Tyson Farmer:    Music lessons

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Here is where I'll try to give answers to any questions that come up often from people about my music lessons and anything connected with them. If you have any that are not addressed here or elsewhere on the site, feel free to email or call me with them, and I will add them to this list in case others may have the same questions in the future. NOTE: most references herein to local music stores are intended for people living in the metro Atlanta, GA area.

I have no idea where to start or what I want to accomplish...

That's okay- you don't have to. I start every student out with "the basics"- what I feel every musician should know about music in general and their instrument in particular. I assume no prior knowledge, even if you have had lessons before (see "I took lessons before..." and "I have taken music lessons from another teacher already..."). Once we're past the basics, there is an endless list of intermediate to advanced topics we could discuss, and by then you'll be a different player. At that point I become less your teacher and more your coach, helping you to sharpen and build on your skills. Some students at that point just know the next song they want to learn, and that's just fine.
    Trust me, once you start gaining a little bit of skill and confidence as a result of your lessons, you'll start to see that the choices for where you can take that skill are endless. At that point it gets easier to see which are the paths you'd most like to follow, because you'll follow your own curiosity and interests. One person might lean toward soloing and improvisation, another might realize fingerpicking is where their interest lies, or even songwriting, or playing jazz or blues. And if you really don't know at that point, I can take you to the next logical step too. Think of it like driving- you have to learn to drive first, then you get comfortable with it, then you use it for practical purposes, and then one day you might take out a map for a road trip and say "where do I want to go?" So think of me as your driving instructor!
    In any case, we'll be learning one song and step at a time, so by the time you figure out any specific goals, you'll already have something to show for your time. Although I can help you reach your goals if you have any specific ones, you can feel confident I know where to take you when you show up to the lessons with your instrument and an open mind.

I took lessons before, but it was a long time ago, and I barely remember most of it. Should I start over at the beginning?

Even if you have taken lessons before, I start at square one and never assume any prior knowledge on your part. This way you'll get a good review of the things you might have learned before (even if it was decades ago- it all goes in there somewhere!), and we will fill in any gray areas you might have missed. You may find that you pick up on it quicker the second time around! In any case, I review often, and don't like to go on to the next concept until I'm sure you've pretty much got the one before it.

I am actually pretty confident on my instrument, but I only want to know how to do a particular skill/ learn about a particular subject. Can I take lessons from you just long enough to get this skill and then be done?

Absolutely. All I ask is that you tell me your specific goals and intentions from the beginning so I know how to plan ahead and approach coaching you through it. If you're a self-motivated musician, you probably have somewhat of a game plan of your own already, and I can work with that. I will usually examine your playing style to see if there are any deficiencies or bad habits that are keeping you from reaching any goals you have tried to reach but have had trouble with, and coach you through eliminating the obstacles in your way. Not only have I taught students who have come to me for a particular topic or to get them past a plateau, but I have also had students take with me until they achieved a personal goal, then took a break, and then called me months later when they had another goal they couldn't achieve on their own.
    I can also teach you any new subject you are interested in teaching yourself but haven't been able to figure out which point to start at. There is a wealth of information out there for the self-taught student, but there is also loads of information that you don't really need to know, and sifting through all this information to reach a specific goal can be very frustrating and time consuming. As I tell my students, you basically hire me to get you to your goals on the fast track and cut through all the unnecessary information you don't really need, and point you straight at the destination you're trying to reach.
    I can also help any self-taught student create an overall plan if they find they have reached a plateau or feel as if they're making no more forward movement. In this case I can provide game plans, help them develop a better and more productive practice regimen, show them how to use skill-intensive tools (such as a metronome or phrase looper), and provide exercises specifically designed to get them closer to their goals in less time.

Can I learn more than one instrument/ topic in your lessons?

Sure! When you pay me for lessons, you are paying for two things: the time slot and for music lessons. Although I can teach "guitar lessons" or "voice lessons", I think of them all as music lessons in general, and what you want to learn in that time is up to you. If you have a specific combination of skills you want to achieve (such as singing and playing an instrument), we can custom design the lessons to your goals.
    We can also change instruments to keep things interesting or try out others to see if you pick up on one more easily than another before you decide on what path you should take in the long term. If you want to learn piano for a while, and then guitar for a while, I'm fine with that- you can hire me to be your personal musical tour guide and get you musically where you want to be. You can even change instruments or styles from week to week. For example, some of my guitar students love rock and country, so I might teach them rock technique for a while, then acoustic skills next. Or we can switch to another instrument as a fun break from your main instrument now and then.
    It obviously goes without saying that the longer time you spend on one instrument, the better you will be at that instrument or specific skill, so you don't want to spread yourself too thin. However, learning another instrument in moderation can actually make you a much more well-rounded musician, and can even make you better at your main instrument! For example, a guitarist learning piano can learn more about chord construction and orchestration. A vocal student learning an instrument can learn about precise scale proportions to help them sing more accurately, or to accompany themselves with an instrument (click here for more about voice). A piano player learning bass guitar can learn more about chord roots and more tricks for their left hand to play. I can personally vouch for this- how do you think I got to the point where I could play and teach so many instruments? So feel free to bring up your interest to me in another instrument or skill- we can make time for it!

Am I too old to learn?

Absolutely not- I have taught adults as old as 75! You can definitely learn to play or sing no matter how old you are, but the method of my teaching is different, just like the method you learn with in your adult years is not the same as when you were younger. There is a catch, however: when we're young, we have lots of free time but not as much focus as when we're older. When we're older, we have learned how to focus well, but usually have no free time left! So when I teach adults, I adjust to the fact that they have a life outside of music lessons (wife/ husband/ boy/girl-friend, kids, full-time job, mortage, car payment, etc.) and are most likely there for fun personal reasons unless they specify otherwise. Therefore, I don't put pressure on any student to "produce product" unless they request a definite game plan or homework to focus them on their goals, and I keep the emphasis on fun and personal rewards. See "What is your policy on practice?".

Why don't you teach kids under 10?

I like kids, and have taught many throughout my teaching career. However, I have found over time that I just do not have the specific skillset that is required to teach children effectively. I have been teaching long enough to know my strengths and weaknesses, and it has taken a long time for me to realize this is one of my weak spots. Teaching kids takes a completely different mindset than I have. Showing them new concepts and skills through games, fun challenges, and homework takes a specialized list of skills (not to mention unique talent!) that I feel is better left to other teachers. I have found that around the age of 10 is when most children start becoming more independent and goal oriented, and know more what they want. I definitely like to keep the emphasis on fun in my lessons, but my specialties lie with teenagers, young adults, and adults who naturally respond better to a more focused, "brass tacks", practical approach to learning their instrument.
    The difference, I've found, is with the student knowing what they like. First, (for my teaching style) a student must know what songs and artists he or she likes. Some people have trouble listing off their favorite artists, bands, or musical genres when put on the spot, but find with a little thought that this list can be quite extensive. In my teaching style the use of songs and styles as goals is very important because it is a built-in, self-rewarding process when a student achieves those goals. But if a student has no idea what songs or musical styles they like, there are no goals or material I can work with and hold forward as a goal. If you're not sure if your son or daughter fits this criteria, give me a call or email and I'd be happy to discuss it with you and give you any recommendations I feel would work best for him or her. Also, feel free to contact me if you are looking for a teacher who is more skilled and trained at teaching younger children, and I can personally recommend some teachers I know and can vouch for in the area.

I want to learn guitar for a high school senior project- can I do this with you?

I have taught several students who have used learning the guitar as the "product", topic, or goal in their high school senior project. Some students have just used the general skill of learning to play as their product, while others have learned a specific song or style, or even created a historic retrospective of playing styles. I can help narrow down a practical and reachable goal or subject for the student's project, and develop a game plan for those goals. Different schools have different requirements, so I am familiar with the processes of signing and filling out progress reports, taking pictures with the student inside our teaching area for proof of attendance, and writing letters if needed to the student's "project managers" or teachers for a variety of reasons. I have even had a few students continue with lessons long after their project is finished because they liked the feeling of achieving those goals!
    If you have any questions about your senior project and if you think this might be a good goal for you, contact me and I'd be happy to answer your questions or help you come up with a focus or project we can work toward in the lessons. Also, keep in mind I offer a free 30 minute trial lesson to anyone who asks- we could use this time for a consultation about your goals, and to see if you think this is a good idea for a project.

I'm left handed- can you teach me? Should I get a lefty guitar?

I have no problem teaching a left-handed player with a left-handed guitar. In fact, "lefties" are actually easier for me to teach as a right-handed teacher. The reason is that when I teach a right-handed student, we face each other, and our guitar necks are pointing in opposite directions, so there is a reverse mirror image of the actions I make that they have to mimic on their instrument. But when I teach a lefty (with a left-handed guitar), there is a perfect mirror image look to our guitar necks, and it is a little easier for the student to visualize what they need to do by watching my hands. So my teaching you is not a problem. That being said, the focus here should be on you as a lefty. So there are several pros and cons to consider for yourself if you purchase a "left handed" guitar:


  1. A unique guitar orientation for your left- handedness
  2. Guitar tablature and sheet music is readable by both RH and LH players
  3. Your RH friends can't play your LH guitar if you don't want them to
  4. RH and LH players create a pretty cool "symmetrical" look onstage


  1. Not all stores carry left-handed guitars or parts
  2. You have to learn to read RH chord grids backwards, but there are tricks for this
  3. Your RH friends can't play your guitar if you DO want them to
  4. You can't play anyone else's RH guitar if you don't have yours handy or break a string
  5. Onstage "symmetricality" is a non-issue if you can play your instrument well :)

    Traditionally, most guitarists use their dominant hand for strumming and picking the strings, while their non-dominant hand is used for "fretting", or pushing down on and manipulating the strings on the guitar fretboard. However, I have known different  lefties who played right and left-handed guitars, and I have personally concluded that there is nothing more to it than just that- tradition. If you are a lefty, I am sure you are familiar with this concept of tradition dictating people's actions. Most lefties are left-hand dominant on some things, while right hand dominant on others. So the bottom line is- if you do any action long enough and often enough, you get pretty good at it, and that is true no matter what hand or guitar orientation you use. And keep in mind that when you're starting out, it's going to be difficult and awkward no matter what hand you use. So my recommendation is to choose one and stick with it.
    As an interesting related topic: Jimi Hendrix was left-handed, but there were no choices at that time for purchasing left-handed guitars, so Jimi restrung a right-handed guitar and flipped it around to become a left-handed guitar. Look up some pictures of Jimi playing the guitar- if you look closely enough you will see his volume knobs are on the top of the guitar (they're supposed to be on the bottom!).

I want to try it on my own first/ get a head start before I take lessons. Any advice? Can you recommend any good books/ dvds/ courses?

If you are a self-motivated player, you have to be a little obsessed with your instrument to make it work for you. In other words, you have to push through all the obstacles and difficulties that get in your way (not knowing where to start, picking up bad habits, finding a zillion different viewpoints on the same subject, etc.) with sheer stubbornness, willpower, and determination. It will be a longer journey, but if you're focused, you can get there. My selling point is basically that I can get you there on the "fast track"- I can skip past all the stuff you don't need to know that would waste your time and help you get straight to your goals, while teaching you all the important information you do need to know that you may or may not stumble upon on your own. Think of it this way- if you want to get in shape you can buy weights, hit the gym, and push yourself to exercise through sheer will, but a personal trainer will push you harder than you ever will on your own, get you to your goals faster, and encourage you along the way more effectively than you can alone, all because they are trained to do so.
    That being said, there is a wealth of resources thanks to the internet that will help you teach yourself. You can find websites with free tablature, chord diagrams, scales, and theory lessons as a great reference, but these all assume you know how to use them and understand the basics, so you should start by looking for the absolute basics. I recommend starting with YouTube. Try a search using the terms "free lessons [your instrument] absolute beginner". Some are professional, others are very amateur. Some are really good lessons, others are just plain bad. Some are demos that are just examples of a person's teaching style, others are robust lessons that are truly free. There are a few problems with these videos. One is finding the one that suits your thinking style. You may find two different videos that explain the same exact topic- one may make you scratch your head and think "what the heck is he talking about?" while the other might make you say "aha- got it!" So you may have to go through several videos before you find one that works for you. Also, videos cannot correct your mistakes, so you're likely to pick up bad habits along the way without even realizing it. These bad habits can slow you down in the long run, but can fortunately be overcome with a little education and effort.
    As far as books go, I personally would not recommend only using books as your first step. In the past, books used to be the best option, but technology has provided us with many more choices. I say go with the videos. Music is a hearing art, and the visual medium is best suited to the skills it takes to learn to play an instrument. After learning from some videos, you can then be better informed about how to approach the books (if you even feel you need to at that point). Some instructional books even come packaged with DVD or CD audio lessons as a supplement to the book, and I can definitely recommend these, as you know they are usually high quality and are designed to be a companion to the book.
    For those of you wondering why I'm giving away free info on how to teach yourself on a site that is designed to promote my lesson services, consider the following: Teaching yourself usually brings up more questions sometimes than it answers, so some students find that I can take them to that next level at some point. Also, self-taught students have usually gotten past the initial rough spots on their own so they're usually easier for me to teach in spite of bad habits they may have picked up. And lastly, if a student can teach themselves well on their own power, then lessons can potentially help them after a certain point when they hit any plateaus in their self-development. This was my story- I taught myself for about two years, got frustrated with hitting a brick wall in my learning, and started taking guitar lessons. I made such fast gains at that point that I got hooked and started following it as a career!

My son/ daughter wants to play an electric guitar- shouldn't I start them out with an acoustic?

I'd say that depends on several factors. Most people tend to think that because an acoustic guitar has less knobs, switches, and electronic parts that it is easier and better to start with, but the opposite is actually true. Also, most people tend to think that an electric guitar is naturally louder because they are used to the image of an electric guitar taking the paint off the walls with its loudness, but keep in mind that the volume knob of an amplifier can go the other way too. Here are some things to consider about acoustic vs. electric:


  1. Standard issue acoustic strings are heavier (thicker) gauge, thus harder to push down at first
  2. Action (how high the strings are off the fretboard) is usually higher, thus harder to play
  3. Has one volume that can't be changed
  4. Good sound for specifically acoustic music and styles
  5. Usually a little more expensive because of intricate design of inside bracing and body


  1. Standard issue electric guitar strings are lighter (thinner) and therefore easier to play at first
  2. Action is designed to be lower, thus easier to play
  3. Electric guitar amplifiers can be turned down to nothing, and most new amps have a headphone jack
  4. Good for many more styles on average than acoustic- rock, reggae, southern rock, etc.
  5. Usually cheaper because easier to mass produce

    As you can see, Electric guitar is actually the easier instrument to start with for any beginner. However, the most important factor to take into consideration is the student's musical tastes. If a student is mostly into Country, Light Rock, Folk, or any other music style that features mostly the sound of the acoustic guitar (think James Taylor, America, Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, etc.), then I recommend starting them out with an acoustic guitar. However, if a student is mostly into Rock, Classic Rock, Metal, or any other style where the sound of the electric guitar is featured heavily (think Journey, Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica, etc), I do NOT recommend starting them out with an acoustic guitar, and highly recommend getting them an electric. If you are not sure if the style of music they are into has acoustic guitar featured in it, ask a friend or family member who is knowledgeable about this sort of thing and they should be able to tell you. Also, watch the beginning of my demo lesson video on my home page to see me play a variety of different styles on both electric and acoustic for a good general overview.
    The reason for this is that there is no personal payoff for the student when what they are learning to play on the acoustic sounds nothing like the electric guitar on the song they are learning. This can lead to frustration, which can eventually lead to them just quitting when there is a lack of personal accomplishment and forward movement. The same thing goes with the opposite scenario- if they are learning an acoustic song on the electric, it can teach them the skills, but there is really not as big a personal payoff. The only practical exception to this I can think of is when a student is starting with an inherited guitar or hand-me-down, or is borrowing a guitar from someone. In this case, practicality outweighs the ideal scenario. Parents sometimes use a situation like this as a motivating factor for the student to work toward- in other words, "if you work hard and show you can stick to it, we will buy you the guitar you want instead of a hand-me-down." In either case, even a cheap electric for a rock or metal fan is better than an expensive acoustic because the payoff is greater when it sounds right, and the same goes for an acoustic music fan.

What should I look for when I'm buying a guitar?

This is a deep subject that can fill more than a few pages, but the best thing I can recommend is to have a guitar player you trust along with you to check out the instruments you are considering buying. Here are some of the most important factors and advice to consider:

  1. Don't consider resale value when you're starting out. Do you want to sell it for a mint on Antique Roadshow someday or do you just want to learn to play it? Buying for resale value to me is basically like the guitar version of playing the stock market- are you buying an investment or a musical instrument? You're better off buying a cheaper non-brand-name medium quality guitar that you can wear out from lots of playing and love than an expensive brand-name guitar that you are afraid to play too much so it can stay in perfect condition. A worn out guitar with lowered value usually means it is worn out because it's been played and loved on a lot. Whenever you see a guitar in pristine condition, that usually means it was never taken out of its case often to be played. And every experienced guitarist knows that a really bad guitar player can make a brand-name expensive guitar sound like a piece of junk. Conversely, an excellent guitar player can make a cheap guitar sound like gold. Besides, buying an expensive brand name doesn't guarantee that the value of that particular guitar model will happen to be high when you're ready to sell anyway.
  2. A cheaper guitar is an incentive to work harder. A decent cheap electric should cost around $175-$250, and a decent acoustic should cost around $200-$350. For yourself or your son or daughter, start cheap and and work your way up. That way if you find you/ they don't stick with it after all, you are not too deep in a financial hole. If you/ they do stick with it, then you can buy a more expensive guitar as a reward and a good investment for time spent.
  3. Plan ahead for the worst case scenario. If you buy at a music store, ask if they have a buyback program. For example, Ponier Music in Marietta and Kennesaw has a pretty good buyback program. If you can find a music store that rents guitars (they are hard to find- for example, Sandy Springs Music rents only nylon string acoustics), consider renting to see if it's something worth sticking with. Find out on Ebay's "completed listings" page what a particular model you plan on buying is selling for used.
  4. Consider buying used. Pawn shops and Craigslist have their downsides. But a used guitar, if in good condition and playability, has usually had plenty of opportunity for things to break down or go wrong before being put in the pawn shop or sold off online. So sometimes they are already "worn in" by the time they are sold down the line. My first instrument was a $40 electric bass guitar with a 5-watt amplifier my mom bought for me at a garage sale, and I gained all my initial skills on that instrument until I outgrew it. Ask or shop around for good places to buy used instruments. For used acoustic guitars, I can personally recommend Miller's Music in Chamblee Dunwoody- I am a big fan and bought my last acoustic there. They have an excellent policy of buying "blemished" acoustics directly from the manufacturer and repairing or refurbishing them with an in-house guitar repair specialist to "good as new" condition, then selling them for WAY cheaper than when they are new.
  5. The most important factor in ease of playability is string action. String "action" is how high the strings are above the guitar neck when viewed from the side. For any beginner, there will naturally be buzzing sounds and "dead notes" from the strings when a player doesn't have the right kind of hand strength and dexterity developed yet to push them down strongly enough to get a decent note. This is hard enough to deal with at first even on an excellently set-up guitar with low action. In spite of constant pep talks and logical rationalization on my part, to most beginners (especially young students), this is the sound of failure. But high string action makes the strings even harder to push down, and can make a beginner give up early out of sheer frustration. So make sure this is a priority when you buy so you don't have to worry about it later down the road (because I can guarantee you will eventually have to).
  6. Music stores won't usually tell you (and sometimes don't really know) that you're supposed to get a "setup" with any new guitar. High string action can usually be remedied with a neck adjustment, or setup. Guitar manufacturers usually do not new guitars a setup right out of the factory, because it usually just gets knocked out during shipping anyway. New guitars are normally supposed to have setups when they first arrive at the store and are put on display, but this is usually the exception instead of the rule. This isn't any kind of store policy or rule, just common sense and good business practice. Imagine buying a car new, and the dealer not doing a first tune-up on the car unless you specifically ask for it. So ask any music store you buy a new guitar at if they normally setup all their guitars for good string action when they get them from the manufacturer. If not, ask them if they will setup your guitar for free or cheaper than normal if the string action is high. Tell them it would be a waste of your money to buy a new guitar with high or bad action. If they won't budge on this, I recommend shopping elsewhere. You can usually expect to pay around $30 for an average guitar setup, so shop around and ask for references, like you would for a good auto mechanic.
  7. BUY A CASE OR GIG BAG. Even if it's a cheap used cardboard stock guitar case, it doesn't matter- get one. I can't tell you how many students without cases I've seen knock their guitars into walls and furniture, carry them through the rain to lessons with a garbage bag over them (they still get wet), and constantly lose their lesson folders, picks, and accessories (most gig bags have a pocket for that) because they didn't get a case to go with their new guitar. I personally prefer gig bags, as they are cheap, collapsible, and you can wear most on your back like a backpack, leaving your hands free for other things (like opening doors).
  8. If you're buying a new guitar, you usually have to buy other stuff to go with it. Electric guitars need at least an amplifier, guitar cable, and guitar strap. Both electrics and acoustics need at least some picks, a guitar tuner, and a case (see above). There are cheaper alternatives to most of these- for example, you can download free guitar tuner apps for Android phones and iPhones that make stand-alone guitar tuners expensive and cumbersome to have around. You can shop for the best deal on most other things individually, or you can go with a "guitar package"- check out some examples here. I personally recommend these as they eliminate the guesswork on your part, and sometimes even come with free instructional books to get you started, with everything you need in a big box to carry home. Most chain music stores will have these brand name prepackaged, while smaller local "mom and pop" music stores (such as Ponier Music) can custom design their own guitar packages to suit your needs.
  9. Ignore all the technical jargon that experienced guitarists use to talk about their personal preferences. Most experienced guitarists love to "talk shop" about tone, sustain, the best guitar picks, Les Paul vs. Fender, tube vs. solid state amplifiers, types of wood the guitar is made of, single coil vs. humbucking pickups, active vs. passive electronics, and on and on and on. Most of this is about personal preferences and is fine when kept between experienced guitarists. However, many experienced guitarists have the poor judgement to overwhelm any beginner with all of this information at once in a well-meaning effort to educate them about all their choices. More often, it does exactly that- it overwhelms any inexperienced beginner and just confuses the basic and most important issue: "what is the best guitar for me right now?" Most guitars sound alike to all but the most experienced and trained ears anyway, so don't worry if you can't hear the difference- it doesn't matter. When you have been playing for a long enough time, you will start to perceive these subtleties from experience and exposure, and you will naturally develop your own preferences. Until then, try to filter through the torrent of information you'll receive by figuring out what information is good perspective, and what is just a person's individual preference or opinion. To do this, just ask them: "is this a personal preference thing, or do all guitarists universally agree on this?" Usually their answer will give away what kind of information they are putting out. It's like this- when you are just shopping for a decent car to get you to work and the grocery store, trying to get informative points from listening to two enthusiasts bicker back and forth about Ford vs. Chevy all day long is basically a waste of your time.
  10. They make smaller guitars for smaller players. Before a younger player hits their growth spurt, they might struggle to play an adult sized guitar. You can purchase a 3/4 size or even 1/2 size guitar for your little one, and they are usually crazy cheap. Check out the following links: Ebay, Amazon, and smallguitars.com. Most music stores carry these, but they are easy to miss unless you are specifically comparing sizes, since they look so much like the adult size guitars. Ask the store clerk if they have "kid sized", or 3/4 sized" guitars and they will point them out for you if they do. Here's how to see if your little one needs a smaller guitar: get them to sit with an adult sized guitar on their lap with the neck pointing to their left, and tell them to reach to the first fret with their left hand (the first metal bar furthest out on the face of the guitar neck- see my beginner's instructional video if you don't know what I'm talking about). Make sure you can see their left elbow. If their left arm is completely straight and their elbow has no bend to it, the adult sized guitar is too big and they will struggle with the reach. If their elbow has a slight bend, they should be fine with adult size.
  11. I'm not a big fan of internet purchases. This is a personal opinion. The internet is a wonderful option when buying almost anything, but I am a big believer in holding a guitar in my hands before I consider buying it. In fact, when guitar shopping I will usually hold many guitars in my hands until one "feels" right, and I recommend you or your child do the same before buying. Granted, I am a seasoned professional so I know more about what to look for, but I personally don't like the idea of ordering a guitar online when I don't know how it will feel in my hands until I get it home. One trick I like is to have someone hand me the guitar in the store with my eyes closed so I can get the feel first and not be enticed by how pretty it looks. Although most guitars are mass-produced nowadays, each guitar has unique characteristics to it that may suit one player better or worse than another player- even with two guitars that are made one after another on an assembly line. You should be fine with most internet purchases, and I know plenty of people who have done so and don't regret it, but I personally feel that shopping for guitars is like shopping for puppies- the right one should "choose you"!

I have seen acoustics with an electric output and volume control. Aren't these better than a straight (traditional) acoustic?

The concept is pretty cool, but there are several factors to consider: Electric guitars can barely make any sound until they are amplified electrically, so they require an amplifier to begin with. Acoustics, however, carry their own amplifier with them- the hollow acoustic chamber of the guitar body. Usually this is plenty loud enough for any player, as well as anyone else in the immediate vicinity, to hear the guitar in a relatively quiet environment. Most acoustic-electrics have an on-board tuner, built in to the control section, but you can download a free iPhone or Android app to do the same thing.
    Beyond that, consider that the only practical reason you'd buy an acoustic-electric is to then purchase an additional amplifier for the purpose of playing for small or large crowds or to be able to be heard in a loud band or group onstage. An acoustic-electric is usually a little more expensive since it takes more craftsmanship and time to make, while a simple acoustic (without any electronics or electric output) is usually cheaper. If you buy a straight acoustic guitar, you also have the option of buying an after-market soundhole pickup that slides right into place easily and has a cable leading to whatever amplifier you want to use. So I recommend going with a straight, simple acoustic unless you plan on playing in a praise and worship group at your church, in a band of your own, or performing at coffee shops or other relatively loud or large venues where amplification is a requirement.

Note: an "electric-acoustic/ semi-acoustic" is an electric guitar with a hollow body, while an "acoustic-electric" is an acoustic guitar with electric output and volume control.

I'm not sure what instrument I should go with- I think they're all cool/ I can't decide between instrument X and Y!

The answer to this one is kind of "zen": you have to find out which instrument you're best for, not which instrument is best for you. Just because you like the sound and personality of an instrument doesn't mean you will pick it up quickly, regardless of your enthusiasm level for that instrument. So unfortunately, the only way to find out what instrument is the right one for you is to try each one for a little while and see which one you pick up the fastest and easiest. Obviously this is a simple thing to do if money were not a factor, but most of us don't have that luxury. The best tactic I can recommend is to tell friends or family members who own these instruments about your plans to try them out and narrow them down, and borrow the instruments until you see which one is best.
    I have become convinced after years of playing that some people are guitar people, others are piano people, others are drum people, and on and on with each instrument. Anybody can pick up something on almost any instrument, but some people are just wired to understand certain instruments over others because of how their head works. Years ago I taught guitar lessons to two girls who were good friends- one scheduled right after the other. One progressed quickly forward while the other seemed to struggle along slowly with small gains. For almost a year it was as if she took a step back for every two she made forward. She loved the guitar and was determined to see it through to make it work, but was also frustrated at seeing her friend make more progress than her, and with less work. One day I said: "let's try something new for fun", and gave her a basic piano lesson. By the end of the lesson she was playing the chords of one of her favorite songs. I I told her: " I have good news and bad news for you. Good news: you're a natural piano player. Bad news: you're not a natural guitar player. You can struggle upstream with your weaknesses, or float downstream with your strengths."
    So, regardless of how you find a way to experiment, the only real way to know which one is the best instrument for you is to get each one in your hands and try it out until one works for you more than the other.

I don't have a real piano in my house, just a cheap electronic keyboard. I've heard it's best to have a real piano or keyboard with "weighted" keys. Do I have to have any of these to learn and play keyboards correctly?

"Weighted" keys on an electronic keyboard simulate the feel of a real piano by putting a slight resistance on the keys as you push them down. While you might think this would be a hindrance that makes you work harder, it actually creates a pleasant leverage to the act of pushing down on a keyboard key that most experienced players prefer, and find it gives them a finer level of control over the volume and attack of how they push those keys down. However, this is a personal preference that some experienced players develop after some time playing. But your main concern right now is learning the names of the keys, how to play chords, proper hand position, rhythmic concepts, and a whole list of other things that have nothing to do with whether the keys are weighted or not.
    So start at the beginning- get a hold of a cheap keyboard, then work your way up someday to a keyboard with weighted keys (or even a real piano) if you find it's something you or your son or daughter get rewards from and will stick with. Nothing is more disappointing and more of a waste of money than buying an expensive keyboard or piano, only to find it was a passing hobby, and to have to sell the keyboard on Craigslist or be left with an expensive piece of decorative piano "furniture". For what it's worth, if someday you find you really do want to buy a real piano after some experience and payoff, you might be surprised to know that you can usually find cheap pianos for sale locally for just those reasons (when someone else made an expensive and hasty investment for their child or themselves and ended up with expensive furniture).
    For more perspective on this, see the first four points in the question "What should I look for when I'm buying a guitar?", and the point labelled "Ignore all the technical jargon that experienced guitarists use...", and just replace the points about guitars with keyboards. Also, see my page on piano and what I teach for more points that are good to know.

I play the drums and understand basic/ advanced rhythmic concepts but I want to know more about chords, melodies, harmony, etc. Which instrument should I learn to play?

If you have a particular interest in one instrument, go ahead and follow your curiosity and desire (If you can't decide between several instruments, see "I'm not sure what instrument I should go with!"). However, if your main goal is to just learn more about notes, chords, melodies, and the like in order to become a more well rounded drummer who can better understand and communicate with other musicians, I personally recommend keyboard as the instrument of choice for several reasons:

  1. It's laid out in a more logical and ordered fashion than most other instruments
  2. It's actually classified as a percussion instrument, so your skills with limb independence and syncopation will translate well to left and right hand piano playing
  3. It allows you to communicate with bassists as well as guitarists, because it incorporates both chords and bass lines in separate hands
  4. It makes songwriting easier in general
  5. There is a very small physical learning curve- you don't need special skills to push down a piano key, whereas guitar takes a fair amount of practice before you can achieve consistent, clear sounding notes
  6. If you want to make it a skill you can gig with, you will be in high demand because keyboard players are more difficult to find than guitarists on average
As an alternative, consider the bass guitar. Bassists and drummers have a special relationship musically in any group, as they lay down the solid fundamental basic sounds that every band needs, so learning to play the bass will help you better communicate with your most important musical counterpart.

Why do you do internet lessons instead of teaching at home?

My living situation has changed in such a way that I cannot teach out of my home anymore, and in-store lessons are just not cost-effective for me anymore, besides the fact that I taught at music stores for most of my career. Here are some things you should know about internet video lessons:


  1. Geography is not a limiting factor, so you can be picky about what teachers you choose
  2. With a decent internet connection, you can take lessons no matter where you live, or even if you're out of town with access to a computer with a webcam and access to the internet
  3. You save money on gas and personal time
  4. Payments can be made instantly online with Paypal or other online services


  1. Timing (important for rhythmic work) is sometimes a problem with an average internet connection
  2. You have to have a good internet connection- not ideal for WIFI-connected computers, so best if you are connected to a router with an ethernet cable
  3. You have to have a basic webcam with audio capabilities, but a higher quality webcam and fast computer are obviously better.

Don't I have to read music to be a good musician? I want to learn the "right" way...

NO. You do NOT have to be able to read music to be a good musician. I hope that clears that up. This is one of the biggest and most misunderstood myths about being a musician that people have. In fact, it has become such a frequently asked question over the years that I made a Youtube video about it- click here to check it out. I do not normally offer reading music to my students in my lessons unless they specifically request it, and even then I make sure they are going to be using it often so their time is not wasted. Music is a hearing art. As such, it requires several skills- a good ear to identify notes, chords, and melodies, skill and dexterity at playing your instrument, knowledge of chord names and shapes, and at least a basic knowledge of musical structures and theory to put it all in perspective. Certain instruments lend themselves to needing the skill of reading music more than others, but I am limiting this answer to any fretted instrument, voice, and piano (after a certain point piano needs some basic reading skill, but you do not have to wait to acquire that skill before you start to make music and have fun with it).
    The ability to read music is a skill that comes at the bottom of that list of important requirements. Reading music is basically a method of communication and archiving for musicians in the same way that reading the printed word is a method of communication and archiving for our languages. Likewise, you should consider reading music to be like learning a new language. It takes a long time to learn to read and write the printed word. And like learning to speak a new language, it takes a long time to have any level of usable skill at reading music. One can still speak a language without needing to read it. Unlike learning to read a language, however, it is not absolutely necessary in everyday life except in particular circumstances and doesn't hinder you from making good music and enjoying yourself, or even building a great career at it. It all depends on what you want to do with your music. Consider this- as children, we learn to speak long before we learn to read. Language is an art of sound and diction, and the written word is just a way to put those sounds on paper, but doesn't hinder your ability to speak without it.
    There are three main categories of musicians in terms of their schooling: those who are classically trained, those who are non-traditionally trained, and those who are a combination of the two. Classically trained musicians are normally trained to read music starting from the first lesson, and are told that they cannot play well until they learn to read music well. This is the predominating viewpoint among average people, because classically trained musicians go out of their way to propagate this view. Classically trained musicians can usually read music very well, but on average have no idea how to improvise, read chord charts,  or make music using their ear unless it's written out on paper in music notation. Therefore, the average classically trained musician is usually limited to ONLY being able to read music (and not much else) because anything else is discouraged in the classical tradition. Non-traditionally trained musicians are trained to play music, improvise, and use their ear from the beginning in much the same way we're trained to speak a language first before reading it. After that, reading music, if they care to pursue it, is approached when they are already having fun with making music and playing their instrument. Most non-traditionally trained musicians read chord charts, some form of tablature, or use their ear as an alternative to reading standard notation whenever the written medium is involved.
    I have been trained both classically and non-traditionally, so I have seen both sides of the story. I can read music, but I don't actually use it very often in my career. Due to my training, I have come to the conclusion that reading music is really only necessary in a few circumstances: if a musician is on the career track, if they are part of a professional or large ensemble where sheet music is the standard, or if they want to teach in a school or university where career track musicians are trained. If you are on the career track or are preparing for a college music major, I definitely recommend it. Otherwise, it's just not an important factor.
    So the questions you need to ask yourself are- what do I want to do with my instrument? Do I want to do this for a hobby and fun? Do I want to know how to improvise? Neither of these require reading music. Or: am I on the career track? Do I want to play classical music? These require knowing how to read music. In any case I recommend that you take some basic non-traditional lessons first, have fun with it, and then decide later if you want to learn to read music. I can teach you to read music at any point in the lessons whenever you feel you need it. The important question is: do you really need it? Take some lessons, give it some time, and you will find the question will answer itself.

I don't have an instrument yet. Do I have to have one first before I start taking lessons?

Yes, it is very important to have your own instrument, or access to using or borrowing one when you are taking lessons. Although I can offer one of my guitars or other instruments on a temporary basis during the lesson while you are waiting for an instrument to arrive on order to your home or a music store or if it is in the repair shop, you still need your own instrument for several reasons:

  1. If you don't have access to your own instrument at home, you won't have anything to practice on, and are therefore only learning theory in the lessons and not skill
  2. Every instrument is a little different, so having one instrument over time to get better at is very important. It's kind of like driving a car- you can drive someone else's car if you need to since you the have general skills of knowing how to drive, but you are always most comfortable in your own car, and there's always a period of uncomfortable adjustment when you get a new one
  3. The time you spend in your music lesson is one half of the process of learning your instrument- the time you spend on your own (even just goofing around on it) is the other half of the process- see "What are your policies/ philosophies on practice?"

So even if you don't own your own instrument yet, do whatever you can to borrow one from a friend or family member, or look around for a cheap used one at a pawn shop or Craigslist. Remember- a bad musician can make an expensive brand name guitar sound awful, while a skilled musician can make the cheapest piece of junk instrument sound amazing. In other words, don't wait until you can get a Corvette when all you want to do is learn how to drive! (See "What should I look for when I'm buying a guitar?" and "I don't have a real piano in my house."

Can you give me advice on colleges and music schools/ career advice?

I can mention some great music colleges, but if you're really wanting to make music a career, I recommend considering the musical equivalent of a tech college, Such as The Atlanta Institute Of Music. I have yet to need to show my college diploma in any of the musical jobs I've had, including teaching at music stores. Therefore, a university can sometimes slow you down in your music career with all the extra non-musical classes you have to take. The only thing people who hire you as a musician want to know is: "Can you entertain my customers/ audience" and "Can you teach students well and bring in customers?" There are exceptions to this, most notably if you want to teach at an accredited school or university. But the large majority of jobs you can get as a musician really just require musical skill and stage presence. Aside from all that, the real question you should be asking yourself is "do I really want a career as a musician?"
    Full-time career musician is NOT for everybody. And don't assume just because you really love music, or even love playing it, that it will make an ideal job for you. I love my career as a musician, but I am a rare breed of musician who doesn't mind trading in some of the fun of being a musician for making it a job. Although it is a lot of fun, it's also a drag sometimes to have to do it to pay the rent and support myself. To find out if you should be a career musician, consider the following questions:

  1. Do I just want to have fun with music to blow off steam, or can I perform and rehearse when I really don't feel like it?
  2. Am I okay with being self-employed, and all the extra work and promotion that comes with that?
  3. Am I okay with sometimes getting a part-time job at anything while my music career is slow, but keep the music career as a part of my life in spite of things being slow?
  4. Am I okay with playing songs and musical styles I don't really like, sometimes over and over again within one night or over months and years?
  5. Am I okay with performing songs I really love over and over again for days, nights, weeks, months and years, until repetition makes me not really love the songs anymore?
  6. Am I prepared to practice and rehearse often, with musicians or by myself, as a constant investment in my career, even when I don't feel like it or have the time, on songs I could care less about?

    If the answer is yes to most of these, you might be a career musician. If this is the case, then I recommend doing it right and becoming trained as a professional by attending some kind of school, tech college, or university. The sticking point with many people is performing songs and styles they do not like and think are dumb or cheesy. A true career performing musician is willing to play or sing almost anything it takes to make their career work. Aside from that, it is an incredible gamble and constant, mostly unrewarding hard work hoping that you will get enough of a following to support you with performing only the music you love to perform, unless you happen to love performing the kind of music that most average people will pay to listen to. The problem with that is that most people who love to perform tend to be way more picky with their musical preferences than the average listener. It's almost like career sports- you might love to play football, but not everybody can be a career football star, but most anybody can have a good career as a highschool or little league football coach locally in their community.
    If you only just want to play music for fun and to blow off steam, and prefer to only play the styles of music you want to play, consider just keeping music as an active hobby that you can enjoy on the side- and even make money at- without the constant added pressure of knowing you can't make ends meet if you're not successful at it. There are plenty of non-career musicians who have lots of fun on their free time performing in bands or even solo in coffee shops who have unrelated careers.
    To get some real perspective, ask any professional full time performing musicians you can about some of the above questions, and see what their take is on it. You might be surprised at their answers.

Do I have to give you all my personal information?

The only things I require of my students are the name of the student, the names of a younger student's parents or guardians so I can talk with them about scheduling, payments, their son or daughter's developments, and related topics, and at least a mobile phone number. A mobile number is ideal if you can give and receive texts, as this is the fastest and most convenient way I communicate with my students about scheduling and schedule changes, but it is not a requirement. Email is optional but helps with forwarding links to needed files I provide for individual students on my webpage, and a second number (home or work) is ideal as a backup for last-minute schedule changes. Beyond that I don't need any more of your personal information than you are comfortable giving me. See my "Policies" page for more details about my lesson policies.

I need to quit lessons but I feel bad- it feels like I'm firing you!

During the course of music lessons most students make a necessary friendly and professional bond with their teacher, much like one would with a coach that knows their strengths and weaknesses in their sport or discipline. To break that bond for some students sometimes feels awkward. I understand- I have had about 9 different long- term teachers throughout my years of playing and learning. I used to feel exactly the same way when I was taking lessons and had to quit, but that perspective changed completely when I started teaching students of my own. Over the years I have seen so many students come and go, some keeping it as a fun side hobby, some just checking it off a list of things they've always wanted to do, and some even making careers out of it, that it is impossible for me to take it personally when a student quits or takes a long break. However, I also feel a bond with every student I teach for any decent length of time, because it's fun and exciting for me to see them make breakthroughs as well!
    I think the coolest thing an adult student ever said to me when giving me his notice to discontinue lessons was: "Before starting to play, I had decided to take lessons until I felt like I knew enough to continue on my own and be able to teach myself. I had set some goals for myself and you helped me reach all those goals and check my checklist off. Now I feel like I've reached that point where I can teach myself because you taught me everything I needed to know to get there." This really made me feel good, because I felt like I had done my job right and started him down the path to becoming his own musician and teacher, as well as providing a good service as a professional. Those are all the reasons I enjoy teaching!
    As I tell my students, I have around a 30 year head start on any beginner, so there will always be new things I can show and teach you. But that doesn't mean you have to stay with me indefinitely! I also recommend any serious student diversify their learning by taking lessons from a variety of different teachers with different styles so they can get different perspectives on their craft. In some situations I have even told some long term students that they were starting to outgrow my teaching, and even encouraged them to take it on their own for a while.
    I am happy to refund any fees for lessons not yet taken (as these are services not rendered on my part), or prorate the next month's lessons if your projected last lesson falls short of a full month. All I ask is that you give me as much notice as is practical, so I can alter my teaching style appropriately in the time leading up to the last lesson. There is no point in getting into any long- term projects or challenging songs when I know there is not enough time to finish what we started!

I am not satisfied/ happy with my lessons and want to discontinue.

I am confident in my teaching abilities, but I am not the ideal teacher for absolutely everyone- there is no such person alive (see "why don't you teach kids under 10?". That being said, if you are dissatisfied with my lessons or the way I teach for any reason after having taken lessons from me, I am happy to refund any remaining fees for lessons I have not taught you yet. However, I cannot refund any fees for lessons I have already taught you. All I ask is that you try to let me know if you can what you were dissatisfied with or I could do in the future to prevent any more potential dissatisfied customers. For more information, please see my Lesson Policies page.

How long will it take me to get good at my instrument?

This is a difficult question to answer. Everybody learns at different rates, and it obviously depends on how much you practice at your instrument on your own time, and if you've been coming to lessons regularly (consistency is more important than length or intensity of lessons). However, all things being equal, and considering the normal pitfalls that come up, I've found that most average students can impress friends and family, and start to feel happy with their development around the neighborhood of three months. By then most people are playing songs halfway decently and have something to show off.
    Musical skill is something that one gets better and better at over the years, so there is no "finish line". There is, however, a point where one is basically happy and satisfied with their development for the time being. The very nature of learning to play a musical instrument or sing is self-rewarding, and makes you want to push to the next level of skill for the next challenge because the next reward is even better and more reason to be proud. So regardless of one's goals at the beginning of the journey, once those goals are reached, most people find that it's off to the next challenge, and the next challenge after that.

What are your policies/ philosophies on practice?

I don't give grades, issue deadlines, or require homework  in my lessons, and don't believe in a "punishment/ reward" philosophy of teaching. Since most people come to music lessons for fun and personal reasons, I don't require a regimen of practice from them and don't give them a hard time if they didn't get a chance to practice on their own in the time between lessons. That being said, I can provide more of a "here's your homework" approach for anyone who is more task-oriented or for any parent who wants definite tasks and homework for their son or daughter. Some people work well with this "brass tacks", "give me homework" approach, while others work better with a more organic approach that allows them to explore on their own.
    Most of the time younger children need to have a definite game plan and tasks to focus them, but since learning to play their instrument or sing is self- rewarding, this is a vocation they don't normally need to be pushed too hard at, as some young students will start to play on their own when they start getting some personal payoff from it. Think of it like a baseball or football enthusiast playing their sport with their friends or throwing a ball back and forth with a friend or family. Although this is actually practice and they are increasing their skill while doing it, they usually don't think of it as a chore, but something fun and challenging to do and get better at.
    I don't need to spell out in detail that the more you play, the better you get and the sooner you get there, as this is just pretty much common sense. But it's important to realize that life gets in the way (especially with older students), and if you just don't have the time every week to practice because of your busy schedule, that just proves you have a life (see "Am I too old to learn?"). As far as working on your own, I usually recommend 10-15 minutes of practice at least three to five times a week at first, and then more when your skill starts getting better. Also, I don't recommend expecting too much reward at the very beginning, as there is a period of traveling up the learning curve that you have to be patient with (See "How long will it take me to get good at my instrument?" above). I can outline detailed practice habits in the lessons if needed to the student or for the parents to know that will help the student make the most of their time spent with their instrument. After a certain point, when a student is getting into the intermediate/ advanced stage, I usually outline a more detailed practice regimen to optimize their practice time to make their growing skills pay off even more.

I want to start midway through the month, but want to pay on a monthly basis. Can you prorate me to reflect this?

Absolutely! And since I make my own decisions about my schedule and policies, I can be more flexible with prorating with none of the added limitations of a corporate policy preventing me from making these decisions. Just let me know when you want to start while we are scheduling, and I can either get you to pay for the prorated lessons in that month, or just lump the next month's lessons payment in with the prorated payment. All I ask is that you pay for any lessons before beginning lessons or on the same day as the first lesson.s

I'm going to take a (month/ several month) break from lessons but plan on returning, and my time slot is ideal. Can you hold my spot for me?

Unfortunately, I can't hold lesson time slots for anybody unless they actually pay for the spot. As I outline in "Can I learn more than one instrument/ topic in your lessons?", you are paying for my time as well as my skill when you are taking lessons. Since I am self-employed, my livelihood depends on optimizing my teaching schedule. When a student takes a long break (of a month or more), even if they plan on returning, that's money I could be earning in that time slot with another potential student. When I was starting out teaching, I had many students in the past that asked me to hold their time slot for the summer, only to have something else come up when the summer was over that prevented them from continuing lessons, all while I turned down potential students for that time slot in the meantime.
    Most of the time my schedule is in a state of flux as students come and go, especially at the ends and beginnings of holiday breaks (summer break, Christmas break, etc). So most of the time if you check in a few weeks before you plan on resuming lessons, a time slot may have opened up that was not open when you started your break from lessons. Also, if you can only work with a particular lesson time that is already filled, I can make myself a note on my calendar to let you know as soon as it's opened up again so you can have first dibs on it, and have the right of first refusal should somebody else desire the same spot (in other words, I'd call you in this circumstance to see if you still want it first when it opens up). For more information, please see my "Policies" page.

I have taken music lessons for [instrument] from another teacher already whose teaching style I really liked, is this a concern?

No, it shouldn't be an issue. Every teacher has their own teaching style, even though the information we teach is mostly the same. Like mathematics, there are universal concepts in music that never really change, but every teacher takes a slightly different approach to how they get these concepts across to their students. If you have taken music instruction with a teacher that you liked and bonded with, I will do my best to try figure out their approach and pick up where they left off, especially if you still have any notes, music, and tabs from your previous lessons they may have given you. However, be aware that I can never BE that teacher, or even a replacement for them, because nobody can. I can however, be a good successor and take you to the next logical step. If you took from a previous instructor and do not really require a style similar to your previous teacher's, rest assured I can take you to the next step in your instruction and take you where you want to go.
    I have had more than nine different long-term guitar instructors in my life, and every one of them had a unique approach and teaching and playing style that I benefitted from. In fact, it's all these different perspectives from different teachers that I feel contributed to the diversity in my teaching and playing ability. I always advise my students (especially the ones on the "career track") not to make me the only teacher they take lessons from in their life if they intend on making their instrument a big part of their life. The different perspectives and experiences are what make you a more well-rounded player and musician.
    Although I am confident in my teaching abilities, I also realize that I have some strengths and weaknesses in my teaching skills (See "Why don't you teach kids under 10?"). I have been both playing and teaching for long enough to know what those strengths and weaknesses are. If you are not sure whether or not I can teach you in a style that complements your previous teacher's style, contact me with any questions, or you can schedule a free trial lesson to see if we can work together well.

I took music lessons with another teacher and didn't like it/ didn't get anywhere with them, and I don't want to waste my time and money repeating that experience. How do I know I won't waste my time taking lessons from you as well?

You're not alone- just like you can get burned by a bad mechanic, personal fitness trainer, or plumber, you can also come across bad music instructors. It's a mostly unregulated vocation. The problem is that most beginners don't have a point of reference to draw from for quality control and therefore do what their teacher says, until they are several months into lessons and realize they are making little to no progress, or that the progress is going in a completely different direction than they wanted it to. By then some money and time has been wasted, and that's not a fun realization.
    There is an important factor you need to know about when shopping for music instructors- not all of them can teach you every style you want to learn! Something most people do not know when they are shopping around is that some teachers have such specialized skills that they are not even capable of teaching styles outside their specialty. Think of it like this: sometimes you might bring your car to an import repair specialist if you have an unusual car or need, or you can take it to a repair shop that has a sign reading "we repair all makes and models" out front. The import place only has the tools, skills, and knowledge to work on specific models of cars. It's good to get recommendations from others about teachers you plan on hiring. Unfortunately, most teachers are not in a position to give out the personal information of their past and present clients, so "cold call" testimonials are sometimes hard to come by when shopping for teachers.
    Different teachers sometimes put an emphasis on different things they have been taught and that they think are important, and downplay or ignore other factors, sometimes to the benefit and sometimes to the detriment of the student. It all depends on what the student's goals are and if these goals mesh well with the teacher's abilities. Unfortunately, some students have very definite goals that happen to fall outside the scope of that teacher's abilities, but the teacher pushes their own unrelated goals and agendas on the student anyway. For example, if a student wants to learn rock guitar, and their teacher is only classically trained, it will be a hindrance to the student because the teacher has a specialized teaching skill that does not include the style of playing rock, and they will proceed to teach in that style anyway because it's what they have been trained to do ("See "Don't I have to read music to be a good musician?"). The opposite can be true for a student interested in classical style approaching a rock teacher. This is why sometimes one student may speak negatively of the experience they had with a teacher, while another speaks highly of that teacher's excellent skill. They may have just had completely different goals!
    Now, don't get me wrong- there are definitely bad teachers out there. You could say this about any vocation. Some students have the bad luck and misfortune of taking lessons with these people. Unfortunately, some of these students also become soured to the whole experience and just prefer to drop the whole idea, figuring they just weren't cut out to play or sing. However, some decide to give it another try and wisely shop around for a teacher with a little more of a skeptical eye and scrutiny to detail. I have had to teach some of these students in the past and repair the bad work done by these bad teachers. So if you have had a bad or unrewarding experience with an instructor after giving it a good try but still are hungry to learn, give it another shot- it might not have been about you! See also: "I'm not sure what instrument I should go with".
    All the above are the reasons I offer a free trial lesson to any student who asks- I am confident in my teaching abilities, have been schooled in a wide variety of styles, and believe strongly in shopping around as much as possible before settling on the right instructor. And who knows- we may not even "click" as student and teacher after all (it happens now and then), and I might NOT be the right teacher for you! I am also highly diversified and confident in the range of musical styles and genres I have played and taught over the years. So at the very least, shop around, and don't make me or anyone else the only teacher you try out!
    Unfortunately I can't refund lessons already taken, as those are services already rendered. But in a worst case scenario, if you really are truly unhappy with my teaching method and want out, I will gladly refund any money you have already paid me for lessons you have not yet taken in the month. At the very least, please feel free to discuss any problems with me, and I'll do what I can within my ability to accomodate your needs and goals.

A friend/ family member of ours is an excellent musician, but has not often/ never taught music lessons before. Should I approach them for lessons?

If you read "I took music lessons with another teacher and didn't like it..." you will know that personal recommendation and testimonials are very important when it comes to finding a good music instructor. So if you know someone personally that you like and trust, it definitely is better than shopping around and hoping you find the right person. However, just because someone is an excellent performing musician doesn't guarantee they are a good instructor, in the same way that a great basketball player doesn't necessarily make a great basketball coach. They are two different vocations that can be joined in a great performer and teacher, but are more often found separately. In fact, there are even excellent instructors that don't really perform! This is a category I would normally recommend you steer away from, but it is better at least than its opposite. The notable exception would be respected and experienced performer/ teachers who cannot play anymore due to physical limitations such as arthritis, or even those that prefer not to perform after an illustrious career in the spotlight that they got tired of.
    So the bottom line is: how good a teacher are they? Do they know how to teach with a game plan? Can they teach different styles? Can they adjust to a student's individual way of thinking and optimize the lessons to their perspective? Do they know how to play on a student's weaknesses as well as their strengths? If you're not sure about the answers to these questions, I recommend shopping around for someone with definite and provable teaching experience. If you can find someone with good teaching and performing skill, then you have found a good combination. This is the combination that I personally offer in my lessons.
    Here's another important factor to consider: if they are a close friend or family member, consider the negative consequences and awkwardness that may occur if they turn out to be a really bad teacher! Make sure you have a game plan for backing out if this happens without making them take it personally. For example, tell them you or your child are trying out different teachers for a month or so for each teacher for a school project or internet blog to see what it's like to be a music student and report on it. It's for the above reasons that (contrary to what most people think) most professional performing musicians often take their sons and daughters to a music school or professional music teacher that they trust for their instruction- they know that just because they play and perform doesn't guarantee that they are good teachers themselves!

My son/daughter is homeschooled. Can you teach with a style that takes their unique way of learning into account?

I certainly can, and I feel I can understand better than most average teachers how a homeschooled student thinks- because I was one myself! For several of my grade-school years my parents decided to teach me at home, and that experience changed me for the better and gave me a unique outlook on educational perspectives, auto-didacticism (or self-teaching), and the strengths and weaknesses of our public education system. I can often tell within two or three lessons if a student is (or was) homeschooled, because homeschooled students usually have an inquisitiveness, confidence, and love of learning that is difficult to find taught in most public schools.
    If you have a particular perspective or method to homeschooling your son or daughter that you would like me to take into account, I would be glad to try within my abilities and limits to accomodate and incorporate it into my lessons. Feel free to contact me with any questions regarding this topic.