What To Look For In A Teacher

Congratulations! You've found an artist that totally melts your face off with their playing and/ or creative chops. But slow down: you're halfway to having a great teacher, if they are as dedicated and well studied as you say they are. What else to look for besides chops:

-A degree isn’t totally necessary to being a great teacher. All it really says is that this person has officially met certain standards or criteria set forth by a regulated institution, for profit or not. Keep in mind there are players out there that don't have the degree, but they have tons of street cred-- enough or more than enough to have the same skills or better.

-Great players don’t always make the best teachers. Teachers and players are totally different things. They need to be just as well studied in how to create an environment that people learn in, as they are in the music stuff.

- They need to be an excellent communicator with lots of energy, and back it up with enough musical knowledge.

-They need to be excellent interviewers. You don’t know what you don’t know, but they need to find out so that they can teach it to you.

-They need to be organized. There’s nothing romantic about a messy, late, awkward artist, especially when you’re paying them. They should be on time, follow up with people, return phone calls and emails, and take responsibility if they mess up. Those are basics but you would be appalled with how many "teachers" neglect them.

-They should know their schedule like the back of their hand and respond to inquiries as quick as possible. The most experienced teachers know that the decision to take guitar lessons is often impulsive, and if they don't jump on inquiries quick, customers are lost.

-They need to be a bill collector and a friend at the same time. That might seem really twisted but it's true and the best teachers walk this fine line the best.

-They need to be quick on their feet. They have a different personality/age/family situation/income bracket/health situation/life perspective coming in the door every half hour. Kids may cry. Females may flirt. Males may compete. Males may flirt.

-They should know many if not all styles and keep up with current trends.

 

Guess what? These are the requirements to teach guitar or any instrument at Rockwell Guitar School in Shoreview MN. If you'd like to get started please give us a call at 612-568-7433. Or, share this with someone who needs it!

 

 

The Best Way to Improve Your Sound

So you bought an entry level instrument for your beginner and they've been taking lessons for awhile, they've learned how to take care of it, they've gotten used to the dimensions of the instrument and stopped bumping it on everything around them. You want to upgrade their sound without spending a fortune and buying another all-out guitar.

Practice First

First, the best way to improve your sound is to practice. Much of a player's sound is in their fingers and how they use them. Eric Clapton will sound like Eric whether he's plugged into a $100 Squier or his one-off ~custom~ custom shop Strat (yes, I said it twice). There are countless stories of stars who reached the dressing room, found a cheap piece of junk to warm up on, and made it sound like a million bucks.

Did you practice?

The second best way to upgrade your sound without spending a fortune is to upgrade your pickups. Pickups are the electronic, magnet-containing gizmos under your strings that pick up the vibrations and send it through your controls to the amplifier. There are thousands of pickups out there and they all can sound slightly different than each other, even the same model by the same company.

Tone Detective

The way to approach a pickup decision is to reverse engineer it and do your homework-- find a sound you like, experiment with the products they use, and find your own sound. Be careful though-- every pickup company wants you to look at their endorsers and choose your pickups from there. That's a good start but not the best way. Those pros have thousands of dollars and hours invested, and hired more pros just for their sound. So take that information with a grain of salt, and then go to youtube and find regular, run of the mill average Joes that have made videos of them using the product. Their sounds are going to be closest to what you can get, so make your decision from there.

Tweak It

When you find the stuff you like, have a pro install them-- it's well worth the money to have it done right. It might take some experimentation to find the combination you like, but the YouTube approach will get you in the ballpark. With the prices for mid-level instruments these days, it's a valuable alternative.

Email us if you're in the Minneapolis & St. Paul area and you're looking for a reputable repair man, we know the best. rockwellguitarschool@gmail.com

Tips on Playing Position

Nowadays with the resources on the internet it is very easy to get started playing guitar. YouTube videos, blogs, tab sites, and video conferencing all make it very easy to get started without a live teacher directly in front of you.

However, one thing that is pretty difficult to learn on your own is playing posture. I get a lot of students coming in for their first formal lessons who have been self taught up until that point, and usually one of their biggest concerns is whether their playing posture is correct. They are the smart ones, because they know better than to ignore it.

Your playing posture is something you should be concerned about. You may even have bad posture now, and not know because you are young or otherwise healthy and your body can take it. But as you grow older and keep playing with poor posture, it can lead to debilitating strain injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis, as well as other unexplainable fringe pains. It can also hinder your capabilities like speed, strength, and endurance.

Here are some general guidelines for playing faster, stronger, and longer:

-Stay fit. Overall physical fitness is a great and broad thing you can do to help your playing. It improves circulation, maintains muscle vitality and keeps your joints comfortable.

-Speaking of circulation, warm up. Especially when you come into my teaching studio in St. Paul from a cold Minnesota winter in the dead of January. You don't want to embarrass yourself or even worse, injure yourself.

-Keep your joints close to the middle of their range of motion. I'm talking about wrists mostly. Avoid sharp angles.

-Listen to your body. If you feel pain that lasts for longer than a day or two days, talk to a seasoned performer/teacher who has legitimate expertise on performance injuries, or better yet, a doctor or physical therapist.

-Take frequent breaks. If I know I need to practice for a long time, I usually set a timer for mandatory breaks, say every half hour take a 5 minute break. When the timer goes off, just drop whatever you're doing no matter what it is and go do something different for 5 minutes, preferably something physical. Go out and shoot some hoops, play with the dog, play catch with a friend. If you can't go outside, jog around the house, go up & down the stairs a few times, or just stretch.

-Sit up straight. This will do wonders for the rest of your body if you just take care of your central structure.

-Don't wear that guitar too low. You might think it's cool now, but you're not gonna look cool when you have wrist braces in ten years and you can't play in a band anymore. A good rule of thumb is to wear your instrument high enough so that the position remains constant whether you sit or stand.

Now keep in mind, if all these tips are new to you and you implement them today, it will definitely feel different. Some might say weird or awkward. This is mostly because you're just not used to it yet, but that doesn't mean it's not worth it. It would be well worth your time to visit an expert on the topic, have them observe your playing, and ask questions and invite feedback.

Here is a good video I made a while back about guitar playing form and posture. It's a little old but at least you can see what I've been writing about in this blog post.

 

When To Practice

There are so many different things vying for our attention in our day to day lives that it can be extremely difficult to find time to practice. This goes for not only musical instruments but anything else that you need to do many times to get good at.

Be Honest

Here's the short and straight answer: If you have found something that you are truly truly passionate about, it's easy to forget about everything else, immerse yourself in it, and lose all track of time. You don't have to make time for your passions. If you're passionate about something, you will have to make time for other things.

On the other hand, if you are constantly at battle with yourself or your child about practicing, you're barking up the wrong tree. I'm not talking about a reminder every once in awhile, I'm talking about daily conversations, uncomfortable for all parties involved, about practicing for a half hour (the minimum I recommend). 

Comfort vs. Discipline

Reminders are ok because anything that requires dedication and a high level of performance also requires discipline, and discipline isn't always flowers and candy. Sometimes you have to wake up earlier, skip that movie, or stay inside and put flesh to wood and put in some time on your instrument. But if you love it, what are you missing?

Quantity

Here's the bottom line: anything is better than zero practice, but 1 hour is many times better than 5 minutes. Beginner students sometimes don't have the repertoire to practice any more than a half hour, but they need to learn muscle memory and posture and that can fill a half hour easily. If you're crazy about your craft, you can fill an hour easily too.

Here's my recommendation for beginners that are still figuring things out: Practice every day and take one day off during the week, but not the day before, on, or after your lesson. If you want to maintain your skill level and not improve, go for a half hour a day. If you want to improve, up that time to an hour or more.

Don't Scare Yourself

The reason I talk about such small numbers is because they are unintimidating and achievable. I see a lot of rookie players saying, 'I only have one day off so I'm going to do my whole week's practice on that day...6 hours!' That never works, and they just scare themselves into procrastinating or zero practice. Besides, it's almost detrimental to practice any more than 2 hours because you get fatigued and stop absorbing information. Take a 5 minute break every hour or two and do something different and active, like shoot a few hoops or walk around the block. 

So next time you go to your lesson, be caught up on your work so you can use the time to learn new stuff, not to practice.

First Instruments For Beginners

So your child just told you he wants to learn guitar. He's always sung along to the radio in the car and you think he's pretty musical so you decide to surprise him for christmas. Your buddies at work all recommend acoustic guitars for beginners (they're more quiet) and Martins and Taylors are the best, so that's what you get him. After all, you want the best for your kid, right?

Good intentions, but not necessarily good choices.

Everybody Loves Music

Just because your kid sings in the car or bangs on the kitchen pots and pans doesn't mean you should buy him a big name guitar and lessons-- lots of kids do these things. Making noise and singing at the top of your lungs is a primal instinct for many children. I recommend enrolling your kid in an early education music class as a musical litmus test of sorts. These classes have lots of musical games and activities, and there is also a social element in the group setting.

Electric For Starters

One of the biggest hurdles when you're first learning guitar is simply the physical task of getting your fingers to do what you want them to. Electric guitars use lighter strings and usually have lower action (string height) so they will be easier on the fingers. They also won't hurt as much while a beginner is getting callouses. 

Many parents associate acoustic guitars with lower volume, but they don't know or realize that an unplugged electric is more quiet than an acoustic.

An electric guitar is also more durable than an acoustic. Young students bang their guitars on everything. They're just not used to the dimensions and balance of a guitar, nor do they realize that a wooden guitar responds to simple environmental changes like temperature and moisture in the air. No joke, these Minnesota winters are harsh on my St. Paul guitars, even the loaner guitar I keep in my teaching studio. So buy them a good student instrument while they learn how to take care of it, and get them the Martin later. It'll give them something to work toward.

Too Cheap

I've received lots of inquiries from potential students before they had an instrument, and they usually want to know how much to expect to pay for an instrument. My ballpark figure is $200-$500, anything less is a toy and not an instrument, and anything more is a liability in the hands of a beginner. Some people are shocked when they hear these figures, but really it's no big deal compared to other instrument prices. Don't believe me? Check out the prices on violins and saxophones.

Buy Used

If you feel savvy enough, you can get a better instrument for a better price and overall better value if you buy used. In general, shops that sell used gear feature 'pre-approved' stuff on their shelves. They're not going to take in junk if they can't get rid of it. Ebay also has great deals but you have to be more savvy to not get ripped off.

Moral of the Story

Don't buy them the Martin or Taylor yet. A high end instrument might sound better and be made better but it could be discouraging to a beginner when it reveals the flaws in their technique. Save that for later and teach them dedication and work ethic in the meantime.

For the dollar, this is a very good value pack for beginning guitar players. I've seen many new students learn successfully on these guitars and still have a decent guitar when all is said and done. It will include everything you need to get started, except a guitar teacher :) If you you're looking for a cheaper price...let's get real: this is a cheap price.

Anything is Better Than Zero

Now more than ever, kids are bombarded with things seeking their attention-- video games, apps, youtube, homework, school sports, ipods, netflix, etc. As they get older and start having more 'grown up' type responsibilities, it becomes harder to just stumble upon an extra half hour to practice. It also seems trendy for parents to sign their kids up for as many activities as possible. Whatever happened to just having the time to be a bored kid left to their own creative devices?

I see my students struggling with this on a weekly basis, and I have a strategy for reeling it in. It's called, 'Anything is Better Than Zero'. The premise is that the only sure way to get worse is to not practice at all. Even five minutes is better than nothing, because your brain and body get tremendous benefit from doing. Music is a game of execution. 

I'm not a fan of demanding practice from my students, I'd rather peruse the practical considerations with them instead. I usually ask, 'You'd like to get better, wouldn't you?' And they always respond yes. Then I ask them how much they indulged in the aforementioned vices. Usually it's a little bit of everything. Then we talk about which ones we can scale back on so that we can play guitar more in an effort to improve.

Now, I know some teachers and parents are reading this and saying, "Five minutes of practice?!?! No way that's gonna work." But the idea here is not to become a world class guitar player on 5 minute practice sessions, the idea is to start habits of practice that grow into a passion for the instrument. Five minutes is an extremely un-intimidating goal that can get people up and doing every day. Otherwise, people set intimidating goals that scare them into zeros every day.

Rockwell Guitar School serves St. Paul and surrounding suburbs as a provider of music instruction on Guitar, Bass, Banjo, Mandolin, and Ukelele. For more information please visit our FAQs page or call 612-568-7433.