As a young person I always looked up to my teachers. Without more than a second thought I can recall about five teachers that standout as really having a significant impact on me. All for different reasons, and at different points in my life. Like a good friend or family member, a good teacher seems to be there for you right when you need them to be. They’re somehow able to give you a dose of something you need in your life as a person that perhaps isn’t being filled elsewhere. Be it respect, compassion, a non judgmental ear, sound advice, just the right amount of constructive criticism, trust, and even friendship.
When I was in high school I took jazz guitar lessons from a jazz guitar major at North Texas named John Wagner. He taught at a local music school in Grapevine, TX where I lived. I studied with John for a few years. He taught me a lot about jazz and gave me a lot of confidence about my playing. He even went the extra mile and got us a few gigs at local establishments where we would play jazz standards, and invited me over to his house when he would have jam sessions. I’m not sure how you can be more altruistic than that.
When it came time for me to go to North Texas I inevitably had to stop lessons with John and transition into college. During one of our last lessons John mentioned that he was gong to be leaving the school soon to do some traveling for a while and that he wanted to recommend to the owner that I take over his teaching position if it was something I wanted to do. I was absolutely thrilled at the idea!
Shortly there after I started school at UNT. To get a jump on teaching I decided to post fliers all over campus and see who wanted to pay me for lessons. I attracted several students over that first semester and would teach them out of the music building practice rooms. Oddly enough I was paying to learn and being paid to teach in the same building.
Later that year John had moved on and I got a call to interview for the position. I remember I had to teach a few different students while the owner sat in the room with me and watched. I did well and she offered me the job. I was 19 years old and the youngest teacher she had ever hired. I felt really grateful. I taught there for over 5 years.
I immediately loved teaching and had a feeling that I would. I have always been an incessant learner and persistently curious. I’m a master of the game twenty questions. Except with me it’s more like a thousand questions. I always love to share with people what I’ve learned. When you mix that with my passion for music and the guitar you get a very fulfilling way to earn money. In fact I would do it (and do still do it sometimes) for free except that I need to make a living. If I lived in a community where there was no money and every person had a job that contributed equally to the harmonious structure of the society, I would no doubt want to be the music teacher, or teacher of some sort.
I have always taken the job seriously and treated it with the respect I believe it deserves. Each interaction with a student or group of students affords me the opportunity to influence and affect them in a positive way. I know that for some of my students their guitar lesson may be the thing they look forward to the most that week. I know this because I was like that and I don’t take it lightly. It is my responsibility to be a great teacher and to do the best job that I can each lesson.
Unlike a school teacher where they get a brand new batch of students each year, many of my students have studied with me for a couple or even several years. That in itself is very rewarding. I like that I can be more of a constant while they change through grades, schools, jobs, homes, etc. And the fact that I teach all ages makes that part even more fun to be a part of.
There are many ways to make a living being a professional musician. You can teach in various capacities on your own or through a school or university. You can write and record your own music to sell and promote. You can tour with a successful band or artist. You can play at bars, clubs, weddings, churches, private parties, and corporate events. Musicians often have to do several of these at the same time to make ends meet depending on their needs. For me, teaching is something I do because I love it, not because I need to earn income and begrudgingly succumb to it.
This year marks my 14th year as a guitar teacher. I feel privileged to say I’ve taught literally hundreds of people how to play the guitar, and plan on teaching hundreds more.