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Choosing The Perfect Guitar Teacher

This is an article written by David Smolover, who is not only the founder of The National Guitar Workshop, but also Workshop Arts Publications, DayJams and WorkshopLive.  As you can tell, he is a busy guy and knows a lot about guitar education.

How to Find the Perfect Teacher

Finding the right teacher is the best way to insure success in any endeavor, not just learning to play an instrument. Unfortunately, we have been conditioned by our school systems to accept the teachers they put in front of us. So often when we actually do have a choice like selecting a private teacher, we fall back into the habit of accepting whoever is available.

The first thing to do is truly examine what you want to accomplish. Do you want to play Beatle tunes? Do you want to work on your improvisation skills? Do you want to learn how to read music? WHAT DO YOU WANT? (If you don’t know, well then we have another set of problems that we’ll discuss later.)

Let’s assume for the moment that you do know what you want to accomplish. Then it’s time to locate and interview the teacher. Remember you are the customer. It’s your money and it’s your right to select whomever you want. Steps to take:

1. Referrals are a good place to start. Ask a friend who’s playing you respect and find out where they studied.

2. No friends. Sorry. Go to small live music venues and if you find a player you like ask them: 1) if they teach, or 2) can the recommend a teacher.

3. Too young to go to clubs or too old to stay up that late. OK. Visit the local music store and ask questions about their teachers. If you find a likely candidate, ask to set up an interview. The storeowner may look at you funny, but you’ll survive.

4. No likely candidates at the store. Onward. Call the local college music department. As them who are their most popular faculty members. Then ask if they teach privately. Almost all of them will. Ask for contact info and then set-up the interview.

5. Last resort. Hang out at the local coffee shop and stop everyone caring a guitar. Remember anyone making their living as a guitar teacher gets up at 10:00 and goes for coffee around 11:30. They have very few friends and no social outlets, so they’ll be happy to talk with you.

The Interview

Remember. Be honest about what you want to learn. Don’t try to please the teacher. It’s their job to please you. Ask them to specifically tell you how their approach will help you accomplish your goal. Ask them about their educational background. How long have they been teaching? Here’s the most important question. Ask them what kind of student do they most enjoy teaching? Does that sound like you? If so, sign-up. If not, keep looking.

If you don’t know what you want to accomplish or if you’ve been playing a long time and you’re not improving, then this is what you have to discuss with the perspective teacher. Honestly describe your playing. Ask to play with the teacher if words fail you. Then say, “OK, how can you help me?” If the answer sounds like good and it’s not a canned response (i.e. All my students ……) then give it a shot.

The most important thing to remember is that it’s your money, but it’s also your responsibility to find the right teacher.

Darcy James Argue and the Future of The Music Business

Original cutting edge music for large ensembles in a jazz context has been in short supply lately.  Of course you have Maria Schneider’s music, but as great as it is Maria’s music lacks that inner fire for me.

Darcy is a very well respected composer who comes from the Brookmeyer School (He studied with Brookmeyer while at NEC).  He is the leader of Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, one of the most original large jazz ensembles to come around in recent memory.

Recently, Darcy released “Infernal Machines”, the debut studio recording from the Secret Society (purchase it here).


Not only did this interest me because of my interest in his music, but Darcy was very open about the deal with New Amsterdam Records.  The terms of the contract are very artist friendly:

  • The artist retains full copyright of the recording
  • Proceeds from the album are split 80% Artist and 20% Label until the recording cost are recouped. After that it becomes a 50/50 split.

You can read the whole agreement here.

However there are some downsides, such as no advance.  All costs related to the recording of the album are 100% on the artist.  To me, this could be a glimpse into the future of the recording industry.  As most of you know by now, the traditional artist/label relationship doesn’t exist as we know it.  In order to make the music industry more viable, there needs to be a paradigm shift in the business of making music, and I think NA Records and Darcy are going in the right direction.

Please check out/buy a copy of Darcy’s new album.  For those of you who feel big band jazz is all about Glen Miller and Count Basie, then you NEED to buy it.

A Step Up

As you can see I have made the move to a self hosted website.  This has already been a decision I now can see I should of made much sooner.

In the coming weeks I have some lessons prepared that I will post in addition to the normal guitar, music business and (hopefully) other interesting topics that you have come to find here.

Thanks for sticking around and let me know if there is anything here that I can do better.

Jimmy Herring

jimmy-04_06_08_3-reducedAs one of the leading guitarists in the Jam Scene, Jimmy Herring is a purveyor of all things guitar.

I first heard of Jimmy from one of my guitar teachers who had given me a copy of an Aquarium Rescue Unit CD.  At that time I was really into bands like Gov’t Mule, but I had not come across Jimmy yet.  After listening to the quirkyness of ARU, I was sold.

This year at National Guitar Workshop we have the great fortune of not only bringing in Jimmy for our Jam Summit, but also Oteil Burbridge.  Many, many people have inquired about this and it is sure to be an amazing time.


Both Jimmy and Oteil are educated musicians who really know how to convey musical concepts.

Recently a guitarist on Twitter forwarded me a link to a video of Jimmy playing a Steve Morse tune at a student concert at GIT.

Click Here to see the video.

As you can see, even back in ’85 Jimmy was quite the developed musician. The other guitarists in the video aren’t slouches either.

After I booked Jimmy and Oteil for the Jam Summit, I started to do some research to see what kind of videos are out there.  Here are some of the better ones I found.

Here is a short video of a clinic that Jimmy gave at the Atlanta Institute of Music.

Shawn Lane with Aquarium Rescue Unit:

Jimmy sitting in with the Allman Brothers at the Beacon:

Great Short Documentary on Oteil:

Today on Twitter

  • 08:41 RT @jeffpulver: Celebrities who make the investment to follow and engage (some) people will get more out of twitter than those who don’t. #
  • 11:04 Terry Syrek is a funny dude. Make sure to watch it until the end…..Trust me. bit.ly/GNh7h #
  • 13:24 What is a good way to stream music from your blog? #
  • 13:51 Just added myself to the wefollow.com twitter directory under: #guitar #marketing #workshop #
  • 14:49 Trying to figure out how to spend a surplus in the advertising budget. #
  • 20:02 RT @MusicDish: new article: Embracing Encouragement In the Music Community bit.ly/bSWvT #
  • 20:17 @RichMurray You interested in checking out our workshop in Chicago? #

Interesting Links

Lately there have been a few things that have really caught my interest and I wanted to pass them onto you.

Blogoholica: 360 Deals, iTunes, Nimbit, Radio & Lefsetz VS Simmons – Eric Hebert has written a great post essentially listing some more noteworthy music business items including free legal paperwork for a 360 deal and the great Bob Lefsetz battling Gene Simmons.

Involver Adds Automation to Facebook Page Management – If you manage any kind of Facebook “Fan” page, check out Involver’s new ways to make it better. (via Mashable)

Trent Reznor Discusses New Business Models and More.  Just great stuff.

John Zorn

John Zorn (cropped version)
Image via Wikipedia

I know by just reading the title of this post, many of you will have a preconcieved notion of what to expect.  Even I had to admit that I thought I knew what John Zorn was all about.

That is until I read the excellent JazzTimes cover story on Zorn written by Bill Milkowski.  This is easily one of the best interviews I have ever read.  I first heard Zorn’s Naked City album while an undergrad and at the time I was not ready for it (who really is?) but it was interesting to me because it featured one of my favorite guitarists, Bill Frisell.  It was like a bunch of jazz nerds got together and made an amazing heavy metal/hardcore album.  Since I was a metalhead back in the day, that was my “gateway drug” into the world of John Zorn.

With some casual searching on the web it is easy to see that Zorn is arguably one of the most prolific and diverse musicians EVER.  Who else could write an album of string quartets like Magick (2004) develop a unique sound like the aformentioned Naked City project in addition to leading a longstanding quartet (Masada) that performs traditional sacred Jewish music in a jazz context?

His skills as a composer and musician are well documented, but after reading this interview it totally dawned on me that Zorn is also an amazing entrepreneur and a leading advocate of artistic expression.

For example, consider the following:

  • Since 1995, he has been the driving force behind Tzadik, a record label that although small is easily doing better than any of the major labels.
  • He recently opened a non-profit music venue, The Stone, in the East Village in New York City.  As per the website:
    • All expenses are paid for by the MUSIC itself – through the online sale of special Limited Edition CDs released yearly on the Tzadik label. Each month a different musician is responsible for curating the programs with 100% of the nightly revenue going directly to the musicians.

To me, this should be the model for every music venue in the world.   For the last 35 years Zorn has been relentless in his approach, drive and vision.  His music might not reach everyone, but musicians and businessmen alike should look to him as a model of where the music industry is heading.  I hope that both Gary Vaynerchuk and Bob Lefsetz are paying attention to artists like Zorn, because I assure you he isn’t the least bit interested in what they (or you) are doing.

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Group Music Blogging Event April 16th

Via MusicianWages.com

MusicianWages.com, Music Careers at About.com and KnowtheMusicBiz.com are organizing a group blogging event for all music and musician bloggers. MW recently received a comment from a reader concerned about her teenage son’s file-sharing. We believe that this is a topic with as many answers as there are musicians and invite you to join us in a synchronized response.

If interested, please write a response to the following question and post it to your blog on April 16th, 2009.  Send an email to webmaster@musicianwages.com with the URL of your response and we will post a list with links to all of the participating blogs.

Suggested title: To a Mother Concerned About File-Sharing

I have a teenage son who tells me his pirating music is no big deal. Since he is a musician himself, I point out to him that someday that’s going to be his money people are stealing. But he remains unphased.

He tells me the record sales make money for the record label, not the artist. He says that the artists make all their money from touring and live concerts. He thinks the pirated music promotes the concerts and therefore helps the artist make more money. I still don’t allow pirating in my house.

But tell me what you think – as artists out there having your work “shared,” are you just glad to have it being enjoyed, or does it bother you? Admittedly, he is stealing music that is recorded by major record labels, so maybe its different than the independent musician working for his living. But I’d still like to hear what you think.


I will be posting a response on the 16th.  Please pass this along to anyone you might think would like to take part.

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