Twin cities guitarist and teacher Mike Krajewski has been trained at some of the best schools in the country. Having completed performance degrees from the Berklee School of Music in Boston and Georgia State University, Mike has decided to go back to school to complete his DMA in classical guitar performance from the University of Minnesota. Aside from being a full-time student, and active performer, Mike is also on faculty at the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul.
MW: How did you get your start as a guitar teacher?
MK: I started when I was still in High School. The Health teacher had a son who wanted to learn guitar - he was my first student. From there word got around that I taught guitar and I managed to have 5 students my senior year of high school. At that time I was working on the fundamentals myself so it made me think about how I was going to learn and teach material.
For the most part I was still â€œself taughtâ€ in my own development. I had a few lessons, but from really BAD teachers. After taking lessons from a few bad teachers I promised myself that if I were ever to teach guitar, I would not be like them! Many times you learn what not to do as well as what to do. From that point on I have always taught lessons, which was 18 years ago.
MW: Did any of your teachers have an influence on your private teaching approach?
MK: I would have to say that my biggest influence on my private teaching has been John Sutherland, Guitar Professor at the University of Georgia. I began taking private lessons with John about 4 years ago. He is one of the best teachers you will find anywhere. His main discipline is classical guitar. He really makes you think about musicality, technique, phrasing, articulation, etc. His ability to break everything down and give you precise ways of working on these elements is amazing. Plus, he is one of the most beautiful human beings I know.
There have been a few teachers along the way that have guided and directed my approach to teaching. Some of my teachers at Berklee College of Music, Jon Finn, Mark French and Jim Kelly and at GeorgiaState University: Kevin Bales, and David Frackenphol.
I feel very fortunate to be working with Jeffery Van at the University of Minnesota right now as I pursue a DMA in Guitar Performance. He is a wonderful teacher and has performed not only a wealth of solo material, but chamber music and is an experienced composer as well. I have only been working with Jeff for about a year but I can already tell he is going to have a major impact on my teaching and playing.
MW: As someone who draws from many influences in their playing how do you encourage students to explore different genres and styles of music?
MK: Absolutely! I try to set an example by playing many styles and knowing as much about various styles as I can. As an educator I feel it is my job to introduce students to musicians and styles.
Since the guitar is prevalent in many genres of music it is important for us not to be close minded. I think we can learn something from many different styles of music. At McNally Smith College of Music, where I teach full time in the guitar department, I have students who are into many different styles. They are checking out players from Wes to Jimmy, Herring to Guthrie Govan to Brent Mason and Brad Paisley. Â The nice thing is that they are always searching for new people to listen to. Not in any given style but players that play at a high level. I learn about new players through my students but also feel that it is my obligation to know about as many of these players as possible. I also encourage them to listen to other instruments.
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?
MK: With the internet, information is just a click away. You can find information about ANYTHING. You can view concert footage from years ago and listen to hours and hours of music.
Guitar instruction is also available but with one essential element missing, interaction. Even with iChat or Skype there is something about being in the same room with your instructor and them providing instant feedback. Now that being said, I think there are some inspiring lessons online.
I am currently working a website that will contain videos, lessons, and play along tracks that will supplement my guitar classes at the McNally Smith College of Music. This is not to replace what we do in class, but to help students work better in the practice room.
Technology also has changed the way one practices. Most of my college student's use Band in a Box, Jamey Aebersold play along's, Transcribe, and Finale on a daily basis. Even with all of these resources available our society is so distracted that we still do not accomplish as much as we should. That is best left for another discussion though.
MW: You are such an experienced and accomplished performer as well as an educator.Â How has your teaching experience influenced your performing and vice-versa?
MK: I feel that the better performer/player you are, the more equipped you are to pass information on to the student. Now that being said, we have all met great players that are not the best teachers and vice versa. My goal is to continue to grow as a player so I can continue to pass information on to my students.
I donâ€™t really think of this consciously. I try to provide â€œreal lifeâ€ situations as my examples. I really want my students to see where material will help them on their gigs and in their teaching studios. My goal as an educator and performer is to keep it on the highest level I can. As I grow as a player my approach to teaching changes. It has to, if not it becomes stale and the students feel that.
MW: What advice do you have for people who are just starting to teach guitar?
MK: Patience! Have an idea of what you want to teach the student. Write a lesson plan for the first month of beginning guitar lessons. Find a book you like to teach out of. Later on you can develop your own lessons. I have files and files of handouts for students but I still use the same few method books for reading. Most instructors teach the way they were taught.
Have a positive attitude about teaching. Donâ€™t teach if you really donâ€™t want to. Find another way to make money. The first year of teaching can be tough. You are trying to figure out your approach of conveying the material.
Donâ€™t force the style of music you are into onto the students unless thatâ€™s what they came to you for. Keep an open mind. Some of my best students have been those who I thought would quit after the first month.
Take it slow. Donâ€™t jump in and start teaching 30 students. It will take a few years of teaching to develop a style, find materials you enjoy teaching from, and build a vision for teaching. There are more bad teachers out there than good. Take a few lessons with a successful teacher in your area. You donâ€™t have to talk about playing at all, instead talk about how they maintain a studio, use technology, and develop lesson plans. If there is a college or university in your area that offers a guitar pedagogy or jazz pedagogy class take it as a non-degree student.
Become an effective communicator. You need to be able to approach the same material from two or three different angles. No two students are the same. We all learn different.
MW: What advice do you have for students when they are looking for a private teacher?
MK: Talk with your friends and see who they are taking lesson with. I always recommend students take a trial lesson to see if they want to work with that teacher. If the instructor will not give you a trial lesson and they want you to sign up for a full month or longer find someone else.
Find a teacher that will push you, have a plan, set goals, and hold you accountable each week for the material they assign. Make sure they balance learning theory, reading, songs, and technique. Talk with other students of theirs to get an idea of how and what they teach in their private lessons.
I feel it is important for students to have some goals in mind, songs they want to learn, and what their overall motivation is for learning the guitar. If you are a beginner this is really easy but if you have been playing for a while and want to take you playing to the next level, sit down and set some goals. This will help your teacher come up with a plan for you to achieve them!
MW: Thanks for talking to us today.
MK: My pleasure, anytime.