Who is the Best Guitar Instructor in Charleston?

Tim Brennan

Ahh, very soon Alice Cooper will be shouting “School’s out for ever!” from every rusted out Chevy Cavalier in Wando’s parking lot. Then again, do high schoolers drive Cavalier’s any more? Do kids drive cars with any metal anymore, or are they all plastic? Does anyone of that generation know who Alive Cooper is?

It has been said that I am out of touch with the younger generation. That’s according to the younger generation, in my house.

Yet those older than I think I might have some connection with the youth of today. This week a friend of mine asked me to recommend a guitar teacher for his 8th grader who has been teaching himself Pink Floyd tunes. The dad wrote, “He has gotten to a point that I think he needs to be a bit more challenged. You know the scene down here. I'd like him to get some good instruction on technique, theory, and still be able to jam and rock out. Any thoughts or suggestions?”

Ruh roh raggy! I did not grow up here, and don’t know the full faculty of guitar teachers around here. I know some guys who can really play, but I don’t know who can really teach. That’s the thing, lots of good players decide to be teachers because it sounds like easy money. All they have to do is show the young girls how to play Taylor Swift and get the young boys strumming Wagon Wheel. A few chords and that is it.

But this dad wanted someone who would teach theory and technique. Really, I have no first hand experience here.

Where I was from, there was a teacher by the name of Joe Manning. Everyone I knew who went to him became an amazing guitarist. At thirteen, my friends were not only shredding Eddie Van Halen leads, but also able to sight read a set of Jazz standards. Joe would have monthly ear tests for his students, during which he would play a chord or a series of notes while the student was facing away from him. The student would have to identify those chords, or notes by ear alone before they could move on to another song. These friends of mine could walk into a concert, and know right away if the band tuned a half step down. They would learn cover songs, using a record on a turntable (no digital slow down or speed up. No online tab charts). Several of these friends are still professional musicians, and I believe what Joe instilled in them is why they were able to make careers out of playing on some wire and wood.

Is there a guy like that in Charleston? Who are the good teachers? I’d like to know your recommendations.

Is the best person at the local guitar store, tucked away in a home studio, or working at School of The Arts? Let me know.

I also have some advice for anyone picking a guitar teacher, drum instructor, or any other music teacher, because nothing can put out an enthusiasm for an instrument quicker than a bad instructor.

Remember, you are the boss of the instructor. Most people go into a lesson and think that they are subjective to the instructor. In many ways, that is right. You do what he or she advises. However, you are the one paying for this. You’ve got to get your money’s worth out of it.

If you don’t like an instructor, he cancels lessons, makes learning all work and no fun, teaches the kind of music you hate, and none that you like, fire him or her. Find someone who you like to work with on the common goal of making you the best player you can be.

If you work hard, especially on some of the boring stuff like scales, or ear training, you will have more fun on the stuff you want to do. If you get good enough, you might even “graduate” beyond your teacher’s abilities, and need to find another teacher. That’s great. Keep learning.

Some would say that with the advent of online lessons, YouTube, etc, that a person can learn an instrument without ever taking a formal lesson. I guess that is possible. Yet I’d argue nothing beats having a regular time you meet with someone who challenges you to be better. You don’t get that from a YouTube video.

Most guitarists or drummers stop taking lesson relatively early. That’s a shame. They take a year to get the basics, figure out how to find YouTube lessons on how to play certain songs, and quit the teacher. They can do it all on their own. There is nothing that should stop a metal guitarist from taking a half a dozen lessons on Jazz technique from an instructor, just to learn more about their instrument. Or, go to another instructor to get tips on how to be a better player in the studio.

When you love your instrument, school is never out for the summer. You have a chance to get better or worse every day. You never stay the same. Which reminds me, I could use tips on local bass instructors. I’d personally like to explore some upright and blues styles.

Send in your votes for the best instructors in town. If someone really shines in your recommendations, I might do a profile of them here in Grit.