frequently asked questions

Q. What Ages Do You Teach?

I teach pupils aged 7 to 81!  The youngest I’ve started anyone is 6, but I would say, retrospectively, that was a little early.  My eldest pupil, was an 81 year old ex pianist –  a joy to teach!  I just really hope that I’m that sharp, motivated and eager to do new things when I’m that age!). And yes, I teach pretty much all ages in between…

Q. I’m 40 years old? Is that too late to start?

Most definitely not! As I say, I teach ages from 7 to 81!! Octogenarian pupils are, as you might expect, are the exception rather than the rule, but I have taught many pupils in their 50’s and their 60’s, many totally from scratch. I am currently teaching two people in their 70’s.

Q. I have an old nylon strung guitar. Can I (or my child) get started on that?

No problem. As long as the guitar holds its tunings and is of a suitable size (ie not to big – for a child in particular) it would be fine to get started on. For most popular styles, a steel strung acoustic is generally going to be the better choice in the long term, but everything is transferable at a beginners level. There are a few significant differences but at this stage these are not too importance. (A classical style guitar will have a broader flat fingerboard, and this will be shorter in length- joining the body at the 12th fret rather than the 14th. This is in addition to the softer, bendier nylon strings – superficially easier on the fingers).

Q. Can I/my child borrow a guitar for the first lesson?

Yes, of course. I have a range of instruments in various sizes both acoustic and electric that you are free to borrow for the duration of the lesson. It’s understandable to want to maybe try a lesson before committing to a major purchase. You will want to buy your own instrument straight after though once you decide you really want to go for it. You will want something to practice on!

Q. How much should I spend on my first guitar?

A good question! I’m a great believer in serving your time on a lesser quality entry level instrument. You earn the right to progress to a better instrument in time. In my humble opinion ‘all the gear, no idea’ isn’t a great label to have!!  Eastern made entry level guitars are impressively good at this time – and buying second hand gets you a little more for your money. You can buy a perfectly suitable entry level acoustic or guitar for  £70-£120. and maybe £120 to £150 for an electric. No harm in going up a level but don’t go mad at this stage.

Q. I’m not sure whether to go for acoustic or electric?

That decision should really me made on the basis of the style of music you see yourself playing. If you fancy yourself as a singer songwriter or strumming a few covers on the local open mic then that would suggest maybe acoustic. If however, you see yourself as more of a band animal then electric is probably the way forward. Most competent guitarists play both to some degree, and 99% of what you learn is directly transferable. For what it’s worth it is easier to get a good sound playing solo out of an acoustic than an electric – it’s more forgiving. However, it’s tougher on the fingers to start – with the thicker, less bendy strings.

Q. I’m left handed – what do I do?

Left handed people wanting to learn guitar  have 3 options: a) play a left handed guitar b) play a right handed guitar right handed c) play a right handed guitar left handed (ie upside down, Hendrix style – not really  recommended).

Worth mentioning that the guitar (and bass guitar) are the only instruments with left handed options – violins, violas, cellos etc are always played right handed, as is everything else. I have taught many hundreds of people over the last 12 years , and I’ve only had 3-4  people play left handed instruments in that time – an amazingly low percentage. I have  had quite a few that I know of who are left handed that play right….  Food for thought if you are yet to start playing… 

Q. How long are the lessons? Do you offer half hour lessons?

My standard duration for one-to-one lessons for adults is one hour. What you can cover in an hour equates nicely to what most people can practise in a week without either feeling bored or overstretched. For children of around 9 or under I recommend  45 minute lessons. For face -to-face lessons have a few more advanced pupils that travel infrequently from further a field – I sometimes do a one and a half or a two hour session under those circumstances.

Q. I’m not sure if I’m cut out for this, but I want to try…. What should I do?

Give it a go – that’s what I say. If you don’t try you will never know. If you feel you can commit to doing a little  practice most days you will make progress. Give yourself a month of weekly lessons and regular practice to see how you get on and then reassess there. You will have a better idea of whether you feel cut out for it.

Q. I’d like to learn to sing with my guitar. Can you help me with that?

Definitely! As a matter of course I always ask the ‘do you, or would you like to be singing with your guitar’ question, especially for those opting to go the acoustic route. It’s such a natural extension to playing the guitar, and nowhere near as hard or mysterious as you may be lead to believe! If you are feeling shy or embarrassed about trying, let me tell you, you are not the only one! And, I have yet to meet that person who just can’t! Like any new skill, you have to build in stages… Your first song attempt may feel like it’s taking an age to get anywhere like reasonable, but the 2nd and the 3rd while come a whole lot easier.

Q. In tried to teach myself, but my fingers were hurting and I had to stop.  What can I do?

I see quite a few people that have tried to teach themselves from scratch. Many grind to a halt after a few weeks, through a combination of frustration and painful fingers. Having someone show you the ropes eases the frustration no end –  and the painful fingers is generally down to doing too much too soon. I suggest no more than 15 or 20 minutes a day for the first few weeks, to give the ends of your fingers time to harden up. A certain amount of mild discomfort is quite normal – just back of a bit if you get that. You’ll find it’s quite a pleasant sensation, as the callouses form on your finger pads – suddenly the pain is no longer!  Look at it as a kind of rite of passage we all have to go through.

Q.  I can’t get my child to practice – what can I do?

A perennial problem for parents on all instruments – you are not alone! Teaching grades to youngsters can often really take the pleasure out of music – resulting in a general reluctance to practice, often damaging a child’s interest in music in the long term. I tend to prefer to teach with the emphasis on having fun and developing a good all round musicianship and desire to find and follow ones own musical direction. I see my goal as a teacher is to try and instil a love of music and a genuine inner desire to improve – which hopefully leads to a self sustaining life long love of music.  A little bit most days, is the ideal goal but not always possible.

Q. Do you do lessons at the pupil’s home?

For face to face lessons,  it is more cost effective to have pupils come to me here in Selly Oak. Lessons would have to be considerably more if I did the traveling – what with the travel time/costs factored in. It also means that I have all my resources to hand in my dedicated teaching room (wireless internet/printer/PA/mixer/looping and recording facilities/books/magazines etc). Obviously at the time of writing (Aug 2020), all my teaching is currently via Skype.

 

Q. Are you easy to find/get to?

Yes, I’m at 37 Gristhorpe Road, Selly Oak, Birmingham B29 7TD, the top end opposite Muntz Park by Raddlebarn School. Selly Oak train station is a 10 minute walk away and we just minutes from the main student housing area for Birmingham University (Hubert Rd, Tiverton Rd etc.). In fact, if you walk up Hubert away from the university and get to Raddlebarn Road, Gristhorpe is the road opposite (by Smallbones Garage). And yes, there is ample on street parking (except maybe at school run times – ie just before 9 am and between 2.30 and 3.15 pm). 

Q. How much should I practice?

If you can do a little bit most days you will progress. Initially 10 to 20 minutes most days will get you off on a good footing without over taxing your fingers or brain. As you get better, your ability to sustain practice will increase. Aim for half an hour a day and you’ll fly forward. Miss a day? Just aim to do a  little longer the next.

Q. I play a little bit but struggle with barre chords. Can you help

Don’t worry, that’s a common problem. Rest assured, you are not alone! We tackle barre chords in stages, with a number of exercises  to develop technique and finger strength. As with many things, it’s usually all about subtle changes to your approach, which are easily applied when explained and demonstrated well. (This will be one of my first video lessons so keep an eye on that section). The thing is not to tackle them too early in your playing career, and not necessarily expect instant results. Most people can be comfortably using barre chords a couple of weeks after first being introduced to them.

Q. I can’t read music – does that matter?

No, reading music is not really that important at all and is no major setback.. Most guitar music is interpreted by tablature, chord boxes/charts and by developing your ear. The only exception is really classical guitar and jazz for reading lead sheets. If one guitarist in 50 reads music `I would be surprised, and that’s not probably actually on the guitar! Having said that, standard notation is an invaluable aid for conveying music theory and I will teach some basics as a matter of course. I can teach to a more advanced level too if required but generally I put the emphasis on the playing.

Q. Do you teach improvising?

That’s a very big ‘yes’ to that one! I give pretty much everyone an introduction to basic improvisation as a matter of course (using minor pentatonics and the blues scale in the first instance), and depending on your musical interests/ambitions we can take it to whatever level you require (explore major/minor scales, arpeggios, modes, rhythmic variation, phrasing, feel, etc etc). I use live looping to provide suitable chord/comping rythyms to improvise over at whatever level you’re at, so we can concentrate on the improvising itself. The focus is very much on developing dynamic  interplay rather than just jamming over backing tracks

Mission

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Vision

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Values

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