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Virtual Lessons Strike A Chord During COVID-19

The Northeast is slowly reopening from coronavirus shutdowns, as businesses welcome back customers with safety precautions in place. One industry that we haven’t heard much about? Music teachers.

Andrew Wheeler has been a private guitar instructor for over 15 years. He founded 518 Guitar, his own business, in 2017. Once the pandemic took hold, he went from having 38 students per week to just eight, and his lessons went virtual. His clients used to be mostly in their 50s and older – now those clients are gone and he is teaching mostly college students and younger kids on a livestream set up in his living room.

“School’s winding down,” Wheeler said. “A lot of the camps are closed and the summer time jobs aren’t there. I’ve also seen first responders, healthcare personnel, individuals who are working doubles all the time, folks who we are really depending on right now – their kids are needing to stay engaged.”

Wheeler says people have been buying guitars online during the pandemic, assuming they can teach themselves. But he says in the age of YouTube there’s still a place for real life instruction.

“More and more I’m hearing from individuals saying, ‘You know, I thought I could do this on my own. I’ve got all this down time. My kids are doing school. I’ve got a two-hour break in my day. I thought I could do this and I go online and there’s 100,000 videos on how to play a note or a chord and it’s too much and I can’t get it to work right,’” Wheeler said.

Wheeler says the shift to virtual learning requires more planning on the instructor’s part. The most common feedback from students?

“Tell me what I need to do. When I need to do it by. And please put the support materials in my folder so that I can access online. As an instructor I’ve never really had to do with that before,” Wheeler said. “You walk out of a lesson, I hand you what you need. There’s a lot of lesson planning now and a lot of post-lesson work.”

Wheeler says with people feeling more isolated than ever lately, many are finding music can be therapy.

“I was just talking to a student about Memorial Day and how sort of depressed he got around Memorial Day, and the guitar, he said, was pulling him out of it,” Wheeler said. “And the fact that we were going to have a lesson helped to snap him back in to where we are right now in this place and time. He’s a veteran and he finds the guitar is a really welcome relief.”

Wheeler says what instructors offer, whether virtually or in person, is a personalized experience.

“There are individuals who are from around the country,” Wheeler said, “and if you went and googled guitar lessons right now you’re going to find individuals who are selling you pre-recorded modules, DVDs, and other at-home courses where it offers you all of the same things you can get for free on YouTube and none of the personal feedback that we can offer you.”

To start, he recommends an exercise that requires no instruments at all.

“If you had your friends and family in your living room – eventually what would you like to play for them,” Wheeler said. “What would you like to communicate for them? Write those five songs down and listen to them over and over and find out how do they make you feel and then reach out to a teacher.”

Wheeler says a guitar that actually stays in tune will run you about 300 dollars and he implores everyone to shop locally.

“And they’ll hook you up with the right instrument for you,” Wheeler said. “You can’t do that on Amazon.”

Wheeler says a good teacher will give a free introductory lesson to get acquainted with you, your goals, and your schedule. And it’s a chance to see if the relationship is a good fit. As for cost, he says about $30 per half hour lesson is reasonable.

If you’re thinking about picking up a guitar this summer while waiting for daily life to get back to normal, Wheeler says virtual learning requires patience, on the instructor’s part and the student’s, because he can’t physically place your fingers for you. But at least there’s no commute — leaving more time to rock.

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