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Frequently Asked Questions

What am I going to learn?

Almost all beginning students will start off learning simple open-position chords (or "campfire chords"), basic strum patterns, and note reading. Of course, this depends on the student's initial finger strength. Younger students may not begin learning chords until later.

After learning "the basics", we will begin exploring music depending on the student's stylistic interests. We will then steer the student's learning in that direction, applying what we have learned to popular songs of the student's choice whenever possible. As far as music styles are concerned, lessons are offered in rock (including hard rock, soft rock, alternative, metal, etc.), folk, pop, funk, blues, country, and beginner jazz.

Experienced students will have the opportunity to further their exploration of their favorite styles, or perhaps begin a new one. We will work with picking and other technique exercises, fingerboard knowledge, chord knowledge and construction, improvisational techniques, scales, arpeggios, applied theory, etc.

Do I need my own guitar?

Yes, students must have their own guitar. This is essential because he/she must spend time practicing every day. The guitar can be electric or acoustic (steel-string acoustic guitars are recommended over nylon string guitars). However, it must be in decent playing condition. If you are uncertain of an instrument's playing condition, I would be happy to inspect it for you.

The most important thing to check on a guitar, especially on older instruments, is the action.  The action is the height at which the strings sit above the fingerboard.  It is important that the guitar has low action, especially for beginners.  If a guitar has high action, it can be difficult to play because the student will have a hard time pressing the strings down to the fingerboard.  Action can usually be adjusted by a qualified guitar technician or luthier.  However, sometimes guitars with excessively warped necks or other damage due to age and/or humidity changes simply cannot be restored to playing condition.  If I am unable to determine the condition of a guitar myself, I would be happy to refer a competent luthier to inspect it for you.  Adjustment to a guitar's playing condition (called a setup) is usually $25 to $35, provided the guitar has no excessive damage.

I also recommend that beginning guitarists use guitars equipped with light or extra-light strings.  This will make the guitar easier to play and will cause less initial pain on the fingertips.  Most guitar technicians or luthiers will re-string a guitar inexpensively.  Or, if you bring the strings, I would be happy to re-string your guitar during a lesson, or even teach the student or parent how to re-string it correctly.

 

For parents who are hesitant to purchase a new guitar because of uncertainty with their child's interest, decent guitars can be rented at most music stores.  Often, the store will put a percentage of rental payments towards the purchase of the guitar if the student eventually decides to buy it.  Another option is, of course, asking a friend or relative if you can borrow a guitar for the first few months of your child's lessons.

How old must my child be to take lessons?

Students must be at least eight years of age. This is not only because of attention span concerns; but, in order to play the guitar, a fair amount of finger strength is required. Most students under eight simply don't have the strength yet.

However, if you wish for your child to begin the study of music at a young age, piano lessons are highly recommended for students as young as five or six.  This will give the child a strong musical foundation and will make the transition to other instruments much easier. 

How long does it take to learn to play guitar?

This is a common question, although a difficult one to answer. Firstly, learning a musical instrument is an ongoing journey. Most professional musicians of twenty years or more would say they are still studying to become more proficient on their instrument. Very few, if any, would say they are finished learning.

Secondly, everyone learns at a different pace. When learning music, we all find certain aspects easy to grasp, while others may be more difficult. Some people are just naturally musical and others have to work harder at it. This is the advantage of private lessons, as they are custom tailored to each students learning pace.

Thirdly, a person's progress on the guitar is most greatly determined by his/her practice habits. For example, a person who practices every day, stays focused, and always tries to better him/herself will most certainly progress much faster than someone who only practices leisurely, only a couple of times a week. This may seem obvious, but it must be mentioned since practicing affects ones progress so greatly.

Finally, the ability to "play guitar" is very difficult to define. One could argue that as soon as a person learns their first chord that they can play guitar.  Everyone that plays guitar is at a different level and has strengths and weaknesses in different areas.  It all depends on what goals you set for yourself.

In short, the ability to strum through a simple pop tune can take anywhere from two months to a year. It is very much dependent on a persons learning pace, level of motivation to learn the instrument, and above all, practice habits. It should be mentioned that learning guitar does not happen overnight, despite what you may have heard on any late-night infomercials.

How much will I have to practice?

Practicing is the greatest factor in determining one's progress.  In the case of guitar, or any other musical instrument, one definitely gets out of it what he/she puts into it.  A person should make a commitment to their instrument.

Generally speaking, it is recommended that beginner and intermediate students practice at least 30 min a day.  Advanced students are encouraged to practice up to an hour a day or more.  There are also advanced students who are strongly considering making music their career, or perhaps wish to audition for a major music college.  Those students should be practicing a minimum of two hours a day.

Practicing every day is highly recommended.  Some people try to get away with ignoring their guitar all week, and then practicing for three or four hours straight on a Saturday.  It simply doesn't work that way.  It is important to keep everything fresh.  Every time a person skips practicing for a day, he/she will find that they are a little set back.  Exercises that could be played well two days ago are now sloppy.  Materials that were clearly understood now have to be reviewed.  Daily practicing is very key.

Everyone has days when they are very busy.  It is inevitable.  On these days it becomes easy to skip practicing.  When a day like this occurs, if at all possible, try to spend 5 to 10 mins with your guitar.  Take the time to quickly review everything your instructor has assigned, just to keep everything fresh.  Spending a few minutes with your guitar is better than no time at all.  However, don't let this happen too often!  Whenever possible, a full practice session should take place.   

It is also important to practice correctly.  During one's daily practice session, a person should make an effort to stay focused, and pay close attention to what the teacher has assigned.  He/she should play each exercise over and over, and always try to get a little bit better with each practice session.

All musicians, especially guitarists, tend to enjoy "noodling" on their instruments.  Noodling can actually be quite productive.  It gives a person the opportunity to "discover" the guitar at a more relaxed pace.  It lets a person enjoy the guitar.  Songwriters noodle all the time to try and generate new ideas.  I highly recommend noodling with my students.  However, a person should NOT noodle during his/her daily practice session.  A person's daily practice session should be reserved for assigned materials with specific goals to achieve.  But, at any other time, noodling is very beneficial.

Young students sometimes have a tendency to simply "go through the motions" when practicing, seemingly more concerned with getting it over with, rather than improving their playing.  Parents are encouraged to monitor their child's practicing and make sure they stay focused on materials assigned by the teacher.  Some parents have been known to offer their child a reward at the end of the week if their practice time has been satisfactory.

Most aspiring musicians have days when practicing seems more like a chore, finding it boring and tedious at times.  When a person reaches this point, he/she can make practicing more enjoyable by simply making some adjustments to their state of mind.  Try to think about the sound of the guitar when you play it.  It is a great sounding instrument.  Try to enjoy the sound you're making when you play it.  Think about the way the guitar feels in your hands.  Try to enjoy the way the strings feel under your fingertips.  Try to take satisfaction in the little accomplishments that you achieve each day when you practice.  Try to be proud of what you have achieved.  Thinking about all these things when practicing can greatly alter one's attitude towards it.  It can help you look forward to practicing, and look forward to getting better at playing the instrument.    

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J. LeRoux Music
Phone: (416) 892-2995 / E-mail: jayleroux@hotmail.com
 
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