The Sanity of Starting an Impossible Business with the Odds Stacked Against You

My Calling

I have had a long career doing professional music, nothing in the big time showbiz vein but I’ve made a great living writing guitar books, teaching guitar and of course performing on the general business level of music, private parties and nightclubs, restaurants and hotels. In fact, when I first left Berklee College of Music and was able to make a living with my guitar I felt like I had really made the big time anyway, and although I had aspirations of fame and fortune I found that I really loved teaching and sharing my knowledge, so all my dreams of writing hot guitar records and film scoring seemed secondary and unimportant next to this passion for sharing, helping and teaching -seemed silly next to the kids I was helping and dreams I was keeping alive.


Feeling Completely Alone With My New Start Up

Bedroom Tears

When I was a boy, trying to learn guitar my mother said I would sit on of my bed and cry because I couldn’t figure out how to play the Beatles and Chuck Berry. I also listened to guitar records interminably that I found in the family junk shop, lots and lots of them -stuff like surf music, Les Paul, “101 Guitars” and “Romantic Guitars”, fluff that the record companies were cranking out in the 50’s and 60’s.

In those days, there was very little for a person who wanted to learn the instrument: no Internet, hardly any good books and very few qualified teachers and no teachers my family could afford. I had to learn by listening, watching and talking to people and believe me, my study of the guitar was 24/7 365.  Nonetheless, I was going nowhere fast even though I could get the occasional gig and was always respected in any musical circle I entered into, I knew what was possible, I knew what I had and  what I wanted and there was no way I was getting there teaching myself.

I was particularly frustrated with the lack of meaningful  educational material available to me in those early day.

Berklee College of Music

After spending my 20s playing in rock bands and learning to write songs, an old family friend an icon of jazz guitar named Tony Mottola encouraged me to go to Berklee School of Music in Boston.  It was the best advice I ever got, because the very moment I walked in the door I met and befriended the greatest guitar teacher to have ever lived, William G. Leavitt creator of the Berklee method. For some reason which is still unknown to me within about 10 min. of that meeting I became his adopted son and although I was the worst guitarist to ever enroll in Berklee, he dedicated incredible amounts of time, effort and energy to me, teaching me that anyone can excel in their desired endeavors if they’re given a chance.  During my time with Bill, I decided I wanted to follow in his footsteps to carry out his work and become a great educator. He really was my 2nd father.


Fly By Night Get Rich Quick Schemes

I fell in love with music education and learning because of the many great teachers I found at music schools, even the grizzled old burned out veteran teachers, still had the passion and the love of sharing, they were all easy marks for free lessons and invaluable insights.  I often wondered about and felt for all the people who wanted to go to music school but couldn’t get there -it’s ridiculously expensive, time-consuming, competitive and you have to leave home for a strange city.  So many people would relish this guitar experience and such high quality information, so many who deserve it, but because of the barriers to an electric guitar higher education I came to believe there were relatively few who could experience it.

I began working for a former teacher from the college who shared my viewpoint.  My new employer was long on cryptic talk, pedantic riddles and pseudo Socratic mind games and convinced me he had all the answers. It took me about a year to figure it out it was a fly-by-night get-rich-quick scheme, a scam with absolutely no thought or regard for the user just a desire to cash in on his reputation and resume. Some of our material was nothing more than the outstanding assignments and term papers of former Berklee students! Needless to say his education business, with very little real or valuable information, was a big failure and remains so to this day.

When I left his employ I moved to California and I started my education anew studying with all the most famous guitar teachers in the Los Angeles area like the legendary Ted Greene, Robert Conti and Ron Eschete. I had all the book learning I wanted, I was interested in more real-world approach, based on experience and long successful careers. I was impressed at the amount of original material my new mentors have generated, at the thought they put into their students and although not one of them had a college degree they were some of the finest educators I had met.

How The Heck Did It Get To Be 2016 Already?!

In Orange County, I became a sought-after teacher and I would say in all modesty, a respected author with six books “in the can” (not the trash can thank you). Just about the time I finished school (1992) the Internet was exploding, and I saw the opportunity I was looking for, a way to create and deliver rich multimedia content, to anyone, anywhere and at any time, the barriers that had I been fighting seemed to melt away! I got bored with writing black and white paper books; they seemed inferior to multimedia content.  I begin making webpages for my private students and for my own entertainment, a process which was time-consuming and crazy expensive.

As part of my job as an elementary music school teacher, I studied curriculum design at a local college as well as the world’s great theories of music education: Schillinger, Orff, Suzuki and Kodaly mainly. I was obsessed. I was on a mission. I wasn’t thinking anything about money I was just thinking about those guys who wanted and deserved to go to a big time guitar school but couldn’t get there. I wanted something wonderful for them, I wanted to share something amazing. I have worked on that material religiously, and obsessively –wanting to post a true, on line music school type curriculum, never satisfied with my work, constantly rewriting everything and  learning software of every description, computer platforms and even HTML, it sounds crazy but I felt as if I had no choice, as if someone asked me to do it.

That curriculum grew and grew, I foolishly ignored the advice (and desire) to publish everything immediately because of perfectionistic tendencies and a need to get it right.

Today, my program is about 3000 pages of text, organized into core courses, and scores of separate modules, just like you would find in real guitar school.  I called it ‘’ and entered the competitive, saturated market of online lessons in 2016, I am embarrassed to say it’s at least 15 years of development and testing because the work had to happen around a successful and busy career I had teaching, writing and gigging –during those years it seemed like a pipe dream because my “web development hours” were between midnight and 2AM.


So if my target audience couldn’t go to a special place, like a big time guitar school, I could give them the psychologically special place, their own music school. I still think it’s a beautiful idea.


The Old Thinking On The New Model

As I desperately tried to work and develop my program, my life’s mission while keeping my high standards, I saw one guitar education site after another go up on line.  Most of them were a mishmash of unorganized videos, posting 10,000 videos by a thousand rock stars. I love and respect my rock stars but very few of them should be considered serious educators -you don’t have to take my word for it just ask them personally as I have.   In the 80s we all had boxes of Hot Licks and Star Licks videotapes, if that were the way we learn guitar there would be no teaching business, no music schools and no teachers -just video stars. Video education just doesn’t work all that well.

On top of that online teaching businesses try to charge the same amount of money that they would charge you for it one-on-one private lesson -which I think is a rip-off. I saw nothing but money grubbing, selling the sizzle for a steak that didn’t exist. Big time guitar schools will charge you the same amount of money they would charge you as if you are actually going to the school -which you think is a rip-off.  All of these great curriculums are nothing more than a mishmash of videotapes, and some perfunctory poorly thought out text and graphic files.  With one or two notable exceptions, online guitar schools try to operate like real guitar schools, failing to seize the opportunity of true multimedia learning and training –forgetting they need and actual sequential well thought out course of study -oops. This is something I call “the old thinking on the new model” or “glowing books” –text pages in the virtual world instead of the physical one.

The Strength Of This School Is That We Have A Good Curriculum And We Stick To It. –William G. Leavitt, Berklee School Of Music

Telling Me Everything But Telling Me Nothing

Many of my students became frustrated with the most common type of educational site, the “telling me everything but telling me nothing” approach.  This means that the ‘content’ is nothing more than a few low level, common knowledge, over written clichés designed to sell you a self-produced DVD or book, big fat time wasters, the exact opposite of what I was trying to do.

We Will Sell No Wine Before Its Time

Everyone urged me to post but I didn’t want to rush my curriculum, I continued to work on it in confidence knowing that the more YouTube guitar channels, online schools, and book selling guitar blogs that appeared the better it would be for me because with all that unending noisy content, some great and some terrible, it’s very hard to find anything, very hard to get down to work to study what you need and too easy to be distracted.  Learning guitar online was nothing like the experience of having a top flight curriculum to work through; in fact it was a confusing waste of time for the serious student.

Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime went live early in 2016 anyone, on any level can begin anywhere in my program for free, when they are satisfied they are learning, they can continue for a small fee.  I also mail all of my students a giant proprietary full color poster for their practice space. Finally after all that time, effort, money and trouble I felt as though I had completed my dream from all those years ago, or kept a promise I made to myself to follow in my teachers footsteps.  Now I am discovering all the challenges and trials any startup experiences and I am realizing how difficult and impossible a task having a successful online school truly is.  As I said the competition is out there, they are big, bad and capitalized so I must be nutty as Snickers bar, right?

The Sanity Of It All

You’re probably thinking that me,, online guitar lessons and all my ideas are crazy, I mean how and why would I take on all the big players in a competitive, saturated niche? I don’t know, but I know the truly crazy, the really nuts thing to do with a dream that won’t let you sleep is nothing.  The sanity is that I have a belief in my ideas, knowing they are valuable and can help so many deserving people, believing I have something to add to the world. I know my work is imperfect but is off the drawing board and is being given to all who want (sans barriers), I may never make a dime but I am happy to do it, because it was driving me crazy!


How I Introduce A Sight Reading And Ear Training Experience Into Private Guitar Lessons

If You Want To Play It, Then You Have To Say It!
When I first began teaching guitar for a living the hot thing that all my kids wanted to play was grunge rock, specifically Nirvana and Pearl Jam, in that order. The strumming style on a lot of those Nirvana songs was highly syncopated and contained a fair amount of percussive rhythmic strokes, with the guitar strings muted, exactly the type of rhythm guitar playing that leaves the beginning student feeling confused and left me as a beginning guitar teacher scrambling for ways to keep these kids engaged.

First I thought I will teach everyone to read rhythmic figures, strumming patterns, and transcribe the tunes, or simplified versions of them, for them to use as their rhythm reading practice. This approach can work but it is time-consuming and long sight reading lessons are usually not very engaging to kids who are trying to learn to play rock ‘n roll.
Being that I have always felt that perhaps the most useful and practical course in any music school curriculum is sight singing and ear training. I see such a great value in these traditional musical educational procedures and practices that I have tried to bottle that experience for my weekly guitar students with a two pronged attack. First, by asking them to sing the rhythm first, and only then should you try to replicate the song on your guitar. To my amazement, this simple ear training procedure greatly increased the chances of succeeding in virtually all of my students. It works so well I often remind them of this method of practicing by saying if you want to play it you have to say.
I also like to tell them that the first thing I remember about attending the mythical and glorious Berklee College of music in Boston was that I was immediately shuttled into ear training one and a sight reading lab. Although, I found it challenging to the point of being nearly impossible I managed to survive and then thrive under the patient tutelage of some great teachers and my mentor William G Leavitt. All these years later, I have realized that the two torturous courses I dreaded going to have served me incredibly well over my long career as a professional musician.
The second prong of my attack plan is the reason I have lots of very nice transcriptions, done in music publishing software, for easy strumming exercises, guitar standards, old classics and current hits.

teen spirit

Smells Like Teen Spirit Simplified Rhythm Part

I keep them on the hard drive of my laptop and print them as needed. This is my plan for bottling a sight reading and ear training component into private lessons, by being able to constantly prosecute the case for sounding out and playing rhythmic figures and basic strumming patterns through having things professionally written in standard rhythmic notation, and encouraging a little bit of sight singing, or call and response singing, in every lesson.

If I Ruled the World, Everyone Who Wanted to Learn The Guitar Would Have To Begin with Classical Lessons!

The Concept of the Concept.

When music educators discuss “the concept” they are loosely referring to the students general overall understanding of everything. In terms of your average guitar student, someone between the ages of 14 and 30, they have already developed a very good concept by being music fans, joining bands and general playing activities associated with the craft. This means they comprehend song structure, improvising, dynamics, and the general musical interplay associated with properly executed and interesting music -having absorbed these ideas through a sort of osmosis a good many don’t need this ‘concept’ to be taught or explained to them.

The Quandary of Teaching Elementary School Guitar Students.

In my experience very few students on the elementary school level exhibit any clarity in regards to “the concept”. Although they enjoy the popular music of the day, trying to teach them modern guitar techniques, songs, and important ideas -the things that make those lessons meaningful and educational such as song form, chord function, improvising, music theory and chord scale relationships are normally far outside of their purview. Taking the approach of professional level musical training in modern idioms with elementary school students has rarely worked out very well for me with of course a few notable exceptions as several of my former elementary school students have become very successful in the music business; however they were born to be musicians.

I of course am aware that many elementary school students are burning up YouTube with Van Halen covers, Django Reinhardt impressions and blues mastery but these kids represent those far from the norm, far from average.  Pointing to children like those internet sensations as a viable approach to music education equals pointing to lottery winners as a model for personal financial success –it can’t happen to everyone.
classic guitarist

Every Student Deserves To Be Exposed To Classical Guitar

Classical Courses Of Study Make Sense To The Young Mind

When I taught general music on the elementary school level I was impressed with the progress students could make when they participated in the band and orchestra program, they were engaged, they understood what they were doing and they were absorbing sound musical principles as a result. Granted most of this training was simply music reading and sight singing but if you’re a fellow educator reading this article you don’t need me to tell you the importance of these two courses of study.

cadences and patterns 2

Classical Music Is A Good Way To Impart Elements Of The Musical Concept To Younger Students

I have taken this approach to heart so much so that I now refuse to take elementary school students unless they will study classical guitar with me first. The results are of this practice are that I keep students longer, give them a better education, they are more engaged in what they are doing and just like all those kids from the elementary school music programs they develop musical minds and a solid concept. When you think about it, classical music is the perfect vehicle for imparting the concept of “the concept” to youngsters because they are learning to be self-contained music makers, capable of playing complete and coherent pieces of music as well as absorbing all the essential bits of music theory, constructs and ideas that classical guitar composers use to do their work.

Call Me Crazy

I believe there is a magic to classical music, it can impart  a sense of beauty and artistic sensibility simply by following any one of the traditional methods currently available, playing the pieces with sincerity and dynamics, and developing a nice little repertoire.

Solo Guitar Playing by Frederick Noad

Solo Guitar Playing by Frederick Noad


p.s I prefer Frederic Noad but anyone you like will do just fine.


Using Traditional Melodies To Supercharge Your Guitar Lessons

The Power Of Traditional Melodies

In my journey as a guitarist and guitar student I have had the pleasure of working with many great teachers, one thing they all have in common is incorporating traditional melodies into their teaching program. Guitarist often referred to these as fiddle tunes, flat picking, bluegrass instrumentals or simply folk melodies. Many of these songs have been part of the basic musical repertoire for centuries and I often explain to my students music does not last that long, and stay relevant because it’s bad, quite the contrary they are still being played because of simplicity, beauty and solid musical concepts, flatpicking songs are literally a school to themselves.
These traditional melodies serve many purposes not the least of which is developing technique and familiarity with scales they’re also a rich source of ideas  concerning melodic construction and careful study can serve as the basis for improvisations in any style. Finally, traditional melodies also make great performance and recital pieces.

The Devils Dream

One of the best tunes to incorporate into your teaching program is the song played in the preceding video, the wonderful Devils Dream, considered a jig or a reel it traces its origins to the British Isles and is mentioned in musical literature as early as 1805. My lesson plan for Devils Dream appears below as you can see I have done an analysis of the form and also a melodic analysis of the phrases.

devils1 devils2

The first and most salient points that I address and my lesson is this, music is highly repetitious in this whole amazing performance of Devils Dream can be attributed to four short two bar melodic phrases (As an aside most improvised phrases and also composed melodies rely very heavily on two bar ideas).


Devils Dream -Analysis Of Form Pointing To Repetitious Nature Of Music

I have also added fingering indications which may or may not be followed as long as the student understands why selecting particular fingers for passage is important in the first two bars there are two options one of which gives me the opportunity to explain the important concept of using an open string to switch positions.

The Devils Dream serves as a great confidence builder and study and the power of repetition and creating musical melodies and solos with small amounts of melodic material. Students of all ages enjoy and are proud to perform it.  Interesting versions of many great traditional melodies appear in the highly recommended Fiddlers Fakebook by David Brody.  All the instructors I know have had great success incorporating traditional melodies in their teaching programs.


Recommended Addition To Guitar Library, Fiddlers Fakebook By David Brody