What is your primary occupation?
I have acted as a freelance Web/graphic designer for the past 10 years and primarily work from home (which is a nice luxury considering how bad traffic is here in Los Angeles!). I also have years of experience working in the print/color separation houses and have gained a lot of knowledge working with computers and programs such as Quark & Photoshop in the process.
Currently I am starting to work more with video and have started to produce an online series of guitar lessons showing people how to play Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major on YouTube and give people the option to sign up for our newsletter and download the free eBook which has all the tab and notation included in order to follow along and play the song.
Where did you get the idea to develop your own website and provide on-line guitar lessons?
Truth be told, due to the current economic downturn, my little web business started to suffer as advertisement budgets have been drastically cut all across the board in almost every industry. So I dug deep and did some “enterpernual” soul searching and came to the realization that the only real true passion I have is music and the desire to be able to educate and “pass the torch” so to speak and help beginning guitar players get a solid musical foundation just seemed like the right thing to do so I spent some time thinking of a simple way to deliver lessons through the Internet and was very fortunate (after many attempts) in finding a great domain that was available and I was able to lock down: www.ezgtr.com.
The only tricky part was having to consult with my lawyer regarding working with kids under 13. I needed to factor in the COPPA laws (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998). Parents need reassurance that they are dealing with a business that respects their privacy and that we will keep their identity, and that of their child, strictly confidential.
What kind of guitar lessons do you provide at EZGTR.com?
I offer two services. The first one is where the student creates their own little YouTube styled video and explains in the video how long they have been playing, what bands or guitarists inspire them and what they are interested in learning. Then I ask the student to play their guitar for 1-2 minutes and upload the video for me to analyze. I send them back a series of guitar lessons custom built for them. It is actually the most affordable way to take advantage of the lessons and quite a lot of fun really.
The other method of delivering lessons is “1 on 1” online private webcam lessons where we connect either using Skype or Windows Messenger. I had looked into a lot of leading technologies for delivering live streams and webcasts but for now just sticking to the basics seems to be just fine. Minus the occasional glitch in the video stream using Skype the technology is fairly stable and quite useful to deliver “long distance” lessons. I of course am not the only doing this and many teachers have adopted this method. Some are pretty famous players as well, which is really cool.
When did your musical training begin? How did you learn theory and music history?
I started playing trumpet at age 9 (way back when music was a foundational aspect of the school systems). From there I moved on to the French horn and trombone in Junior High School and played in just about every school concert band and orchestra that was available all the way up to High School. I was in the high school marching band for a few semesters (but always felt so awkward being in the marching costume). It is a shame most of these music programs have gone by the way side in the grade schools. Music offers so much to one’s educational development.
Through many of these school programs I got to perform at Knott’s Berry farm as well as the amazing Shrine Auditorium in an all-star school orchestra conducted by Carmen Dragon which was awesome.
I grew up with “Smooth Jazz sax sensation” Dave Koz. We have been friends a real long time and played in a few school bands (orchestra/concert band) in Jr. High School together. I was still playing the trumpet and French horn back then.
As far as learning music theory, I was fortunate to take three years of classical harmony back when I was in high school. I was also extremely fortunate to be able to take guitar lessons from the Legendary “Chord Chemist” Ted Greene who really helped me expand my musical horizons. Much of my musical education was through the school of “hard knocks” as I spent a majority of time playing in rock/metal bands and learned the ways of how to be a performer which is very different than just being a “musician” in many ways.
What type of music do you like and what do you enjoy most about each?
Wow, that is a hard question to answer because I really like almost all forms of music (except disco and some opera). Without a doubt my first introduction to rock music was hearing Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) in Junior High School way back in 1977. That just blew my mind to hear the guitar being played like that and I have never really turned back from keeping guitar music as my first love. I am a HUGE fan of the English progressive rock of the 60’s and 70’s (ELP, Pink Floyd, YES, Genesis, Jethro Tull, etc…). There is nothing like it in the world. Funny it seems like most of the best rock music has come out England.
I really enjoy the music of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Grieg and countless other classical composers… Honestly I could go on for days regarding musical influences and if you are interested, you can read more about them in my second interview!
Do guitarists ever perform in symphonies?
Yes indeed many guitarists perform in symphonies, mostly of the classical persuasion but every so often you have an extremely talented rock player being backed by an orchestra and it is very effective. This is something I would love to pursue, as well, in the near future.
What does the term “symphonic guitar” mean?
As far as the term “symphonic guitar” goes, I for one did not coin the term as it has been in use for a very long time (as far as I know the 1940’s perhaps earlier?) and has various meanings. During one of my first interviews the person asked me the question “how would you define your music” and I sort of shrugged my shoulders and laughed and “symphonic guitars” just sort of came out! At that point in time I was quite immersed in recording classical conductor scores using only guitars and recreating entire symphonies. It just made sense to borrow the term and give it yet another meaning… and it has just sort of stuck.
How difficult would it be to gather a group of guitarists to play together without them all doing their own thing? Wouldn’t creating a live guitar symphony be like “herding cats”? Can guitarists be serious musicians?
LOL! Of course guitarists can be serious musicians, but it takes great discipline to not want to start noodling around and “let your fingers do the walking”. The guitar is just such an expressive instrument and it is firmly engrained in most of us guitar player’s DNA to want to just sit around and run scales and make stuff up. I am guilty of it as well! I think getting a few dozen guitar players in a room just spells disaster without someone having to be an Army Drill Sergeant in order to keep everyone in line and concentrate on the charts. I would rather that person not be me!
What type of student were you growing up? What were your favorite subjects?
Now that is a touchy subject (hahaha) but I am a good sport and will provide the truth!!! I was not a very good student, to be quite honest, and pretty rebellious in many ways. I never liked school very much but I usually got straight A’s in the few subjects that interested me. Music was one of the subjects where I could not learn enough and I really enjoyed all the different shop classes that allowed me to be creative. I really loved drafting and thought about architecture for awhile when I was around 14.
Which subjects were most difficult (or boring) for you? Why? How did you cope with subjects you did not enjoy?
I pretty much daydreamed my way through history, science and math in general… but hey kids don’t use me as an example!!! Pay attention to your school work and get good grades!!! Interestingly enough by the time I was out of high school and entered Jr. College I aced every single class I signed up for because I was there by own volition and did not feel like I was being forced to be doing something against my own will. High school just felt like prison to me.
When learning to play various musical instruments, did you apply yourself to practicing your instruments? Did music come easily or naturally to you?
Playing music is all I ever thought about so no one had to force me. When kids take piano or some instrument and, for whatever reason do not enjoy it, they end up hating the experience so much they almost never go back to playing music. (Funny how that correlates to my “having to go school” analogy.) I suppose it is human nature to rebel against the things we feel we are forced to do, whether it is school, music lessons, religion, etc. Many of us find that what was not so fun earlier in life is great once the pressure is off. When it becomes our own decision, the enjoyment comes into the process. Thankfully I was completely obsessed with music and wanted that as my career path in some fashion or another.
Some people are just gifted and that is that. They pick up a violin or a guitar and they are just exceptionally great right out of the gate, a true prodigy. Nothing really ever came easy to me. Everything that I am pretty good at took a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication.
How did your mother’s classical training influence you? Do you have siblings? If so, are they also musicians?
I think it is fair to say that my musical DNA comes from my Mom, as she was a great classical pianist. She does not practice all that much anymore, which is something I bug her about all the time. I spent countless hours as a little kid playing games and stuff under her piano as she practiced a pretty amazing repertoire of Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Mendelssohn, etc… She could be nothing more than supportive of me in my efforts. Once in awhile I even make her proud of my musical accomplishments!
Yes I have a few sisters. One played the flute as a kid and the other one started playing guitar for awhile but gave it up rather quickly. That is when I picked it up instead. It was just sitting in the closet and I found myself spending hours trying to figure it out. So my Mom hired a private instructor to come over and show me the basics… and I have never stopped.
What activities did you enjoy as a child and teenager? Did you participate in any sports?
Oh yes I was BIG TIME into sports! I was really into baseball and at one point around 12-13 years old was the #1 pitcher in the minor little leagues. I had been asked to be a starting pitcher for the high school team but, at that point, I had been bitten by the music bug. I was 100% done with the “jock” attitude that most of the guys still possessed back then.
I was also a really good bowler and I was completely absorbed into that. However, I gave that up as well by the time I hit 14 and deemed it “not cool” any longer. I also took karate but, after a few lessons, I realized I was going to seriously sprain or injure my hands during sparring. So I opted out, as I did not want to kill off my guitar practice. There is no faking it once the gloves are on!
Do you prefer the electric guitar over the acoustic?
I like both electric and acoustic really. If I had to only choose one it would be electric but they both have their place and each equally important in the tonal palette of musical colors. The most difficult thing about the instrument is probably the first few months… really taking the time to develop hand strength and muscle coordination. Sure there are a few chords and songs that are really simple that just about anyone can do in 10 minutes but to start getting good technique does take many hours of diligence. It is no different than anything else in life. If you want to be good you have to spend the time!
Have you ever played or want to try the lute?
The lute seems like the coolest instrument but I have never had an opportunity to play one. I actually have a Russian balalaika that was made in the 80’s while Russia was still under Communism and it is quite fun to play and my Mom brought me back an oud a long time ago from a vacation she took to Turkey but it is not very playable, more of a souvenir really. One thing which is exciting is that I am able to get many of these exotic instrument sounds electronically through the guitar with the help of the AXON MIDI Controller and I have just posted a demo video performing J.S. BACH – Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring on YouTube which can be viewed here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TefdI58q3pI
How big of a part do amplifiers, speakers and acoustics play in guitar performances? How many guitars (and what kind) do you own?
Amps play a significant part of the overall experience as every amp has a different sound and unique voice which makes you play a little bit differently. Some are cleaner and some have more of a distorted/overdriven sound and as a modern musician you have to be able to live inside each one of these tonal flavors. I have a pretty nice collection of electric and acoustics, maybe around 14 or 15, not sure anymore… LOL. Many of them are tucked away in storage.
How do mathematics and language relate to music?
Fortunately we can reduce music down to “simple math” especially for those that would rather be playing “Guitar Hero” than doing their math homework!
We have a very basic musical alphabet (7 letters ABCDEFG) but within these notes are their accidentals (sharps and flats) and we really end up with 12 notes in total (the chromatic scale) which compared to let’s say the English language of 26 characters we have a lot less to think about. But within these 12 notes herein lie the infinite possibilities of combining the notes (forming chords) and the duration of the notes (timing).
Yes music is a language and we do need to learn a few things about the rules to be conversant. Music deals with elements such as time, rhythm, dynamics and expression and sometimes it is not what you play but what you “do not” play. It is similar to talking with someone and taking a pause to think about something you need to say or holding back from saying something to get your point across.
Over the past ten years or so, the Internet and computer technology have radically changed the way we live and think. This has opened the door to online teaching. What benefits of the Internet do you see for education, specifically musical education?
There is a lot to be said about what the Internet has done (both good and bad). From a business standpoint for me being able to connect with a student just about anywhere in the world is just mind blowing.
From an artist’s standpoint the tools are there to promote yourself in ways never before possible. One could also say that the Internet has pretty much killed the hope for many to make any money selling their music. Many people do not see music as a tangible product anymore and feel it is their given right to have it for free and not pay for an artist’s hard earned labor of love… not too mention all the hard earned cash required to create a professionally produced CD usually coming out of an artist’s own pocket! This is a hot topic but for the sake of argument we will not dwell on this one for too long.
Online teaching seems to be a big winner right now, not just for music but basically for any subject and that is great. There are thousands of guitar lesson sites and some are quite excellent and seem to have big money invested in the project. For instance, I think it is great that someone can study online and learn Berklee’s School of Music’s curriculum (it is ultra expensive but still very cool). Just the fact that one can earn a degree through a brand name institution, and not have to pack up and move, is fantastic.
There is not a day that goes by when I need to learn about some subject or another. With just a little bit of searching, I can always find the answer to what I need via the net. We are living in the information age, there is no questioning that one!
What do you like best about teaching via the Internet? What are the disadvantages?
Well like I was saying before, being able connect with a student just about anywhere is outstanding. However, sometimes the video stream drops and you have to try and reconnect. The advantages certainly outweigh the disadvantages. Online teaching saves time, gas and money but, in the same breath, having the student in the room with the instructor is still the best form of learning.
Do you travel very much? If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
No sadly not much travel really. I would love for that to change and definitely through the vehicle of music. I want to see most of the world and first stop would be Europe and see what is happening in the United Kingdom. I also want to visit Australia and all of the United States.
Do you feel that every city has its own musical rhythm? Cities are very different and can be very beautiful in different ways but there is a certain pace or rhythm that we can’t see. Is that musical?
There is a lot of truth in that, some cities are fast paced and aggravated and some are slower and more peaceful. Different cultures play an integral part as well I think. People from different parts of the world all have their own vibe and there is a lot to be said about that which is so interesting. Here in LA it is one huge melting pot of people from just about every corner of the earth and there are a lot of things to do and see and learn from.
If you could live your life over again, would you want to follow the same career path? Why or why not?
Ahh the inevitable “would have”, “could have” and “should have”!!! Oh I don’t really know. Ironically I was just talking this subject over with someone. I pretty much figured out that, no matter what, even if I got to start all over again, mistakes would be made and there would be just another set of “would have”, “could have” and “should haves” to live with. But I am where I am and it’s my job to try and be as happy and content as I can be and not look back with too many regrets over what “could have been”. I love playing music, being creative and making people happy so I am quite content doing what I do. 🙂
Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?
Too much fun, so little time…
What advice do you have for the students reading this interview?
Follow your dreams and passions and do not give up no matter how far, how hard or out of reach they may seem. Never lose sight of your goals!
In closing, I would like to thank you for this interview opportunity and I certainly hope your readers enjoyed the conversation.