Guitar and Music Lessons
Bring your guitar playing to lifeConquer your technical hurdles and learn to play what you want to play
I’ve played guitar for over 40 years, and I started out my own journey learning songs by my favorite singers and songwriters of the day, switched my focus to classical guitar as a teenager, topping that off with graduate degrees from Cincinnati Conservatory and the Julliard School of Music.I teach classical guitar at all levels, from absolute beginner to advanced. I also teach most popular styles of guitar, from fingerpicking, strumming, crafting great accompaniments if you are a singer, to understanding how to use theory, chords and scales effectively if you are a songwriter, giving you the tools and knowledge to make the most out of the guitar’s magic.
With Jay’s advice… I feel like I’ve gone from 1 and 1/2 pistons to a V8. And I’m not talking about tomato juice.
Where do you start when there are so many places to start?
There’s an overwhelming number of Youtube videos, free lessons, technique, scale and chord books, quick learning methods, classical guitar anthologies and greatest-hits-of-all-time songbooks, top-ten-tips lists, top-ten-mistakes articles, computer apps, even online guitar schools where you can take courses from top idols.
Perhaps you have tried many of these, and still don’t feel satisfied with how you play. Or a you have nagging feeling that you could play better, that you are “not good enough,” a fear of performing, or a bad experience playing for others that made you feel like turning tail and giving up. Perhaps you have just watched others play and feel a bit overwhelmed by their skill, competence, and knowledge. Perhaps you took lessons when you were younger and were told you had no talent.
Perhaps you have none of these issues, but just don’t want to waste time combing through, sifting through all the options in order to find what works for you.
Jay’s approach to teaching is distracting me TO the music and away from the usual din in my head which disconnects me from both my hands and the guitar. So instead of listening to the whirlwind of chopped up thoughts I’m usually having while practicing, which are mostly negative (did that wrong, strings ALWAYS buzz, my hands must be misshapen, shouldn’t be even trying to do this, etc.), I am listening to the guitar — to the strings. The second thing is coming naturally from the first: I am feeling a direct connect between my mind, hands and back and shoulders and what sounds are happening. So I feel in control.
To me being creative is what life is all about. We are all so extraordinarily creative, but most of us are taught suppress much of our creativity. We are taught learned inadequacy, taught to be embarrassed and defensive about our creative abilities because they are not good enough for primetime.
If you are jealous of what someone else can do, then there is a good chance you are suppressing your own ability to shine in that very area. I’m jealous of what a lot of people can do! In the best case scenario, this propels me either to simply admire and appreciate or to get be inspired and get active in learning to do what they can do, in my own way.
Jay is a gifted teacher who works with the student and engages them. He develops students as musicians and also develops their confidence in playing in front of an audience. He’s a fantastic teacher.
I am currently writing my first, full-length musical, thanks to the foundation Jay Kauffman built for me in our one-on-one guitar and music lessons. I’ve always been eager to compose music, but often struggled to find the discipline and patience necessary to learn the technical skills required to do so. Jay gave me specific tips regarding the physicality of guitar playing – finger placement, pressure, etc.— that helped me get good enough to write my own songs very quickly. I was astonished that, after only 2 or 3 lessons, I was able to stumble my way through chord progressions well enough to impress a first date with an original song after dinner. After 2 or 3 months of weekly lessons, I was able to play one of my songs in front of a small audience at an open mic in New York City and feel good about my performance.
My successes as a musician were not solely due to Jay’s many helpful tips and tricks. They were also due to his expert artistic suggestions. He always helped me find the perfect missing chord in the bridge of my new song without ever taking any credit. And I also benefitted greatly from his consistent encouragement and warm approval. Jay is one of the few mentors I have worked with who made me feel truly seen and validated as an artist. He saw talent in me and helped me grow it in the most earnest and lovely way. His contribution to my confidence is invaluable, and I will take it with me throughout my career and my life. Thanks Jay.
Jay’s pedagogy is clear and accessible. He takes into account all levels of students, so the beginner doesn’t run away discouraged or the advanced turn off because they’re not challenged.
I discovered my love of music while taking part in a NY Philharmonic composition program through my high-school, and I knew I wanted to be able to make beautiful music through play of my own——to express my own musical style and taste effortlessly through play and composition.
Finding Jay really was the key for realising those goals.
Jay has plenty of curriculum to go through in the beginning phases and he is patient and helpful throughout that process. The real gift of the lessons came once I could hold my own a bit. At that point every lesson was packed full of pieces I wanted to learn and little compositions I was writing. We would find etudes I liked the sound of and use those to advance my play. We discussed what I was picking up on most and Jay was always there adjusting my technique while I found my way musically.
Lessons with Jay isn’t about strict, tedious work. Jay listens and collaborates to make learning your own instrument a brilliant experience. Towards the end of our time together, when I was really able to express myself, we would workshop pieces I was able to write and sometimes improv for ideas. Thanks to Jay, I’ll play guitar my own way for the rest of my life.
The above video is me talking about a basic guitar technique course that I created 9 years ago—it’s still available as “Basic Classical Guitar Mastery.” It’s a bit dated but it gives you a sense of my approach to teaching guitar.
There are no guarantees here. But if you love it enough, and
- learn to enjoy practicing
- find the right balance of being playful and realistic with your time at the guitar
- don’t get too hard on yourself on a consistent basis
- learn how to let go of a few set ideas that are holding you in stasis
- learn to allow your natural capacities to awaken
- you don’t give up…
…you will be able to play music that you love, well enough to give you a ton of joy and satisfaction.
My son and I have been taking lessons with Jay for a few months now. My husband and I had really wanted our son to take up some sort of musical instrument and he went back and forth between the drums and the guitar and ultimately chose the guitar. I had taken a semester of guitar back in high school but hadn’t really played anything since and thought it might be fun to start back up so I asked Jay if it would be possible for us to take back to back lessons and of course Jay was incredibly accommodating. It has ended up being such a great experience and something new and fun that my son and I can share together. Since we are both taking lessons, I am able to help him with the fundamentals he is learning and can play and/or sing along to help him a bit. I have been able to jump around a little more and learn some pieces that I was interested in and Jay has taught me some picking techniques which I had never learned before. Jay makes lessons incredibly fun and engaging and immediately puts both of us at ease even if we are having a hard time with something. We have so much fun practicing together and we look forward to our lessons every week!
As a metal and rock player, classical guitar is something I’ve been very curious about but never studied. I always wanted to, but I was hoping for something beyond my local teacher options, and with Jay my hopes were exceeded. Jay’s gotten me even more enthusiastic about classical guitar and classical music in general, so I can even use the principles in my own music and writing. I’ve become motivated to practice more. Jay is also a cool person who cares very much, and is good at constructive criticism, which really builds my confidence. He’s very specific and to the point. That’s what I really need.
But it’s not just like a program where you go through all the steps. I’m able to ask my own questions in many different areas, and learn many different things in one lesson. It’s very balanced. Jay has great technique habits, and I get great habits from him. He’s very conscious of every aspect of what he’s doing and can teach that clearly. He gives me reference points in my mind when I practice. He also uses good analogies and thought pictures in his teaching, so the guitar becomes more alive. He teaches how you can look at it from a bigger perspective– you get deeper into playing that way. I’ve also become more emotionally engaged when I play. I’ve started listening more, I’ve started feeling more, and I’m more connected to the music. This is something I’ve been looking for, and and is hard to find.
Classical Guitar Lessons
Classical Guitar IS a difficult instrument, and it DOES take a while to build up your technique.
And you have to love it–the music, the playing, the practicing. Without enthusiasm and inspiration you will quit from frustration.
If I could only have a blooper reel of all the mistakes I made, learning classical guitar. Somewhere on a shelf in the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music there is a video tape that my teacher, Clare Callahan, made of me to show me my ridiculously frantic style of playing, My fellow students dubbed me “the wild man,” because I played with so much excess motion.
But I loved practicing enough to brush all frustrations aside and keep playing. For years, I had listened endlessly to my favorite players, tried to play the pieces they played, and I had a sound, a vision, an ideal in my head and heart.
I was willing to sound ridiculously horrible sometimes, or many times, willing to make all kinds of mistakes—technical, musical, tonal, what have you, willing to embarrass myself in all kinds of ways, get things wrong multiple times before I got them right, finally.
With my students, I am at my best when I can get them to access their own deep enthusiasm and show them where to direct it to get the best results.
I have studied with Jay as a relative beginner (as a teen), more advanced player, (many years ago) and now as a formerly advanced player who has not played in a while–and for each skill level, he has been a great teacher . Our online lessons over Skype have been crystal clear, and both of our guitars (especially his) sounds great over the internet! Thanks to his tutelage when I was younger I had a strong technical foundation that allowed me to continue my studies at the Manhattan School of Music (pre-college division) and the Oberlin Conservatory as a guitar major. Jay adapts his lessons to the needs of the student and is flexible enough to change his pedagogy as necessary by doing constant reassessments as the needs of the student changes over time.
Jay has a multi-level approach. A pure technique and musical practice are combined in different levels. The artistic component of classical guitar playing is the essential part of the unique curriculum Jay is developing over time.
1. I improved my music reading skills with Jay’s guidance
2. Writing guitar music is a special trade, and Jay helped me on how to approach this.
3. I was coming from Rock music background, Jay helped me to adapt finger styles appropriate to classical guitar. Lessons go beyond the mere mechanics of playing. As a result, I also gained a good attitude on how to practice and improve in my playing and composing.
I definitely recommend any level classical guitar player to work with Jay. He does not only posses outstanding credentials from The Juilliard School and talent in classical guitar, but also his approach in teaching reflects his personal modesty and pedagogic approach in teaching music in general.
My approach is a music first approach.
Play what you love. Take chances, take a leap first. Try something too hard, or that you think is too hard. (You very well might be wrong.) Don’t think you have to get everything right before you can even play a single note, let alone play something you really want to play.
Fix blind spots as you realise they are there. In order to become more quickly aware of what you are doing wrong, and how you can fix it permanently, practice becoming deeply aware of your body as you play—your hands, arms, shoulders, back frame, feet, head, face, heart. Play with your whole body, not just your hands.
Do technical exercises as needed and necessary to fit your goals, but don’t become obsessed with them. It’s theoretically possible for there to be a “guitarist with no bad habits.” But it’s not likely. And even if so, it’s not much fun. I will give you technical exercises that suit where you are, and show you how to develop, find, and create your own.
There are many facets to playing well, and eventually you will want to dip into all of them and apply them like painting or gardening techniques to the music you are playing. But you can’t get them all at the first go. In order to bring your music to life, you need to plant all the seeds of musicianship in solid ground, Your playing will slowly but surely grow and flower into the amazing abilities that we as humans are somehow able to manifest.
Do you use a specific method, or adhere to a school of classical guitar technique?
Much of what I teach has been shown to me or taught to me by performers and teachers I’ve studied with—Sharon Isbin, David Leisner, Eliot Fisk, Clare Callahan. There’s nothing like having a highly skilled guitarist and teacher show you exactly what works for them. But I’ve also read through several of the top classical guitar methods, gleaning what I can from them. I’m always on the lookout for new technical insights. One of my teachers, David Leisner, wrote an amazing book “Playing With Ease” only a few years ago, and I’m still having a lot of fun incorporating his wonderful and effective ideas into my teaching and playing.
I’ve also studied something called “embodiment,” which basically involves bringing awareness of your body and the sensations or emotions you are feeling into the field of your technique and your playing. It is a powerful way to both to enjoy playing more and to make your playing more expressive and enjoyable for those who you are playing for. play more intensely and musically. It’s also a powerful way to build your technique and feel really solid with it. I created a video course in which I explored this more deeply, called “Basic Classical Guitar Mastery.”
I have always only had in person lessons, and I thought the distance and the internet computer communication would make it more difficult for Jay to communicate the subtleties of the music and guitar technique, for me to be heard and seen. But I found it took very me little time to get comfortable. It was just like being in the same room, in some ways even better. An hour went by very quickly, I received some fantastic advice, a long term technical issue addressed, all in all really comfortable, excellent, personable.
All Images and Artwork ©Jay Kauffman
Unless otherwise noted. Please inquire about purchase or use.
Book a Lesson
Lessons are taught online and in person. Scholarships and trades available in special cases.
For lessons in your home in Tucson, add $10 to each lesson price.
- 60 Minute Lesson
- 45 Minute Lesson
- 30 Minute Lesson
- Classical Guitar and Composers/Songwriters — 60 minutes or 45 minutes recommended
- Acoustic Guitar —60 minutes best, 45 minutes works well
- Kids ——45 minute lessons are best for most kids. 1/2 hour works for the youngest
For now, I don’t have a cancellation policy—until my schedule fills up, it’s too much trouble for me to act like a doctor’s office or a corporation. I appreciate it, though if you let me know in advance about a lesson you need to cancel, and I prefer to try and reschedule it to another time in the week..
- Private Membership Website Page (Currently I set up a special (private) page on my website for each student, online or in personI do this for you as well as for myself, so I can keep a running record of the teaching and learning process. I upload all the materials and practice suggestions to this page in sections corresponding to each piece of repertoire. You don’t have to use it much or at all, in fact it’s good if you have and develop your own method of keeping pace with learning and practice complexities. I set up a page for all my students, but the practice suggestions are only for online students. (
- Private Collection of Classical Guitar repertoire and Technique Videos
- Private collection of Online Lessons and Materials, made available as needed to each student
- Accompaniment Collection
- I also record accompaniments for songs and melodies that students can play along with, and develop their skills at playing in duet settings.
- You can record the zoom sessions if you like so you can refer back to them.
In Person Lessons
- Tucson Studio with great view to a private landscape garden
- If the weather is good, we can have our lesson outside in a lovely veranda area.
- I travel around Tucson, upon availability.
- Add $15 to the price of each 45 minute or 60 minute lesson.
Click here to contact me and let’s set it up!
Or you can purchase a lesson and we will find a time ASAP.
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