitis. This is mainly a concern with acoustic guitars since their bodies are typically wider and deeper than electrics.

Fretting hand positioning

The neck should be short enough to fret the first string, first fret without having to reach too far. Take a look at some YouTube videos of people playing the guitar to get an idea of what looks natural.
Finding a good guitar for children is difficult. Small guitars are sometimes made poorly and can easily go out of tune. But don’t give in to the temptation to buy a full-size guitar with the rationalization that your child will grow into it. Your child will enjoy a guitar that’s comfortable more than one with good intonation and tone.

3⁄4 size guitars

If you’re looking for an electric guitar, the Squier Mini-Strat is a great choice for students around 8-12 years old. If you’re looking for an acoustic, the Baby Taylor, while a bit pricy – $329 US – is a good choice.

1⁄2 size guitars

These instruments should only be used for small children, age 4 – 7. It’s really difficult to find a decent one. The 30” First Act Discovery guitar is probably your best bet.

Why guitar lessons?

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. Here’s another from Mike Levitsky and his student, Andrew Griswold, at And one more from Terry Stefan at I encourage you to do your own research, as well. 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 takes about 20 minutes, and achieves a number of things.
  1. 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.
  2. You can get a sense of how I teach. I use a student-directed approach.
  3. We can talk about what you want to achieve, whether it’s to learn a particular genre, improve your technique, or prepare for an audition.
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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