Insights for Students and Parents…

How to choose a teacher

Look for a teacher who can teach you what you want to know, in a way that matches your learning style. Music lessons can be something you enjoy and look forward to!

My focus is to help you play the songs you want to play, right away. My goal is to help cultivate a lifelong love and enjoyment of music at whatever level you’d like to pursue.

The role your kids can play in choosing a teacher

Before you invest in lessons, involve your child in the choice of a teacher. If your child wants to take lessons from the same teacher his/her best friend does, he may resist the teacher you choose — even if you chose Duke Ellington or B. B. King!

Be realistic about your child's time

In many families, “practice procrastination” and parent-child tangles about when and how much to practice create stress. But it doesn’t have to be this way! If you’re realistic and open from the start about the commitment your child is undertaking, music lessons can create minimal stress and inspire a sense of fun and adventure.

Please consider in advance if your son or daughter really has time to practice. Many kids are heavily scheduled these days, and many are burdened with a lot of schoolwork. Over-scheduling may be the biggest obstacle to learning and enjoying learning a new instrument. Be honest. Will your son/daughter really have time to get “into the zone” with music, or is it just another task that you will cross off your list of things your child “should” do?

If your child doesn’t have time for much musical practice, he/she can still take lessons if you will both satisfied with slower progress. Without practice, they will still enjoy the experience, and they will improve merely by coming to lessons.

Students require at least a spark of interest

If playing guitar or mandolin is not their idea, please don’t choose me! I can sometimes light a fire with sticks, but I much prefer to coax an ember or fan a flame.

We’ll progress steadily, but this isn’t instant gratification. Becoming accomplished on a musical instrument requires time to focus, ability to focus, and countless of practice and playing.

One of the big values in learning to play an instrument is that students get a big reward for the effort they put into the process. They learn to improve by applying sustained energy and attention. For many kids in the fast-paced world we live in now, this is a concept that requires a little time to accept — depending on how much time they spend with the internet, video games, X-Box, text messaging, television, YouTube and MySpace. YouTube (by the way) can be an incredible learning resource!

Does your child really want to be a virtuoso?

Consider whether your child really wants to go to Berklee, play in Carnegie Hall or rock the stadiums. At first, most kids just want to try playing. They may develop the idea of going to music school or performing much later.

Let this experience be about playing for fun, learning songs they like, playing with their friends. Most success comes from really loving to play, working at it, learning from many sources, and a steady diet of practicing and playing — a lot!

Be prepared to set limits about how much your child can practice and play. Sometimes students have to balance their desire to learn and play with their other responsibilities. One student saved the money to buy himself a really long cord so he could get to the refrigerator without having to take off the guitar and turn off the amp!

When I was young, I happily rode my bike 30 miles round-trip to lessons, or took the Denver Metro bus 45 minutes in each direction. Or I’d just hang out in the store to see what was happening at the "pickin' bench" or concert hall. A couple of years ago, I asked my Mom if she ever had to nag me to practice. She said, “Not that I recall. But I do remember asking you to go downstairs, because I was about to go nuts if I heard the same songs again!”

Insights for all students, especially adults

The amount of time you practice — or do not practice — does not create stress for me. So never feel guilty for my sake. I’m concerned about making our time useful while you’re here. How much you practice is up to you, and I offer encouragement.

If you haven’t practiced, just show up anyway, and say, “I need one of those lessons that will help me but not pile on more!” There is always something useful to do in a lesson that won’t create even more challenges.

How much practicing is enough?

It’s a good idea to plot in advance what your approach will be. You can always modify it later, as you test it in reality.

Most folks (including me) cite a minimum 15 minutes a day, seven days a week. Look for opportunities to play a little longer, at least a couple times each week. For most people, 15 minutes isn’t enough to get into a groove. Many take 10-15 minutes just to get focused. And when you’re starting out, you’ll need extra time just to form chords, coordinate both hands, develop calluses, etc.

People that make good progress generally practice at least 3-4 hours a week. The kids who go to music school practice 3-4 hours or more a day, many days a week. So, do what’s realistic for you. You might aim for 15 minutes, five to six days a week on the busy weeks. Or aim for a longer stretch each time to sit down to play. Personally, I’ve never been able to practice or play for just 15 minutes. Once I sit down, it’s at least an hour.

Establish a routine, right from the start

Give it at least six weeks to two months to take hold. Find a time of day that will work consistently, or look at the week’s schedule ahead of time and identify the times that will be set aside for practice.

More practice tips:

  • If you practice, you’ll get better faster and have more options in the future. But accept the fact that there are going to be times when you’re just too busy to practice. That’s okay. Don’t stress out over it.
  • If you have a significant other or roommate, it may be easier to practice when they’re not in the house. They may tire of hearing the same songs over and over.
  • If you have kids, they usually want your attention, but they love bedtime songs. Sometimes, they like have an instrument they can practice, too.
  • Getting started is often the hardest part of practicing. Take a break and relax! That’s one of the great rewards of playing music. Remember, if playing is stressful, we can change your approach. Adjust your expectations. Ask for more help. This is supposed to be fun.
  • Get an egg timer and set it for your goal to practice that day. Once you get started you’ll likely play beyond the time.
Create a practice space:
  • Use a corner of a room or a 3’ x 4’ foot area if that’s all you have, and use it to practice regularly. Items to include could include:
  • A comfortable armless chair or stool
  • A music stand
  • An instrument stand
  • Space for the books and music you’re working with
  • An iPod or speakers, CD player, etc.
  • A cell phone, tablet or laptop with apps for tuning, metronome and “slow-down” software.
  • A place to set your metronome, tuner electronic tuner, capo, picks
  • A place for larger gear (amps, looping pedals, cases, etc.)
  • A dry erase board, practice book/record or digital list where you can jot what you’re working on, goals, questions, or ideas for what you’d like to learn next.
  • A window or a nice picture to gaze at is often helpful for ambience

Match your state of mind with what you’re trying to do

If you’re really alert and full of energy, work on something challenging. Practice what you don’t know. If you’re tired, just playing is relaxing — and better than not playing at all! If your left hand isn’t “listening,” work on your right hand technique.

Accept that in even a short period, your ability to focus will come and go. Don’t be discouraged by short-term set-backs. That’s normal. You should also accept the fact that difficult tasks become easier with time and repetition. Stick with it.

Sometimes, even if you don’t hear yourself improving, you are. It’s all sinking in. Someday when you’re not trying, it’s likely to just fall out of your fingers.

Learning is a process of learning, forgetting some of it, remembering it, and continuing to build on what you already know.

Balance the new with the old, the polished with the songs needing lots of work. Ideally you’ll have songs in several stages of completeness. Practice in a way that keeps everything moving forward as much as possible.



"So I practiced 12 hours a day for 30 years…and now they call me a genius."
— Yehudi Menuhin


"With practice, chores become habits, and habits become joys."
— Unknown


In music (as in life), a period of frustration often precedes a period of tremendous growth. You’ll often move from being frustrated and stuck in a rut, to a few hours/days or weeks later to having so many possibilities you don’t know which to do first!


Find the perfect atmosphere for musical inspiration! Playing in a beautiful place can be especially rewarding. One of my students drives his convertible up the Poudre canyon on the warm sunny days, and wades to a favorite large, flat rock in the river and plays there!


Surrounding yourself with what you enjoy in life is so important... cell phones, guitars and dear friends... "quality" practice time? Not...


Especially in Colorado, we want to be sure our instruments are kept in a properly humidified area. This can prevent cracking and many other problems that luthiers could tell you about. Room humidity can be 40-50%. Generally, you'll want to find a quiet humidifier, and locate it across a small room to create 50% humidity; this will keep the guitar out of the "zone of sogginess."


In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.
— Yogi Berra, baseball star


“Flow” is a ‘state of intense absorption and immersion in the present moment.’ Musicians and music students love to experience "flow" — it's relaxing and rejuvenating. You're totally occupied with what you're doing, and playing or practicing music feels effortless. It's often when we experience the rewards of a lot of effort that didn't feel anything like "flow."
— to explore further, see "The How of Happiness," a book by Sonja Lyubomirsky