When I set out to create this website, a friend offered to interview me as a way of helping potential students learn more about me and my lessons. This is the resulting transcript (edited for clarity).

What led you to teach music professionally?

I started out as a performer, but I always felt a strong need to understand the how and why of music. As a result, I set out on a quest for musical knowledge and devoted myself to many years of study. I started in Paris, taking lessons from the best teachers in the city, but I ultimately realized that I needed to go to Los Angeles. Especially then, LA was home to the world's best school for guitar — the Guitar Institute of Technology, my alma mater! — and to many of the world's top studio musicians and performers.

I studied, practiced, and performed with many outstanding musicians and I learned some fabulous concepts, but I was always struck by how few of these great musicians were able to present and explain musical concepts clearly. In order to understand, retain, integrate, and apply the huge body of knowledge I was amassing, I had to clarify, rephrase, and reorganize it, and this proved to be the turning point in my musical career. An increasing number of players kept coming back to me for help, and I came to realize that I had a real talent for teaching music. The rest came naturally. It took years to get where I wanted to be, but I'm there now.

How would you describe your students?

They're a pretty diverse bunch, but they do share some common traits. I'd say my students are people who make the time to do things that fulfill them. By and large, they are people who realize that music is an important part of their lives and who have decided to start giving the "inner musician" a little equal time. People like this understand the value of an effective instructor, and that's where I come in. Either that, or they just like my French accent!

In your opinion, what is the key to making progress as a player?

There are many keys. The major ones that come to mind are overcoming bad habits, mastering timing, understanding harmony, and continually exposing yourself to new challenges.

Bad habits can be as simple as poor posture and sloppy chord changes or as complex as bad alternate-picking technique.

Timing may seem like a no-brainer, but it is in fact the most crucial element in playing music and usually one of the most poorly taught!

Harmony is one of the biggest stumbling blocks. The difference between a gifted copyist and a truly creative musician is a broad, cohesive understanding of harmony. Many players have picked up bits and pieces of information here and there, but they invariably have gaps in their knowledge that prevent them from realizing their full potential. The most obvious symptom of this is the inability to consistently play the "right" notes over any given chord progression.

Finally, continual exposure to new challenges is perhaps the master key to making progress as a player. This being said, the true gold lies in having new ideas, techniques, and approaches presented to you in the order and in the manner best suited to your understanding and abilities at that particular moment in time.

For these and other key issues, it is indispensable to find an experienced instructor who can spot some of the more subtle gaps in knowledge and errors in technique and provide a step-by-step path to permanent progress.

When you speak about playing and teaching music, it sounds like this is something that touches you deeply. Can you elaborate?

Understanding harmony and melody are two of the most precious gifts life has brought me. I like to think of the degree of melodic content in a piece of music as a celebration of life. If you love life, you feel impelled to play beautiful melodies. Conversely, when you play beautiful melodies, you feel happier and love life all the more.

I believe that when people become better musicians, they can reach into the part of themselves that is endowed with an inherent sense of connectedness. In the deepest sense, my calling as an instructor is to help people get in touch with that incredibly powerful part of themselves. It's hard for me to think of a better job!

Do you think Seattle has what you'd call good guitar players?

Are you kidding? There are hundreds. Among the local players I'm familiar with, I really like Danny Hoffer, John Raymond, and Brian Nova. To me, these guys are really excellent players, and they are so musical! Of course, there are many other great players out there in just about any style you can think of — these are just the first ones to come to mind. I think the more you yourself improve as a player, the more you can appreciate how many great players are really out there.

What about good guitar instructors?

Well, I haven't taken lessons from other instructors in the Seattle area, so I have to base what I say on what I see in my students and what they have to say about their previous experiences. Let's just say that while there may be other good guitar instructors out there, they are definitely a rarer breed.

A lot of the students who come to me haven't assimilated the material they were trying to cover under their previous teachers. There could be many reasons for this. They may have been less motivated at that point in time and just didn't practice enough. They may have been working with written materials that were inaccurate or unclear. But they may also have been working with an instructor who just wasn't the right one for their particular needs.

Being able to teach music effectively is a separate, additional, complementary skill that only a small subset of good players have mastered. A good player unconsciously understands "the rules" and can apply them in his own playing. A good teacher also consciously knows what the rules are and can explain them clearly. A really good teacher knows how to explain the rules in the right order and at the right time for each individual student. A great teacher does all of this and also provides the warmth, encouragement, and personal connection that motivate the student to keep on practicing, learning, and progressing. This is what I aspire to be and I don't think students who really love music should settle for less!

How do students who have taken lessons from other teachers respond to your approach?

When a student has already tried an approach that doesn't get results, he is more apt to appreciate and comply with an approach that does. Most of my students soon come to realize how much work and care goes into my lesson plans, but the ones who have struggled under less dedicated teachers love me for it!

You have a lot of intermediate and advanced students. How important is good instruction for beginners?

When a guy buys a guitar, whether or not he sticks with it and makes playing a permanent part of his life depends on how much he enjoys it — which in turn usually depends on how much progress he makes. This places a pretty significant responsibility on the teacher he goes to for help.

For this reason (and many others), I am very conscious of my responsibility as an instructor. From a business standpoint, losing a student is regrettable. From a personal standpoint, however, teaching so poorly that you turn a student away from guitar forever is totally unforgivable.

This almost happened to me when I was learning. My first three teachers were unspeakably bad, and it took an incredible effort of will on my part to not become completely disgusted with music and quit for good! Unfortunately, it took me years before I tried taking lessons again.

The way an instructor manages his lessons — especially for beginners — can plant the seed for a lifetime of fulfillment with music or, in the worst case, spoil the whole thing for good. The way I see it, when you have that kind of responsibility, you had better excel at what you do.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

First, I would like to thank all of my students, past and present, for making it possible for me to pursue a life in music. I'm sure you all realize how highly I value this gift.

I would also like to thank the people who ultimately read this interview. I hope that some of the things I've said will be helpful to you and that I will have the privilege of teaching you some day. Whether we meet or not, I wish you a beautiful musical journey throughout your lifetime and all the fun and joy that come with it!

Finally, I would like to give special thanks to all of my friends in the local music industry. It's been a real joy working with you and bringing the gift of music to so many people in our beautiful little metropolis.

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