Guitar Lesson Memories


I had a PM exchange where my experience receiving lessons came up, and thought I’d share what I said with a wider audience. Anyone else want to wax nostalgic about their experiences with guitar teachers?

I was lucky. My first teacher was a cool guy who played in local rock bands. Textbook late-80s guy with the long hair, tank tops, etc., like he had just stepped out of an REH video. First lesson, he asked me my favorite bands, and used that as a jumping off point into the three-note-per-string modal patterns and the 5 pentatonic patterns (“all those bands use these…”). And every week he’d also have me bring in a song I wanted to learn (Van Halen, Dokken, whatever). He moved to another city after just a few months, but my next teacher was another young guy who still personalized things but also had a set of stuff for us to progress through which included understanding the basics of harmony. I was fortunate to get what I perceive in hindsight as pretty well-rounded instruction without every having to suffer through “Mary Had A Little Lamb”.

If the first guy knew the secrets of alternate picking, he moved before we got to them. Second guy could shred impressively, but gave the boilerplate “you just have to practice a lot” advice. However, the second guy did talk about picking in general and we worked a lot on using left-hand muting and really bringing the pick down hard on the strings to put stank on notes, doing SRV-style rakes, etc., and that probably contributed to me developing DWPS-friendly picking mechanics.


I started playing aged 11 (I’m 28). I started after listening to a Clapton/Cream compilation album that my father had. My father had an MIJ Squier Strat he wasn’t playing, so I claimed it for myself. I vividly remember going into the garage, climbing on a desk and reaching up to the top shelf to get it. The case, which was homemade and had very unreliable clasps swung wildly after I slid it off the shelf. I nearly dropped it.

My father, who is primarily a drummer and an acoustic singer/songwriter, taught me the basic chord shapes and a few simple riffs/leads. He didn’t feel he had the knowledge (or the temperament) to teach me after few months, so he arranged for me to take lessons with local guitar teacher named Declan Collins.

Declan is a virtuoso and and excellent teacher. I took lessons from him for many years. I feel very lucky to have had regular access to a teacher and player of his caliber.

For the first year or so, lessons mostly consisted of him teaching me relatively simple songs using open, barre and power chords, and simple riffs and leads. I was allowed to choose the songs, though I often trusted him to choose something of appropriate difficulty.

Then, I started listening to Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience more, and I discovered Led Zeppelin. For the next year or so, I learned a lot of material from those groups. It was more guitar-centric music than I had previously been learning, and the difficulty was reasonable for the level I had reached.

I made fast progress with this material, and eventually I wanted more of a challenge. One day, at a lesson, Declan asked what I’d like to learn. I said I wanted to learn something hard. He decided to teach me Zap by Eric Johnson.

I remember being absolutely transfixed when Declan pressed the play button on the cassette player and I heard Eric Johnson for the first time. The melody, the lead phrasing, the technique and the tone, I’d never heard anything like it.

I needed to be able to play like that, but I had nothing close to the level of technique to be able to do it. Eric Clapton was the reason I picked up the guitar in the first place, but Eric Johnson was the reason I’ve never been able to put it down.

Before this point, Declan had taught me technique as I’d needed it. He had stressed the importance of alternate picking technique. I knew about hammers and pull-offs, I could bend in tune, I knew some fingerstyle songs, etc.

I practiced the intro to Zap every day, in addition to whatever else we were covering in subsequent lessons. I’d ask technique questions based on the issues I was having with Zap.

Near my 15th birthday, the intro to Zap started to come together. I didn’t have it quite up to speed, but I was becoming more comfortable with the hybrid picking and I could play it smoothly. A few months later, when I should have been studying for upcoming state exams, I doubled my efforts and I was managing the recorded tempo.

Declan began introducing me to the music of other elite players. I learned more pieces by Eric Johnson, and pieces by Steve Morse and Paul Gilbert. I learned more about scales, chords and harmony.

Declan is essentially a strict alternate picker, and I followed his example. I was able to derive cross-picking and two-way pickslanting movements by thinking about picking geometrically and by closely studying Declan’s movements. He didn’t explain his movements, but there were instances where he’d mention the path or trajectory of particular pickstrokes.

Being able to sit near a player with virtuoso picking technique and watch his movements from multiple angles was enlightening. There really wasn’t much video of elite picking available at the time. Most instructional VHS tapes were out of print, and had not yet been re-released on DVD. The internet was slow and any videos I could find were of low quality. YouTube hadn’t taken off yet. When all of that video became available in the next few years, I was able to study it from an informed perspective.

When I was about 17 or 18, Declan recommended I try to get some more experience teaching myself and spend some time practicing with other musicians. I think this was important for my development.

This was an important experience for me. I learned pretty quickly how little all those pieces I’d learned and all the technique I had developed mattered to other people.

I remember trying out for bands and getting immediately rejected. When I got into cover bands, I’d learn the songs everybody else wanted to play, but the others wouldn’t learn the songs I wanted to play. I’d be prepared and get to rehearsals on time, but others weren’t. I’d often get cut for seemingly no reason at all, and then replaced by a band members guitar playing friend or brother, even though I knew I was the better player. After taking more initiative, and setting up bands myself, finding the other musicians and arranging practice times, I kept having the same problems, over and over. In one infuriating instance, I was part of an original band where I’d been told they didn’t think my style and input was the right fit, only to find out later that they continued to use music and lyrics I had written.

I thought I must have had some major personality flaw, or have some problem with my playing I never knew about, but that wasn’t it. I found out later from some of the other members of those groups (usually the bassists) that some groups found playing with me to be intimidating, or in other cases that the singers felt overshadowed by me.

Eventually I stopped trying. I basically quit playing the electric guitar for a few years, and focused on the acoustic instead. I tried singing, and took singing lessons, with the hope of being a solo performer, but I came to accept that I’d never have a great voice.

I learned the most important lesson I have ever learned about music; I do not want to be professional musician.

When I accepted that (I was about 20 at the time), I got back into the electric guitar again. I felt liberated, free to play the electric guitar the way I wanted to, without worrying about getting gigs. I arranged to take lessons with Declan again. This time around he was more a coach than a teacher, though I still learned from his insights. It kept me motivated to practice. It was valuable to have him critique and comment on my playing as I began to re-develop my electric style and vocabulary.

I continued to take “lessons” in this format for a few years, until I completed my Ph.D and had to move away for work.


I took lessons from a guy that was like the spitting image of Richard Marx (if anyone here is old enough to remember him). One week he asked me if I ever heard of Allan Holdsworth. “Only in magazine interviews”, I said. He said to bring a blank cassette the next week. Two weeks later he came back with that cassette with Holdsworth’s Metal Fatigue and IOU records on them.

I remember getting home and rushing to put the casette into the boom box in my bedroom. Those opening chords from Metal Fatigue kicked in and then fell into those glassy smooth synth-like chords and it was like getting punched in the face. I couldn’t even process what I was listening to.

There are few musical experiences I’ve had in life that were quite as earth-moving as being turned on to Allan Holdsworth at age 15. Mr. Guitar-teacher-whose-name-I-don’t-even-remember, I owe you a big thanks. I think he hipped me to the some basic diatonic scale patterns, but the Holdsworth tape was 100x more valuable.


I didn’t have quite as profound an awakening as you, but I still had the “mix tape” “listen to this, young man” experience. In my case, the blank tape was returned with a mix of SRV, Robben Ford, and Toto. (I was a teenage longhair talking about Joe Satriani, Metallica, etc.)


I’ve never taken 1 lesson. I’ve came close a few times but it never happened.



One of my favorite memories was when I took about four months of weekly lessons during college with Alex Skolnick. Being more of a 90’s rock guy rather than metal, I never listened to Testament, but knew about Alex from his Guitar Magazine columns, which I regarded as very thoughtful and especially well-written. So in general I think I approached the lessons with a sort of blank slate regarding his significant professional accomplishments.

Alex was one of the nicest and smartest people I’ve ever met. He was in college too at the same time - studying music - and his apartment, where he taught, was loaded with things he was working on, which seemed to include every conceivable musical genre organized neatly in manila folders.

During lessons he’d play his gold top Les Paul (which was signed on the back by Les Paul), and he’d let me play his (I think) ‘57 reissue Strat. In the first lesson we jammed over a blues progression, and then we sort out outlined what we should be working on and what I wanted to learn.

During one lesson in particular, he was showing me applications for the pentatonic scale. He then took like ten minutes and just went through solo after solo from Ozzy, Van Halen, etc. He then played the intro to “Cliffs of Dover” and I started laughing uncontrollably. I couldn’t believe it - it was like he could play anything I wanted to learn at that time, and I felt it was possible to learn. He then was like, “Honestly, I haven’t played the ‘Cliffs of Dover’ licks in years, maybe even since I moved to New York,” and we both just busted out laughing.

During another lesson I told him I wanted to learn “Spanish Fly.” A week later, he took me through the entire song, as he had learned it in between lessons. I was shocked that he had the time and especially the capacity to learn so many notes in such a short period of time.

I have lots of very fond memories of lessons with Alex - just the nicest guy ever who brought a tremendous enthusiasm and great attitude to life-long learning in music.


Sounds cool. I got “Souls of Black” sent to me by the Columbia Music Club and really dug Alex’s lead playing. I’m pretty sure that a guitar magazine ad for Souls of Black was taped inside my highschool locker door at one point.

I remember reading his stuff in guitar magazines too. Neat to hear he was as good of a teacher as he came across in writing.


I was self-taught on guitar until this year. I get lessons in Vancouver from one of the guys in the band Archspire, one of the more popular technical death metal bands that the kids are into these days. Not into the music but they are monster players and they all have degrees in jazz and teach lessons during the bands down time. Jared Smith is my guy. They are followers of CTC as well which is cool. Look them up on Instagram if you swing that way—they post loads of playing clips.

That Dave Martone dude who Terry Syrek mentions lives and teaches in Vancouver as well and I’m considering getting a couple lessons from him down the road as well. I’d actually been recommended to him in the past but never looked him up.

I have an associates degree in jazz piano so that’s where most of my knowledge has come from up until this point. I went to Grant MacEwan university in Edmonton and took lessons with a lot of great teachers. My experience with. Chris Andrews (private piano lessons), Bill Richards (head of piano dept), John Taylor (head of Bass dept) are probably the guys I learned the most from. I was the accompanist for the 1st year bass ensemble with John and some of the concepts he talked about in terms of rhythm, groove and finding tiny details in a riff (plus the hilarious occasional acid flashback) were huge for me. He also taught intricate quarter-note triplet patterns that gave me a whole new perception of time and tempo. He was a King Diamond fan so that was a great touch too.


I tried finding a teacher many times. Took lessons with a neighbor, at the Old Town School Of Folk Music, at the local community college, with the justifiably maligned Tom Hess, and with the excellent “Yoda” Bob Palmieri at DePaul. (And also absorbed quite a few things through the too-thin walls of lesson studios while teaching my own students.)

Without exception, each of these teachers gave me something I’ve carried forward to this day.

And also without exception, they lacked the sort of systematic approach I sought. Had to chart my own path through wildly inefficient trial and error.


Man I hate to perpetuate Internet drama but I’d love to hear some Hess stories if you’re willing to share.


I started playing and taking lessons in 1981. My first teacher was an amazing rock guitarist and also an incredible classical player named Dave Doig. I studied with him for the first couple of years and he was really inspiring and taught me some really great stuff. All the usual basics and he was also excellent with theory. He is now a doctor of music, and owns his own school on Long Island.

After that I took a few years off to self study and when I went back to lessons I started with Al Pitrelli, and I studied with him for 4 years from the mid-to-late 80s. He was probably my biggest influence, and studying with him was an incredible experience and invaluable. He was already considered a local rockstar having been to Berklee, and had come off tour recently with Michael Bolton. He was one of the biggest guitarists on Long Island, playing in lots of great bands. It was very inspiring to watch him play and he was an excellent teacher.

Then I studied with a couple of local guys here and there, and finally in 1989 or so I was able to secure a spot as John Petrucci’s student. He was teaching out of his parent’s house in Kings Park, Long Island, and I studied with him for about 18 months. Obviously he was incredible to study with, and a lot of my picking technique and more neoclassical fusion leanings came out with him. Super nice guy, very inspiring, very encouraging and a great teacher!

Currently I am studying classical guitar with Dr. Nelson Amos, who is the head of the guitar department at Eastern Michigan University where I have been accepted to study for my music education degree. I have an associate of music degree from Nassau Community College, but I’m now looking to finally get my bachelor’s and teach music in the public schools here. Something I should have done many years ago but I wound up playing in bands and touring, as well as teaching private guitar lessons.

This is a great thread. I enjoyed reading about everybody’s experiences.