Brian's Guitar Journal / Finding a Guitar Teacher / Guitar Lessons

How Your Environment Can Affect Your Guitar Lessons

Most of you already know that we recently relocated Gables Guitar Studio to a new home. This past weekend, as we were moving in the last of the studio gear and getting settled in, I started to get a sense of the lesson environment coming together in the new space.

I think anyone would agree that we carried over the same professional music studio vibe we’ve always had. I mean the place is very clean, quiet, uncluttered. And we still have Paola’s art collection and rock posters on the walls to keep it from feeling too serious or uptight. But the new lesson space is also different in a lot of ways. The dimensions of the lesson room are different. The acoustics are different. The lighting is different. The furniture is laid out differently.

It’s not bad, in fact overall I like the new place better than our original location for many reasons. But it got me thinking about all the different places I’ve taught guitar over the years and how all these different lesson environments seemed to contribute to outcomes with different students.

The earliest guitar lessons I remember were in the back rooms of music shops. It must have been about 1993. To call these places ‘rooms’ is pretty generous. They were basically closets with two folding chairs facing each other set about 3 feet apart. Most had a dusty boombox with a tape deck. I remember how messy these rooms were. Older kids would smoke cigarettes in there and write graffiti on the walls. The teachers would tack up 8×11″ posters torn out of Guitar World Magazine. The posters always featured the pantheon of major shredders: Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, or George Lynch. The corners were always full of crumpled up notes and bits of hand-copied sheet music, and of course picks of every shape, size, and color; left behind by so many students.

It’s hard to say what effect the music shop had on my actual lessons. It’s easy to romanticize those dusty, poorly ventilated spaces 20 years later, but the truth is it was pretty uncomfortable and chaotic. I was lucky in that my first teachers were all great. I learned a lot while I was there, but what I didn’t learn was how to really practice effectively.

Fast forward 10 years. Now it’s 2005: same town (Davie, FL), different music shop, and now I’m the teacher. The lesson rooms were still small and crammed in one next to the other. You could sill hear everything going on in the rooms on either side of you. At least, by this time, smoking in these little rooms was not allowed! Each of these lessons rooms featured a desktop computer. I and the other guitar instructors were told to base all of our lessons around this new software that was basically like a bunch of powerpoint slides on rock guitar techniques. All of my students at the time were young kids and they were bored to death by the software. I stopped using it after the first week and started making up lessons based on how I learned and what the kids wanted to learn. Computers and other tech can be a great tool to help the learning process. It was around this time that I started using GuitarPro software to properly type, edit and and print the lesson material I had design. But it can also be a huge distraction. I remember a lot of young kids just wanted to watch music videos on this new thing called YouTube.

Skip ahead about 5 years I moved to Coral Gables and started teaching on my own. For the first few years I traveled to students’ homes. I remember the very first student’s house I set foot in. He was an older guy who it turns out had no proper chairs in his entire house. All he had to sit on was this weird designer sofa that you would sort of sink into. I had tried to bring everything I thought I needed: music stand, blank sheet music, print-outs for material I thought we’d cover. But I hadn’t thought of chairs. That lesson and every lessons afterward we had to play standing up in his living room.

After that I traveled to many other students’ homes. Some environments were comfortable and quiet. Others were a total nightmare. And you can imagine that the students’ progress on the instrument was heavily correlated with how well their home environment worked as a music studio. The ones who really couldn’t get it together got less out of each lesson and practiced less in between lessons. They became frustrated often and suffered a higher drop-out rate.

Finally, when I started Gables Guitar Studio in 2013, I got to see what a real professional studio environment could do for guitar students. Learning to play guitar in a proper music studio environment affords the student many important advantages. At Gables Guitar we have just one lesson room and it is truly a room – not a closet. I sit students down in front of a big wall mirror so that they can see what they look like playing in order to eliminate numerous bad habits associated with bad playing posture. We have proper guitar stool, foot stools, music stand, and many other accessories on hand for when we need them. We have access to my library of guitar books covering virtually every style of music. You never know where a lesson might lead so it’s good to have access to as many lesson resources as possible at all times. Most importantly, I can ensure that the place is clean, quiet and comfortable so that the students can maximize their concentration on the lesson material.

I appreciate the huge difference the studio environment makes in both children and adult students; especially beginners who need to learn what an effective practice environment looks like. I mean we’re not as strict as a conservatory. A lot of kids just want to play Green Day or the Black Keys. But even simple rock songs require very solid techniques. When they come into the studio they are automatically prepared to take their lessons more seriously.

The more distractions we can remove the more students can focus on the lesson and absorb the material. Then when they go home they know exactly the kind of environment they need to try an replicate during their practice time. It only takes a simple shift in intention to go from a disorganized struggle to a focused, methodical type of personal training. But I think most students need to see the inside of a real studio in order for all this to really sink in. I know i did!

I’m so glad that I am able to offer my students this kind of musical environment to work on building their guitar skills. I certainly helps maximize my ability as an instructor. I think in this new space we have even better control over the environment. It is really great to kind of start again in this new space knowing all the things that I have learned about building a guitar studio. This new place is a bit like Gables Guitar Studio 2.0. For those of you that have been with me for some time, I think that you’ll find the new space is a little bit better suited to the way we do things.

If you haven’t been a part of Gables Guitar Studio but are thinking about trying lessons, I look forward to showing you all that our new studio has to offer.

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