Guitar Center's Online Lesson Program

With the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic everyone has shifted into alternative means of conducting their lives and their ways of doing business. This is, of course, very true when it comes to all things music industry related. Many artists, studios and stores are transitioning from in-person interaction to virtual communication and live streaming.

Nationally, Guitar Center is one of the corporate leaders in answering the pandemic crisis, particularly when it comes to their instrument lessons program. They have taken on the arduous task of transferring their in-store music lessons program, throughout the entire national chain, and adapted it to online learning. Music Connection talked to Detroit area Canton, Michigan store manager Rich Shappee and Midwest district manager Vince Mattias about the evolution of their expanding lessons program.

“Guitar Center lessons started in 2013,” says Mattias. “There were only a few stores doing that. In 2018 we put in whisper rooms where instructors could conduct one on one lessons with students. Now, just about every Guitar Center has lessons going chain-wide at over 290 locations. We’re one of the largest companies offering lessons, with thousands of students. If students wanna learn basic scales or songs we can teach that, or we have a curriculum they can go through to take them on a path. From a company standpoint it’s our number one priority. We wanna keep the music community alive and keep inspiring younger and older students to want to learn or progress with an instrument.”

Lessons are available in all facets of musical and instrumental performance, from vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards and drums at the majority of stores, to DJ, music production, songwriting and horns at select locations. They also offer a curriculum-based achievement program—for those that want to participate—centered on receiving awards for incremental levels of progress. However, the company’s biggest challenge arose just a few short months ago when an unexpected detour disrupted business as usual.

“With the pandemic the company was forced pretty quickly to shift to online lessons,” says Shappee. “We couldn’t do lessons in the store, which were going pretty great. The company did an amazing job of building an online lessons platform right away. Within a week we shifted from everything being in-store to online. Actually, doing virtual teaching has expanded our horizons for the future. Everybody has different schedules so this gives students more options. And we have a wide variety of instructors, age groups and lessons offered.”

Obviously the backbone of the lessons program is the teaching staff. And through a stringent interview process Guitar Center’s commitment to finding the right instructors for every student is one of their primary concerns. Via the Canton, Michigan location I took an online guitar lesson with instructor Michael Schultz. Schultz is a 2018 graduate of the Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME) and I requested a lesson based on chord construction and their relationship to improvisational ideas. I logged in via a Zoom meeting invite and we got right to it. Schultz’s insight and ability to walk me through various chord inversions was eye-opening and inspiring. And his use of clear graphics and adjustable camera angles made it clear for me to see when he would demonstrate chord and single note exercises on his guitar fret board. “It’s gone really well for me,” observes Schultz on transitioning to online teaching. “I’ve got a great setup for it. I use a good sound mixer, with a virtual amp program. I also have really good programs on my computer, like Guitar Pro, for transcriptions. There is latency where there may be some delay when you’re trying to play in time with a student. But, overall, everything has been great.”

Another incentive that, until recently, has been a big morale booster for the collective Guitar Center student body has been their optional quarterly recital program. This is where students get to perform, collaborate and strut their stuff for friends, family and fans. “We do it offsite at a local community theater and it gives students a chance to play in front of an audience,” says Shappee. “Just before the pandemic we had our largest one yet, with 25 students performing. The kids really root for each other. We also have what we call ‘open office hours’ where students can jam together. Relationships are built here.”

From age 7 to 70, beginners to advanced, all students are encouraged and welcome to register for lessons at Guitar Center. And, now with the addition of online access in full swing, it’s never been easier to follow your musical dreams. “A lot of people think we’re still just a guitar shop, but lessons are a big part of what we do,” says Shappee. “We’re all about the complete customer experience. It makes us a little bit different than your average retailer.”

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