Drue James, Guitar Teacher and Musician: Interview 20 – Real Leader Interviews

As regulars here know, I have been learning guitar for about 5 months and was even thrown on stage (;-)) by my very trusting guitar teacher.

Having had a wonderful experience learning the guitar, it was great fun interviewing Drue, my guitar guru. As you will agree after watching the video/reading the transcript, Drue has some cool insights on learning, performance, ‘talent’ and what makes a great student.

About Drue:
Drue James is a guitar teacher in London who has taught over 300 students over the past 8 years.

Drue James on Youtube
Drue James Website

Rohan: Could you introduce yourself?

Drue: I have been teaching guitar for the last eight years. It was not always my full time job. It has been so for the last four years! I am 28. I live in South London. I guess I am more of a teacher than a musician!

Rohan: When did you first realize that teaching guitar was what you would be doing for a living?

Drue: I had friends who were always musical, unlike me. I liked singing the most. It is more of my first instrument. I started learning guitar pretty late, around 14. I have been singing for longer than I have been playing guitar, actually. I decided to pick up the guitar so I could support my voice and learn a few chords. Well, the real reason is because I wanted to get noticed and to find a girlfriend!

I started teaching by accident. I was a musician and I was writing songs. I worked at a bar where you can just turn up and play. The show went really well! After that someone came up to me and asked if I had thought about teaching guitar. I slowly got my mind around that. I put up my ad and a dad seemed really interested. So I taught his teenage girl and walked out thinking ‘Did I just get paid to do that?’ I really enjoy my work now. And that’s the story!

Rohan: What is the profile of your average student?

Drue: That’s a tough question to answer. Well, I could say they fall into two categories. There are the children whose parents want the child to learn a new skill. These kids are usually starting at about 8 years. I have tried teaching younger kids. I do not think it’s for me. Some people tend to think it’s only for boys but I have taught equal number of girls and boys.

For adults generally between 20-30 is the age they start. My oldest beginner is 52 years! So you learn that it is never too late to start! It’s usually people who are creative, the ones who really enjoy music and the ones who enjoy the talent of taking up something new! And then there are people who want to turn to a musical career.

Rohan: Is there such a thing as musical talent?

Drue: I think there is musical passion! That’s what I’ll say. I think you can love something so much that you want to play. Jimmy Hendrix when he first started playing guitar was rubbish. Its not like they picked up the guitar and they started gushing out good music.

However, there was something they loved about it. There was something that awakened them when they played. I suppose you could call that the talent. I personally love to call it passion. The will to want to practice, to move forward and to want to get better drives them. They are happiest when they are playing. I think that’s how I would sum it up!

Rohan: For a kid who just starts out, what kind of role do the parents play in the journey?

Drue: I have certain students who are just very good at it. They have the talent for it. When they start at about 8 years, for the next 6 months they would encourage the kid to practice. Eventually the child would start practicing without the parents. The parents would be more and more supportive mentally. I think the ideal role that the parents are playing would be to assist the child and not push.

Rohan: What is your experience with the older group? What about their motivation levels?

Drue: When you are an adult I think it’s harder. It’s not like a kid who comes back from school at three, finishes homework and has a couple of hours to work on this. I think otherwise the same rules apply. If you enjoy it enough, you are going to find time to play and practice.

The longest adults stick around with me is about two years. Adults learn the basic core skills and follow their own independent path. Of course if they want to specialize, they have to channel all their practice towards that.

An ideal student is one who plays what they like, reads a bit of music, goes back to their motivation and finds the encouragement to pursue this talent. My work with adults is around 25%. Choosing the music that they like and they can relate to, is most important. Even if I don’t personally like the music its their passion that matters! It’s really tough to catch on in the first year. So I do my best to make it work!

Rohan: In students that make the maximum progress, what are the most common traits that you see?

Drue: With a person who sets a goal – saying I will learn this much by this day or at this point in time, I see more progress. I have noticed this attitude matters a lot. It also goes back to talent and passion. Being able to play a song they like, being able to learn a difficult technique are some evidence of interest! Organizational skills are a big thing – being able to say that I have 20 minutes and so I will practice during that time is good stuff! Time management is important – sticking to their practice regime regularly. Determination and visioning help a lot. Seeing yourself playing what you want to play does wonders to your performance!

It’s not over night, what happens. The people who respect that it’s a skill and the improvement comes only in small steps are usually good. People who jump and want to do the tough things straight away are ones who easily give up.

Rohan: Its two very different ways of approach, am I right? The adults would be more free but the kids would be more respectful and sincere I would think..

Drue: You would be surprised actually. The difference is that for an adult they know what they want to learn. It’s easier to plan towards it. It’s easier for the kids to take up the theoretical things I would think. It needs to be fun and engaging. I would have a lot of energy and need to make everything more fun for them! Its slightly more academic with kids. It’s more artistic and expressive in the adults. I guess the difference is that you are freer with the adult.

Rohan: What have been the biggest learnings in the journey so far?

Drue: When you meet the kid for the first time I think you need to make a character assessment. That has nothing to do with the talent level. You are going to be seeing this child every week. How are we going to get on? If the student doesn’t respect the teacher and if they aren’t friendly, then it’s going to be hard for both of us to get along.

Academically I do not have any qualifications to teach. I am sitting for my grade 8 exams soon and that would mean something! What helps is learning with the student. You need to be one step ahead of them. And proper communication will help that step reach the person. I have been taught by a lot of people who are not qualified but are great musicians. Having a paper from a college is not going to add any credibility to the teacher as the time and effort in getting ready to coach the student would.

When I started teaching I would take 2 hours to plan an hours lesson. Over the last 7-8 years I have developed materials to learn. Regardless of whether I like it or not I have had to learn songs and be able to play them before I can teach it.

Different students like to learn through different ways. Some like to read something, some see it and some hear it. One song does not fit all bills. One person would like death metal and one other would hate it.

Rohan: What happens when people don’t practice? You can only shape the path for them right?

Drue: Lessons can get very boring because you have to get past something to learn something new. It becomes boring for both the teacher and the student. I meet them and ask ‘How has your week been?’ They have very high expectations for themselves and so they would say they had done some practice but not as much as they liked. I hear that so often! I would ask how much that was. They would say an hour a day. And I would say ‘ That’s too much! What are you doing that much for?’ They think they need to spend that much time but its not really necessary.

With some people, some mistakes are repeated continuously. That’s when you know they are not going to be guitarists. Generally 80% of the people who learn do not go on to become guitarists. But there is always 2/10 that do. It’s just the way it is! That’s what I want to learn from all this. How I can make those people want to learn forever!

Rohan: Who have been some of the most influential people in your life? As musicians, mentors or just people..

Drue: The first one would be my closest friend Dave. He is a lot better at guitar than me. I would watch him play! I have been in bands with him for 8 years now. I would always and still do tell him that I want to learn some technique. He is a very bad teacher because of his lack of patience. We write songs together.

Second person would be a group – Radiohead. I love their music and it always gives me the tingles. It motivates me to play and I think everything about them is good! They have shown me what it is like for 5 people on a band to sound like.

Rohan: There are people who are out there learning things. Not so much about guitar but people who are learning in general! What would be your advice to these people?

Drue: I think you should never stop learning. Even a master is always a student. He is and should be continuously learning. I think there is always something to learn. I think writing down your goals is extremely important! If it’s written down and you see them everyday, you will be motivated to go get it. I did not believe it myself before trying! I don’t keep it in my wallet; I put it in a folder. Even if I am not looking at it then, its always there reminding me of what I want.

If you are learning something, write down the little steps that you need to take. Because these little steps are really the best way to achieve it!

Drue plays a lovely minute from the song Mad World by Gary Jules! Do listen!

Thank you Drue for a very humble and frank interview! Your thoughts on learning are most encouraging..!

Dhanya, EB and yours truly..