Violin in February and a Review of November’s Guitar Class

Thanks for reading our first post in 2013! We at A Street Music hope everyone had a great holiday, and we’re looking forward to Spring and Summer projects. Before we get to the “meat” of this post, I want to remind everyone of a few programs. First, I want to make clear our new payment options for private lessons. The deadline for enrolling in the Spring tuition (17 lessons in 20 weeks at a low cost) is Saturday 1/5/13. You can sign up for a six-lesson package or for single lessons at any time, but the Spring tuition deadline is approaching soon. For more information, visit Saturday (extended from Friday) is also the deadline to apply for the Spring lesson scholarship. Download the form here!

We’ll continue to roll out our group lesson program – a benefit of having more space at our new location – and we’ll begin a series of “in-house” concerts. Today, however, I want to announce February’s Violin Class (every Saturday at 1pm) and review our intro-to-guitar class! Let’s start with guitar.

Ken Freeman graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2005 with a degree in Music Education. He began his career teaching in public schools where he worked with students from the elementary to high school level as well as teaching private individual and group lessons with a focus on guitar, bass, brass, woodwind, voice, music theory, business and songwriting. Ken has been a teacher at A Street Music since we opened in September 2010, and we were very happy that he decided to teach our November group class! I’m a beginner on guitar, so I decided to sit in on the class. While I am the education director here, I did my best to shut-up-and-learn over the four classes.


From top to bottom: Head stock, “nut” (what holds the strings above the fretboard), neck and fretboard, body, sound hole, bridge

Five students between the age of 12 and 16 enrolled, and we began where one might expect: learning the parts of the guitar. Ken held a guitar like the guitar pictured to the left, and compared it to a human body, from the “head” to the “body.” We discussed how to set the guitar on our leg when sitting (neck pointed slightly up and out from the body), where there the thumb should be on the left hand (acting as one side of a pincer on the back side of the neck, leveraging power for the rest of the fingers), how to hold a pick, and so on.

After that, we went pretty much right in to strumming chords. Over the course of the four weeks, we learned to play: E, A, D, B, F, C, G, B7, Em, Am, Dm, and Bm chords, and the song “Love Story” by Taylor Swift (the last of which I had to miss because I was out of town). These are all fairly standard chords that at least one student in the class and I had attempted to learn on our own previously. I’ve seen many people come through the store because they’ve run into walls where they can’t progress past what they learned from a book or online. So the question for me is, “what is the advantage of having Ken teach us these chords and a song over learning online?”

There are quite a few. For one, Ken, like our other guitar teachers, is very good at spotting problems immediately so that none of the students form bad habits. From the basics of counting strings and frets in order to learn the names and hand positions, to what muscles in your arm should be engaged when strumming the strings, there are plenty of pitfalls for the self-taught to create a habit that isn’t helpful (I know this all too well in playing and teaching brass instruments).

Another very valuable feature of having Ken work with the students was his patience. I find, and I know students to as well, that when learners are left alone to practice, we are not very patient with ourselves. This is a big stumbling block for kids and adults who want to tackle something new. Immediately we want to be able to strum chords in succession or play one of our favorite melodies. The process of really learning chords (which can take months as the action moves from short term memory to long term memory) can be discouraging. What Ken was able to do is slow everyone down, focusing intensely on repetitive chord changes while being aware of posture and movement.

guitar repeat exercises

The top line should be read: “Strum E chord for four counts, A for four counts, E for four counts, A for four counts, and repeat.”

Since we were for the most part beginners (or near beginners), Ken gave us sheets with chord positions and basic repetitive exercises every week. He suggested not playing more than 10 minutes twice a day at first. Because we only were introduced to a few chords each week, Ken thought that we would be more likely to lose patience with ourselves and lose sight of that attentive deliberate goal described in the above paragraph. As our repertoire of chords grew, I personally found that small amounts of experimentation at home became more and more enjoyable.

Some of our students have continued with private lessons after the group class, and we’re very excited to have them learn more! I’ll do my best to keep up with them. Ken also plays professionally in his own band “Wishful Thinking” and with other groups performing in the Boston and surrounding areas. Ken’s performance work is not limited to a specific style as he works with bands ranging from classical to contemporary with many in between. Through these practices Ken is able to convey a wide range of experience and knowledge of music education and performance to his students.

As our current group class in saxophone comes to an end, we hope to have just as much success in our Violin Class with Rachel Massey in February. The class is free (though donations to help us continue the program are accepted and appreciated). Download the group class registration form to sign up, or just come into the store and talk to us. We only have eight openings for the class, which we’re opening to elementary school age students. Give us a call to learn more. You can view a blog that Rachel wrote here.

We hope to see you in the shop! In the meantime, here are the fingerings for a few of the chords we learned with Ken. One more note about learning guitar: introductory students also seem to have a difficult time time tuning the instrument. There are guitar tuner apps for smart phones, and we also have tuners for purchase. Some are better and easier to use than others, so search around until you find out that’s easy to use!

These are read from left to write (low string to high string), and up to down on the fretboard (from area closest to headstock down).

These are read from left to write (low string to high string), and up to down on the fretboard (from area closest to headstock down).


About Justin Stanley, Teaching-Artist
I'm a musician and educator based in Boston, MA.

One Response to Violin in February and a Review of November’s Guitar Class

  1. astreetmusic says:

    Due to the strong response to the violin class, we’ve decided to offer a class for experienced elementary school students at 1pm on Saturdays in February, AND a class for beginners at 2:30pm!

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