Music Lessons

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Thanks for clicking on my “music lessons” button!

If you are seriously interested in music lessons for your child, I hope this information will function as a good substitute for a personal interview, saving time for us both.

I teach guitar, mandolin, music theory, improvisation, sight reading, ear training, and jazz band preparation. The private lessons are for thirty minutes one day a week. I am available for private lessons on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons from 3:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Depending on the level of the students, I also teach group sight reading for two eight-week sessions per year, on Saturday mornings from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. during the months of March/April and September/October. There is no extra fee for the sight reading groups. They are just part of the curriculum.

My fee for private lessons is $70/mo for one 30-minute lesson per week. Some months have five lesson days, some months have four, but the fee is the same regardless of the month, and regardless of attendance. I learned that policy from more experienced teachers when I first began teaching. It creates a gravitational force for the student to attend lessons and frees me from having to keep track of attendance.

I tell my kids it's like Colorado Mesa University: you can attend classes, work hard and get a "A", or you can cut classes, goof off and get an "F", but either way, come the end of the semester, you don't get to ask for your tuition money back. Also, if the student simply chooses to be somewhere else on lesson day, s/he has the luxury of thinking, "Old Wilkenson is getting paid anyway, so what right does he have to complain about my cutting class if I feel like going skiing?" Be the general attendance policy as it may, I am not heartless, and I do acknowledge the existence of for-good-cause-shown exceptions, such as breaking an arm, being in the hospital or on a long-planned trip to Hawaii or Europe. But as a general rule, simply being a little under the weather or preferring to be somewhere else on lesson day doesn't constitute a good-cause exception to the rule.

I used to teach adults, and I have had some good ones, but, for the most part, adults can find more excuses to fail and/or quit than the kids can. Also, since I am on sabbatical, I decided that one of my goals would be to help supplement the music education which goes on in the local middle and high school jazz bands. For that reason, I give preference to kids aged 8-14 when accepting new students. If you should happen to be an interested adult, I am very much open to talking about your goals and how I might be able to help.

Prior to starting lessons, I prefer for parents to get their kid to agree to a commitment ("contract" if your prefer) that s/he will try diligently for one full year before exercising the option of giving up. I do this because I refuse to enable easy-quitting behavior. I prefer to instill a work ethic and teach the student how to succeed, not how to give up just because acquiring musical skills requires work. Very few of my students ever give up. I tell them that if they want to give up, they have to do it all by themselves; I won't help them give up by EVER being cross, demanding, judgmental, disrespectful or unkind.

Kids invariably seem to like me, perhaps because, like our animal friends, they can tell when a person really likes them or not. Also, they can tell that I don't think I'm a higher form of life than they are. I consider them friends, and try to cultivate their friendship and trust by always being honest and kind. I NEVER lie to my students about the amount of work necessary to acquiring a high level of musical skills. I am old-fashioned and intellectually honest enough to understand that self-appreciation comes by way of achievement, NOT by being told we're wonderful when we're really not. I don't coddle my students, yet they all like me anyway. I do my best to create an understanding in the student that we're a team, and we're on this music-learning journey together. I’m quick to acknowledge my own mistakes, because that acknowledges and helps reinforce the standard of excellence which both the student and I are striving to attain.

Trust is the only tool a teacher has. If the student trusts the teacher, even though they may not understand every detail of why they have to work on some particular idea, they will have the determination to work much harder than if they don't have trust. Trust results in willingness to work, which, in turn, results in progress, which, in turn, is ultimately the whole point of paying for private lessons. In our journey along the way, my students seem to inevitably become my friends.

I have what I would call an “eclectic” teaching style. I use all kinds of music to teach with. In my personal musical tastes, I am kind of old-fashioned. I like classical to sound like classical (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc), rock to sound like rock (Beatles, Beach Boys, Grateful Dead, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, etc), jazz, to sound like jazz (Django Reinhardt, Charlie Byrd, etc), country to sound like country (Hank Williams, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Randy Travis, etc), and so on. I use bluegrass and Irish fiddle tunes to teach pick control. I also have video links of great players on my website which I use for viewing "homework" for the student on a case-by-case basis. I tend to dislike rap and disco, not least because I sincerely believe that the self-absorbed, purple-haired, body-pierced, tatooed, backwards-baseball-hatted, pants-on-the-ground, smart-aleck, proud-of-ignorance-and-violence "gangsta" image is in direct irreconcilable conflict with the traditional spiritual, moral and intellectual values by which healthy, happy, kind-hearted, educated, productive and prosperous children are raised to live successful adult lives.

While I use a variety of different styles to teach with, I believe it is crucial that the student understand from the outset that playing music well is not about learning his or her favorite song. In other words, it does not involve merely memorizing a specific sequence of notes they find appealing. Simply put, we musicians are trying to become hand-and-finger athletes. It has been my observation that particularly teenage boys can be vulnerable to the simplistic delusion that if they can only talk their parents into buying them a "cool" looking electric guitar so they can stand up and flog away on it, posing-and-posturing style, that "the chicks will dig them." (Saul Hudson, aka "Slash", actually an excellent guitarist, is a terrible prototypical role model for young boys in this sexualization-of-music regard.) But I can assure them that is NOT what learning music is all about for the great majority of aspiring musicians. There is only one Django Reinhardt, one Jimi Hendrix, and one "Slash", and what worked for them to get them to a professional level will not necessarily work for the overwhelming majority of aspiring musicians. The reality is, some individuals have a higher aptitude for self-teaching than others, but as a general rule, for the great majority of students, there can be no such thing as escaping "the process," even though the Jimi Hendrixes and Slashes of the world might at first glance seem to create a superficial and false illusion that it is possible to escape the hard work of the learning/achieving process. Aspiring music students who have "Slash" escape-the-process attitudes and aspirations should look for a teacher who might be more sympathetic to those attitudes and who might be a better "fit" for them than I would. I insist that all my students learn to read both tablature and standard notation. It's part of becoming musically literate.

Popular among the musically illiterate escape-the-process crowd is the old canard, "them that can do; them that can't teach." Nothing could be further from the truth. Teaching is a skill entirely separate from the subject being taught. Many of the Jimi Hendrixes and Slashes of the world, despite being excellent players, couldn't teach their way out of a wet paper bag. Many of them are incapable of articulating what they know to another person to the point that other person can grasp the idea. Many of them are heavily invested emotionally in the idea that they are so special that nobody else could possibly do what they do. Many of them couldn't tolerate the idea of a student becoming a better player than they are. In contrast, a good teacher will ALWAYS hope his students become better players than he is, and will work hard to make that come true.

Music is NOT rocket science. It is very mathematical. The bad news is that it takes a LOT of work to achieve a high level of musical excellence. The good news is that virtually anybody who is willing to do the work can achieve the excellence. And the first step is to have your "head on straight" and be open to logic. The only way you can fail is to give up.

Playing music well involves training for, and acquiring, a variety of specific physical and mental skills (scales, chords, arpeggios, etc.) which make it possible for the student to successfully execute whatever piece of music has been chosen to be played. So I explain to the student that I will help them play the music they want to play, but first we have to train our fingers and brain scientifically through a process I like to jokingly refer to as "sheer brutal, mindless repetition." The students seem to get a kick out of that!

I find it effective to use a sports metaphor to explain the situation: first we lift weights, then we play football. Playing for the Denver Broncos is not about going to Canyon View Park and horsing around playing sandlot football with your buddies — even if you have a genuine $150 John-Elway-autographed official NFL leather football. It's about spending ten to fifteen years in a gym systematically lifting weights to scientifically develop the type of strong, speedy and agile body which will allow you to step out onto the field and compete with the other hugely muscled professional-level football-player bodies without getting killed.

If all this sounds good, and you decide to start lessons, your student will need a 3-ring binder. I use my own teaching materials — which I am in the process of posting on my website — and regularly add pages. I like to recoup the $10 in copying costs I incur for each new book.

Also, I prorate a student's first month. If the student starts in the middle of the month, and the first month of lessons only has two lesson days, the fee would be half. If the student starts in on the last week of the month, you would only owe one fourth of the fee for that month, and we'd probably just add it to the next whole month. The fee is due on the first lesson day of the month.

I teach the lessons at my home on the Redlands. If you decide you want to start lessons, I will give you my street address and cell phone number at that time. If you have any further questions, please feel free to "e" (email) me at or

Thanks again for your interest!

All the best,

John Wilkenson

P.S. Advanced players might want to take a look at the following list of Internet resources I compiled for my own convenience. You might like it too!