Classical Guitar Lessons
What made you fall in love with the classical guitar?
Was it a recording, a concert, a piece of music you happened to hear in a movie?
I know what did it for me. As a 10-year-old boy, I started out on the guitar learning to play and sing songs by my then hero, John Denver. But I felt self-conscious singing for people. Then I discovered a new kind of song, in the classical guitar section of my parent’s record cabinet and the thought entered my head:
“I don’t have to sing—I can play it all on the guitar!”
I waThe piece that blew my mind was “Variation on a Theme of Mozart,” by Fernando Sor. I listened the great Narcisso Yepes play it, over and over. I listened to all the John Williams and Andres Segovia and Julian Bream records we had in the cabinet. I bought some sheet music anthologies, learned to read them, got some classical guitar lessons from a neighbour, practiced like crazy, and before too long, I was “playing” the Sor piece.
Badly, but it didn’t matter. I was hooked.
Classical Guitar IS a difficult instrument, and it DOES take a while to build up your technique.
Again, the biggest factor in learning to play classical guitar well is the quality of the time you spend with it. Even the most encouraging, inspiring, and knowledgeable classical guitar teacher can only show you how to spend that time wisely. It’s what you, and you alone, bring to every moment you are playing that makes it possible for your fingers to reach that elusive place of flow that brings the music you love to life.
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.
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.
I can hear what you are thinking:
“This guy has been playing for 40 years and went to Juilliard and has played in Carnegie Hall. He must have practiced far more than the 10,000 hours. It’s easy for him. What if I don’t have the talent? Can I ever play the music as well, like I hear it in my head? Do I even stand a chance?”
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. You might not become the next John Williams or Julian Bream, Then again, you might!
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.
But “I’m an absolute beginner and I am not even sure if I’m musical at all.” Or “I’ve never been able to get past certain limits in my playing.”
If you love listening to music, you are musical. If you practice you will get somewhere. To get somewhere you have to start somewhere. And follow some kind of progression. And it has to be natural, suited to you.
For beginners, I like to start right away with playing simple tunes while getting the basics of a solid technique put into place. We do a lot of duet playing. I even record these duets and post them on your personal online portal, so you can play along with me at any time. From there we progress to playing interesting solo pieces, that challenge and satisfy.
For those who have some classical guitar under their belt, I help you fix pieces you have been struggling with, but it’s also important to wipe the slate clean with new music and new concepts, so old habits practiced into what you already play don’t keep interfering with your ability to move forward and improve.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Can I teach you to be a professional classical player?
I can take you part of the way there, for sure, depending on how much work you are willing to do. But if you are truly serious about a career, it’s hard to substitute for the experience of going to a good music school and taking on a serious and extensive curriculum, I can’t replace the incredible richness of a school or university experience. I can only supplement or prepare you for that.
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.
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 have studied with Jay Kauffman for some ten years and would highly recommend him! He is very knowledgeable, patient and a good instructor. His prices are reasonable. Further, he is a wonderful player and I have had him perform at several functions.
All Images and Artwork ©Jay Kauffman
Unless otherwise noted. Please inquire about purchase or use.
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.
Or you can purchase a lesson and we will find a time ASAP.
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