Interview with Workshop Live's Tom Dempsey

altAfter studying, and teaching, at some of the top music schools in the world, Tom Dempsey has now ventured into the world of online music instruction. As one of the resident jazz guitar instructors for, Tom’s lessons are viewed by thousands of students per year.  This exposure, along with his summer teaching duties for the National Guitar Workshop, have quickly made Tom Dempsey one of the most recognizable, and respected, guitar instructors today.

Tom took time off of his busy schedule to talk to us about his experiences with teaching online, as well as developing a personalized teaching approach with his students.


MW: How did you get your start as a guitar teacher? 

TD: I guess informally it happened when some friends of my brother wanted to learn a few things.  That was my first exposure.  But after that it was through my work at the National Guitar Workshop.  I was a student there when I was in high school and towards the end of high school I became an assistant teacher. 

MW: Did any of your teachers have an influence on your private teaching approach?

TD: ALL OF THEM!  Growing up, my first serious guitar teacher Phil Hayes was very thorough in presenting theory and concepts on the guitar.  He also had a way of laying things out on the page that was clear and effective.  My guitar teacher in college, Ted Dunbar, deeply reinforced learning the totality of the instrument.  We spent a lot of time together focusing on sound and note connection.  In my graduate studies I worked with Rodney Jones, who really encouraged me to bring out my own voice on the instrument.  I try to draw from all of the various teachers I have been fortunate to study with.

MW: As someone who draws from many influences in their playing how do you encourage students to explore different genres and styles of music?

TD: First of all, I strongly encourage students to listen to the music resonating within their own being.  That’s the connection to their inner voice.  Be open to everything.  The world of music is a rich and powerful experience.  Take away the genre names and just listen to the music.  The more you expose yourself to different kinds of music the better musician you will become.  Know what you like and know what you don’t like.  But be open to all kinds of music. Your life will be forever transformed by participating in music as a listener as well as musician. 

MW: In your opinion how has technology, especially the internet, changed the landscape of guitar education in recent years and where do you see it headed in the future?

TD: Well the first thing that technology has done is allowed for a TON of information to be available at a very reasonable cost if not for free.  When I was coming up I couldn’t afford to buy all the music that I wanted to hear, as it was hard to find.  So I went to the library and checked out any recordings I could find there.  Now with things like ITunes you can be exposed to so much more.  And with other free video content like on you tube you can be exposed to even more. 

Then there are web sites like, where you can be exposed to lots of different teachers in different genres all in one place.  There is also great technology for learning tunes where you can slow things down without changing the pitch, just incredible.  You can loop things and slow them down, or speed them up, to learn things better.  There is just so much you can do now to help you get deeper into the music.

As far as the future I think we are already starting to see some of it come together with real time internet lessons, video content and the ability to exchange thoughts and ideas almost instantly.  Just this morning I was chatting with a guitar player from Turkey, in real time, who knew of my music and had questions about my style.  It is just amazing to be able to share information like that.

MW: You are such an experienced and accomplished performer as well as an educator.  How has your teaching experience influenced your performing and vice-versa?

TD: For me there is no separation.  It all falls under the umbrella of being a musician.  It is important for the continuum of the music to share knowledge with other players of different abilities.  Teaching also helps to solidify my concepts as a musician.  By being able to articulate concepts to others, you are able to deepen your own understanding of what you do and what you play.

MW: What advice do you have for people who are just starting to teach guitar?

TD: Never stop realizing that you are as much as student when you teach as you are a teacher. If you do this you will grow in the process as a teacher and a musician.   Be able to truly listen to the student to try and bring out the music within.  And if you are getting into teaching to make money and that’s it, than find something else.  I never schedule students back to back because every lesson doesn’t take exactly 30 or 60 minutes.  In serving the student you are serving the music.  And serving the music is the legacy that we can all leave as musicians. 

MW: What advice do you have for students when they are looking for a private teacher?

TD: Ultimately you will know if a teacher clicks for you.  If you can, go hear the prospective teacher perform.  If you like how they play then try them out for a lesson.  And remember that ultimately you are your own teacher.  You have to do the work.  Also keep in mind that no one teacher holds all the secrets.  Get different perspectives on the instrument whenever possible.  Practice consistently and have fun.  Playing music is such a groove.

MW: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.

TD: No problem!

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