by Amanda Look
My New Year's resolution is always the same: floss. How boring, I know! This year I've resolved to pick up a more exciting hobby: playing the piano. I took piano lessons as a child but never really mastered the art. In researching Chicago's best places for music lessons, I stumbled upon Guitar Cities Chicago. Located in the heart of downtown Chicago, they offer just about the most convenient way to learn an instrument – run over during your lunch hour or right after work, grab one of the instruments they provide for you on-site (free of charge), and start jammin'!
Guitar Cities Chicago provides private and group lessons for guitar, piano, or drums. They are known for their effective, friendly instructors who offer a relaxed atmosphere for instruction. Owner James Lenger tells us, "Guitar Cities Chicago's instructors are chosen out of the top 3% of applicants based on their instrumental knowledge/playing ability, but more importantly, their ability to be an experienced communicator and efficient teacher." With lessons that are created to cater to an individual's need, Guitar Cities Chicago is a great place to start lessons or get the support you need to pick back up an instrument you've been neglecting for the past few years. I sat down with James recently to talk about anything and everything music.
CBSChicago: James, tell us about what makes Guitar Cities a unique resource for Chicagoans who are interested in learning a new instrument.
James: There are a number of things. First and foremost, the student is going to get a great instructor for their private lessons. Since beginning to instruct in the early 90's, I have given over 55,000 lessons. In talking with many of my students, they would tell me horror stories of instructors that didn't inspire them on the instrument, didn't keep things fun, or were a great player, but horrible tutor. I was fortunate to get an instructor that really sparked my interest on the guitar and bass; since then, I have really worked to get my students (and all students involved in the program) to enjoy music as much as I have been able to. This sentiment is passed on to all of our instructors. They all have an extremely diverse repertoire that they can instruct, but they are all very good at relating to the student and can design a program that fits each person individually, based on their goals, musical interests, etc. We have actually had over 200 applications sent to us at this point, and our instructors have shown that they are the best at what they do!
CBSChicago: You are in a great downtown location. Talk to me about this great facility?
James: We've set up all of our facilities in financial districts (New York's Midtown, San Francisco's FiDi, London City), as it is important to be near our main clientele, which is primarily adults working in these areas. Basically, a lot of people in suits! We want something that is convenient to walk to, so they can come over any time during the day (we are open from 8am-9pm). Our school provides the instruments at no charge, so there are many different styles of guitars/basses to choose from. We currently run 3 studios at once in our Chicago location, so we can rotate the instruments around. It is a very modern facility, with recording gear, guitar effects, mixers, and headphones so the student can write their own music, play along with songs, and play along with their instructor.
CBSChicago: Can you tell us how people are paired with their instructor?
James: We have six instructors (one drum and one piano instructor, too). Because our instructors are so versatile, many of the students just select a time that is convenient for them, and that will be the deciding factor on instructor placement. However, each teacher also has a little bit of a specialization that they can provide to their teaching. If a student doesn't know who they would be paired best with, they send an email to us, and based on their interests, we can place them with an instructor that will be a great fit.
CBSChicago: Can you tell us a bit about your rates?
James: We charge $35 per week. This is for one half-hour lesson in a reserved time. This is pre-paid monthly, though 6-month and year-long discounted tuitions are available. For those that just want to get their "feet wet" with an instrument, we offer an introductory lesson for $10, so they can try out a lesson and meet their instructor!
CBSChicago: What is your favorite thing about being a music instructor?
James: There are a few things, but I think my favorite part is watching when something really "clicks" with the student. I assimilate it to the feeling you get when you are at a live concert for your favorite band, and during the performance, they play a song that makes the hair on the back of your head stand up, and you get a real sense of euphoria. This is something that happens to students when things first start to come together when there is a song that they really want to learn and they get this "aha" moment that it sounds like the real thing!
CBSChicago: Do you have a favorite moment you'd like to share as an instructor who has taught for the last 17 years?
James: We have a bi-annual student concert held at the House of Blues in Chicago, where our students get on stage and perform, if they'd like to. I think my favorite moment would have to be the very first "Rockfete" concert that we put on at the House of Blues. It was really great to see our students on stage, and they really sounded great! There was a wide variety of performers, from one of my students in her mid-50's kicking off the show with Elvis to one of our 11-year-old students getting to play with his dad and the band we assembled (they belted out Black Sabbath). It was a lot of fun to see how music had really started to become a big part of their lives (and now I have students that have been on stage at the House of Blues more than I have)!
CBSChicago: How can students get started?
James: It's very easy – we have an online booking process that requires no registration fee, and can get a person started as quickly as the next day.
Other recommendations for Chicago-based music instruction
for more features.