A Guy and A Guitar - Part 4: Destruction to Instruction

I already foreshadowed for you that I was a terrible student growing up. Pretty early on, I showed little interest in the academic side of schooling. Before I was in junior high, you could say that I was an apathetic slacker. For some reason, I had to rebel. I was that kid who couldn’t help but do exactly the opposite of what he was asked to do. I almost never did homework outside of school. It was more like do it in the car or at my desk 5 minutes before school started. I did just enough to get by (that and probably no teacher would dare put up with me two years in a row). During high-school, I ignored homework almost entirely in favor of studying the guitar. I spent most of my classes drawing pictures (most of the time of AC/DC’s Angus Young). I picked up enough from class discussions that I could pass the tests and keep my grades above F in most classes.

I eventually dropped out of high school as I felt it was not the place for me. I wanted to study the guitar or art, but had trouble finding a school that offered such programs. The classes I liked in school were painting, architectural drawing, and 2D art (especially surrealism). When it came time to talk to councilors about career paths, I said that I would like to illustrate comics or be a cartoon artist. What I got was that those are unrealistic fields and that I had aptitude for math and science. I liked those subjects actually, but they were not my real passion. So when my schedule included less arts and more classes like chemistry and trigonometry, I couldn’t go on. I left high school and entered the working world.

So, this clown went to work full time at McDonald’s. Then I assisted a contractor for a short time. Then I worked at a machine shop. I realized that these jobs were not really going anywhere, and I wanted to study music. I still practiced the guitar and played in a band with some friends. I also played classical guitar at weddings once in a while when my guitar teacher was double booked. So, I thought I would go to college to get a degree in classical guitar. Being a native Chicagoan, I had some really great choices close by. My goal was to study at DePaul University. First, I had to earn my G.E.D. Then, I had to figure out how to pay for my education.

I started by taking a night course to learn about the G.E.D. I passed the test on the first try, so the next step was to try community college. This was my best option being that I had little money for college. Before I could take classes, I had to take the entrance exam and A.C.T. since I didn’t take it in high school. I got in, and I began my studies by taking the general coursework along with a couple of music classes just for my own personal interest. I knew how to play the guitar, but was still not very proficient in music theory or even how to read notes. I took a beginning piano course and music fundamentals to start. This was tremendously exciting for me. Up until this point, I learned how to play guitar mostly by ear and watching others. I understood how to read tablature, but now I was learning how to read music beyond Every Good Boy Does Fine.

I didn’t attend DePaul or earn my degree in classical guitar. Before long, I decided that it would make much more sense to study music education. I enjoyed learning new instruments. I’ll never forget seeing someone play the cello right in front of my eyes for the first time. I knew what a cello was of course, but I had never seen or heard one up close before. I was enamored with the sound of that instrument. I had to learn how to play it. It was then that I realized I should branch out beyond just being a guitar player. Majoring in music education was the way to go. At about that same time, I started giving guitar lessons at a music store part-time. I really enjoyed working with students on the guitar. As I learned new instruments, I started teaching those as well. I spent a lot of time practicing several instruments and I was loving it. Guitar was still my number one, but I had a delightful time learning all these new skills. I was immersed in in music education, and those old academic failures were being washed away.

I worked incredibly hard in college. This was my chance to become a musician for real as far as I was concerned. I had some very understanding friends at that time. When I wasn’t working, I was studying. There were many Friday and Saturday nights that I spent alone with my books and instruments in the first part of my college career. The sacrifices that I made showed in my grades. Also, I learned that excellent grades are worth money. I earned lots of money in scholarships. Half of my tuition at community college was paid for, and all of my tuition at university except one thousand dollars. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but this is a good lesson for those who struggle with school. Nobody (including myself) when I was growing up ever believed I could become such an academic success. I never showed that kind of ambition. With the right motivation and passion, even the worst of students can achieve their goals and dreams. I am proof. It had nothing to do with intelligence or natural talent. I knew what I wanted and focused all my energy in getting it. Anyone can do the same.

The next 27 years would see this former high school drop out focus his attention on teaching. I have taught lessons, group classes, classroom music, and more. I even taught at the school I grew up at (where I tested the patience of every teacher that I had). Through the years, I have found that my preference is teaching one student at a time and working with small groups. Some of the greatest impacts in my life have been from these types of settings. I had some very influential private teachers. I attended community college and a small private university. I began my teaching career as a private teacher. Being a guitarist has meant much more to me than a hobby or a way to impress girls (though not a bad perk). It helped me turn my life around, establish a vocation, and gave me purpose.

I have taught students of all ages and abilities. There may be that one kid out there, one who doesn’t excel in school. One who finds joy in making music. One who picks up a guitar and it becomes their thing. Someone very much like myself. I can help him or her begin that journey that may even become a way of life. I don’t know if I will ever have that strong an influence on anybody, but I sure enjoy connecting with all of my students and making music. Here’s to the next 27 years.

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