Is Guitar Instruction Changing in the 21st Century?

A Customer Profile Of Guitar Instructor Joey Ratledge

Is Guitar Instruction Changing in the 21st Century?

Are people learning guitar in a fundamentally different way than they were 15 years ago? With the advent of YouTube, the answer is an obvious and resounding YES. But what about students who opt for more traditional learning pathways such as one-on-one lessons? 

We sat down with Traveler Guitar customer and Chop House owner/guitar instructor Joey Ratledge to talk about his 21st Century approach.

TG: Joey, thanks for being with us today. We wanted to do this customer profile on you because you use technology and Traveler Guitars to teach music lessons in a unique way. Tell us about "Chop House."

JR: Chop House is the name of my in-person and online music lesson business, and it's also a nickname I use for my teaching ideology.

TG: I wanted to send our readers to your website—but I notice you don't have one.

JR: That's right! I only work with dedicated, passionate students, and I find them best by way of in-person referrals.

TG: I guess any potential students reading this will just have to track you down in person! What inspired you to teach guitar lessons?

JR: I was a foster child and got bounced around from home to home. I loved playing music, but getting consistent lessons was a challenge. I never got to the point where I could go off and figure things out on my own. I also didn't have access to instruments of reasonable quality, and the ones I did have were often lost or taken away from me. But I never stopped playing in my head, you know?

So when I started teaching, I decided to focus on getting my students good enough that they could go off and learn on their own. That way, if their teacher quit, or their parents moved, their music education wouldn't be disrupted the way mine was.

TG: Tell us about your teaching style.

JR: I use a concept that many teachers and professors employ in more traditional education environments: it's called "flipping the classroom." It's a form of blended learning in which I introduce new content to my students via online videos and interactive technology, which they consume on their own time. Then, I use our lesson time to offer more personalized guidance and interaction (instead of spending that time showing them where the "A" string is, for example)

I take the concept one step further. I try to understand where a student visualizes him or herself with the guitar: do they see themselves as a rock star? Playing for a church group? Singing around a campfire with friends? Or, just trying to impress a potential romantic interest? There is enough beginner sheet music available out there to direct the student in the direction they want to go; why force them to play "Go Tell Aunt Rhody," if they really want to play U2?

Then, we work together to select a lesson plan that empowers them to receive instruction by themselves, through print and interactive media. I act as coach, physical therapist, and in any other capacity that helps them progress through these lessons. I offer insight into how they might apply these lessons to not just to music, but to their life outside as well.

I find that my students retain more when they are the ones coming to me for help with what they've just learned. I also offer lessons and assist with practice sessions via Face Time and Skype. My lessons generally last one hour, but I'll go longer if that's what it takes so the student can walk away with measurable advancement.

I encourage my students to complete two (hopefully meaningful) practice sessions each day, no longer than 20 minutes at a time. I also ask them to "buy into" their training and their instruments, either with money they earn or chores around the house. I find if they are investing their own time or money, they pay closer attention and practice more consistently.

TG: You also get involved with your students' choice of instrument. Tell us about that.

JR: I insist on being a part of their guitar selection. Kids as well as adults need a quality guitar that's playable enough for beginners and high quality enough that they can grow with it as their abilities progress.

TG: Why are Traveler Guitars important to your business?

JR: This is where Traveler Guitar, particularly the new Traveler Acoustic AG-105 and AG-105EQ come in; they offer exceptional value at an affordable price with opportunity to grow as a player.

I have a couple of seven year olds learning on the Traveler AG-105, and it's remarkable what a difference the smaller body makes; not to the sound of the instrument, which I find preferable to the other travel/baby acoustics on the market—but to the enthusiasm of these young players, who can finally get their arms around a full-scale guitar.

Despite the smaller body, the guitars are well balanced. And since they're so portable, and come with a nice gig bag, there's no excuse for my students not to have a guitar nearby when it's time to practice.

The AG-105/105EQ is also extremely easy to restring and tune, not only for experienced hands, but for less-experienced ones as well—with the right instruction.

TG: You first reached out to us by sending us a photo of you, holding your Escape Mark III and standing next to a tree that was cut in half by Hurricane Irene. How did the storm impact you and the way you work? 

Joey Ratledge with his Escape MK-II

JR: I bought my Escape Mark III as soon as it came into production, but I didn't develop a deeply personal relationship with it until Hurricane Irene stalled over our area for about 9 hours of destruction. The family and I were safe in a hotel and the Mark III became very important and Zen-like to work through the anxiety that comes with wondering if your house is still standing.

When we arrived home, we were out of power for over a week (as evidenced by the downed trees in my photo) the Mark III took on a deeper and deeper significance in my life as I could throw myself into my music sans power with the 9v and headphones; so much so, I began to take it with me to the hospital where I worked. It was my way to "get away from it all" on my lunch break.

TG: Joey, thank you so much for taking the time to do this customer profile with us. Best of luck with Chop House—and travel safely!