To begin, what do you teach at Vibe and how old are your students?
I primarily teach guitar but also have one or two voice students, and my students range all the way from 6 to 7 years old all the way to mid-30s. They are mostly younger, between the ages of 8-11, but it does vary quite a bit.
What is your favorite concept or skill to teach?
My favorite concept is mostly integrating music theory into guitar. Not to the point of being “dry”, but for the visual/systematic understanding of how to play. It’s a half and half hybrid of straight up teaching music theory, and making sure visual concepts are connected. Still implementing those theory terms are so important, though!
Talk about your background in music, all the way from your very first experience with an instrument.
I started playing guitar in fifth grade (10 years old). I wanted to play because my dad plays and sings for fun. I asked for a guitar, enrolled in lessons, and stayed with the same guy for about 5 years. In school, I was in choir almost the entire time and received a fairly formal vocal training. I joined a simple cover band in high school and performed quite a bit (lead guitar and lead singer). It was neat to receive that much experience at first. I went to Ball State for music/media production, which focuses more on music technology. I still participated in choir, and took music theory and other music classes, but I received a very well-rounded music education. On top of that, I was one of the founding members of an acapella group at Ball State. The group is still around, so I now feel like a proud father! We also helped form an entire organization of competing acapella groups. Kind of like a pitch perfect contest! Regional groups will come in and participate and it’s been great. I did that all through college. By the end of my college career, I participated in a recording project where I was lead producer and recording artist for a band’s first EP. The project was very lengthy and extensive, but it was a great experience. I ended up joining that band as lead guitarist, and I am still in it! I’ve been with them for four years and have travelled coast to coast with them since then. It’s been a great trip with those guys, writing our own music, playing our own shows, getting paid decently from shows. I missed the acapella scene after college, so recently I joined up with some guys from college and we have actually competed a lot! We ended up winning a championship last April and got to travel to Taiwan to represent America in an Asian competition. We are continuing the grind, and we have kind of honed in on a soulful style of music. It’s been a wild ride, and we’re trying to make a bunch of moves. Just trying to make it work as a professional musician!
You’ve been given an elephant. You can’t give it away or sell it. What would you do with the elephant?
Probably keep it as a pet. Keep it in the backyard.
When you begin lessons with a beginning player, what are some initial goals you help create with the student?
I want them to be able to identify the strings and name them. This gives them some confidence early. Also, the coordination it takes to play with both hands doing something different at the same time is difficult at first and so we do a lot of exercises like that. After that, it is just learning the mechanics, the fretboard, and building skills related to the music. By the end of any lesson, I’d like students to achieve in the area of coordination especially.
What’s your favorite ‘90s jam?
Larger than Life by the Backstreet Boys.
What musicians have been the most influential to you throughout your life?
There’s been a few. Probably one was my first guitar teacher, Paul. He wasn’t a big performer but he was a very easy going guy who accepted anybody. I learned a lot from him. As far as major musicians, a weird one would be James Hetfield (Metallica, lead singer/guitar). His presence and role in the band always made me want to do what he was doing. His vibe was very appealing. A lot of guitarists have formed me as a musician.
Why do you feel that music education is important for developing members of society?
I think music education is not only a challenge for the mind as its own language, but it helps you respect a lot more differences in culture. The more that you listen to music, the easier you’re able to distinguish differences between styles and genres and will likely develop of a respect for it past preference. A lot of people aren’t quite educated on what makes a style of music stick, and being trained and practicing certainly helps that. For me, it’s definitely a cultural thing and the willingness to be open-minded to hearing what anyone can come up with. Pointing out maybe some of the flaws and errors is possible, but if you can do it people will really take that to heart. All in all, it comes down to respect and culture for me.
We are so thankful for Derek, his time, and his talents that influence his students so significantly. Read more about Derek here.