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Jazz legend Scott Henderson talks taking guitar lessons online


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Guitarist Scott Henderson’s career has seen him mixing jazz, blues, funk and rock in his solo work, as co-leader of fusion band Tribal Tech, as well as playing with artists like Joe Zawinul and Chick Corea.

He’s also got more than 30 years’ experience teaching other people to play, in his role as an instructor at the Guitar Institute of Technology in Los Angeles. And now also as one of the teachers in the new online courses offered by the Musicians Institute, MIO Online.

Music Ally asked Henderson some questions about the experience of providing music education online rather than in person, as part of our recent focus on music-education startups and platforms.

How have you found the experience of working on an online course?

“Well, I’m actually pretty used to it because I’ve given Skype lessons to students in the past. I’m too busy with lots of other things going on to still be doing that now, but the difference between a Skype lesson and what we’re doing at Musicians Institute Online is we’ve made 10 weeks of pre-recorded video lessons, rather than it all being live.

I’m joined in the studio by Stig Mathisen, head of the guitar department at the Musicians Institute, and that makes these sessions a lot more organic, because he’s asking me questions and there’s a two-way conversation going on. He’s someone to bounce ideas around with. It felt a lot more natural than just sitting in front of the camera by myself. We have a lot of fun and I think that comes through for the students.

Alongside the 10-week video course, I do weekly live lectures online to answer any questions my students have. This makes sure everybody’s kind of on-point with what they’re learning; we don’t want to be leaving anybody in the dust. We want to make sure they’re getting it, you know?

They always do; the videos themselves are incredibly clear and self-explanatory – I haven’t had anybody have any trouble with them yet. So, during the live online lecture, my students will write me their questions and I’ll answer them in real-time, play examples and stuff. It’s a great way to learn.”

What have you found is working well in these lessons: what are people responding to?

“The whole thing’s been working great. We have a lot of students and people are responding incredibly to the videos and online lectures. So far it’s been really positive all the way.

I’ve never been part of something quite like this before. I mean, the fact it’s going so well is a testimonial to how good the videos themselves are; the ones I made with Stig. We were very careful to make everything super clear.

As I said, Stig being there made a huge difference. If I didn’t explain something clear enough when we were recording the course, he’d ask me to dig into it a little deeper, to make sure it’s easy to understand. I really don’t think we left any questions unanswered on the whole thing.

The courses start off with the simple stuff; things like the cage positions and where to find the scales on the neck. It’s the basics, but they’re super-important. You gotta know these things. By the end of the course we’re discussing chord substitution and chromaticism; and all the kind of tools you need to play over chord changes in jazz.

It’s a really thorough course, I can say that. I can’t think of a better word; it really runs the gambit from the smallest details, the beginnings of how to play, all the way up to some pretty heavy stuff, and it’s all done with an artistic frame of reference. It’s not a bunch of dry videos with bland information. We’re not like – ‘here are your tools, good luck!’ – there are a lot of examples on how to phrase, on how to actually make music.

These students of ours though – they aren’t shy, I’ll tell you that. It’s great. They’re asking questions as quick as they can type them. When I’ve done live – in-person – clinics in the past, the students have been pretty shy, you know?

The difference might be that my students today are learning online and feel more freedom to be themselves and not be too afraid to ask their questions. A lot of the things they’re asking me are very intelligent and, as I suspected, they always want to get ahead; they want to learn all they can.

We’re pretty proud of what we’re accomplishing. We want to teach our students to not only be great guitar players, but well-rounded musicians.”

Is it important that people learning through a course like this get a chance to improvise?

“Absolutely – improvisation brings freedom and creativity to music. I’m not saying, by any means, that playing classical music or pop isn’t creative, because it is. Whenever you play any kind of music you’re interpreting it in your own way. Whether you’re a classical artist playing Mozart or you’re rocking out on a Beatles tune, the idea is for every musician to interpret it in their own personal way.

But when you play jazz, you’ve got a bit more space to explore because you’re not only focusing on the chord changes or interpreting a melody, you’re actually trying to create ideas you’ve never played before, and eventually find your own voice as an instrumentalist. You’re given a wider field of expression; whether it’s covering a a standard, or playing your own composition.

Jazz and blues are both very expressive and conversational types of music, and players who begin by playing rock, like I did, eventually want to learn more about it.”

Stuart Dredge

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