Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Spinning Wheel Part II: Interview with Rob Hampton

Guitar teacher Rob Hampton consulting with some of his students (plus my daughter) before the Spring 2007 Coffee-Shop Jam

This week’s Spinning Wheel features my guitar teacher, Rob Hampton, of Seattle, Washington. Back in September 2004, a friend on my neighborhood listserv recommended a good guitar teacher for children. She said that this guitar teacher had a Masters Degree in Education but had found his true calling teaching guitar.

I thought, “I should talk to this person in case my daughter ever wants to play guitar.” Then, I did a double-take and said, “Wait a minute—I’m the one who wants to take guitar lessons.” I called up Rob, and while I decided that private lessons weren’t what I needed at the moment, Rob was considerate and helpful with resources on how to get started. He said, “I’m impressed that you’re even considering learning to play guitar while you’re raising a young child.”

A year later, after taking group lessons via Nancy Stewart’s Mother Goose Guitar course, I approached Rob again. Rob had to put me on a waiting list (because he’s that good and that much in demand), but soon, I was learning about methods for muscle memory, anchor fingers, chord families and the importance of having fun while practicing. Rob’s site, Heartwood Guitar Instruction, is filled with treasures: over 350 songs with chords and tabs, lessons on how to approach learning songs, videos of his students’ performances and many humorous asides.

You can read a previous interview with Rob on IG BLOG, a guitar site, in which Rob talks about his experiences teaching a seven-year-old AC/DC fan whose picks melt from thrashing it out on the open strings. You won’t want to miss the video of Wild Thing. Rob himself maintains a blog called A Guitar Teacher’s Lesson Notebook. If that weren't enough, twice a year, Rob organizes Coffee Shop Jams, which are low-stress alternatives to traditional music recitals. Family members from different generations often perform together, and many of them dress up for Halloween performances. Of course, Rob has to dress up too:

L-R: (1) Buccaneer (2) Jimi Hendrix (3) Some guitar-smashing dude



Saints and Spinners: What exactly do you do for a living?

Rob Hampton: I teach private and small group guitar lessons to kids and adults, [from] “Ain’t No Bugs On Me” to “Highway to Hell.”

S & S: How long have you been working in your chosen profession?

RH: I’ve been teaching guitar for four years now. Before that, I taught high school English for three years.

S&S: What prompted you to work with children?

RH: I was a camp counselor for a couple years in college, and served as a “manny” for a three-year-old for a few months, so I knew I liked and was good at working with kids. When I first began teaching, I was open to any and all opportunities to teach, and some of my first students were kids from Seattle Country Day School who worked with me for a half-hour before their parents came to pick them up. At first, I found working with kids a greater challenge, and not as rewarding, as working with adults. But I eventually learned how to help kids be successful on the guitar, like starting by teaching them simple melodies or bass lines on one string. I also changed my expectations. When I realized that a six-year-old will be delighted when they can play the melody to “Mary Had A Little Lamb” (a song I promised myself I wouldn’t teach when I started this career), then I let go of my expectations and just enjoyed their feelings of accomplishment.

S&S: Why do you continue to do it?

RH: I love working with kids for so many reasons. Their willingness to experiment and take musical risks is a nice counterbalance to many of my adult students, who are often concerned with appearing foolish or making mistakes. They require a lot of variety over an hour’s lesson--we might warm up, practice a song, record it, listen to it, learn a new song, sing something, and write a new song all in one session--and I enjoy that variety.

Plus, kids make me laugh. There’s usually this constant stream of banter throughout the lesson.

S&S: Which performers are your inspirations for your work?

RH: My inspirations aren’t children-oriented necessarily--many are just people who are 100% present with their audience, and their love and enthusiasm flows out through their music like a fountain. John Roderick from the Long Winters, Linda Waterfall and many other of my teachers at the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop, the band Arcade Fire...

As far as children’s performers go, both you and Gary Paine are dedicated to your craft and have been great resources for new kid’s songs. My favorite kid’s recordings are by Recess Monkey (a fantastic local band), Dan Zanes, and They Might Be Giants. [Editor's note:I just found out from Jack Forman, Recess Monkey's bassist, that Rob plays guitar in one of the songs featured on Recess Monkey's forthcoming album.]

S&S: What are some of the things you enjoy doing outside of your profession?

RH: Rock climbing and exploring the outdoors, skating around Green Lake, fly fishing for trout and salmon....I bought my first house recently, so I’ve been tapping into a domestic streak I never knew I had. Right now there are 12 square yards of compost and bark sitting in my driveway ready to be spread in my back yard. Yikes!

S&S: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Some high school friends and I used to joy ride in a neighbor’s BMW in the wee hours of the morning--my buddy had found the keys by the pool of his condo complex. We always returned it, but still...I could have had a felony conviction at 14! I like to think I pay for the sins of my youth by being a kind and gentle role model as an adult.

S&S: Was there ever a time when your audience surprised you? What happened?

Hmm...kids only surprise me when they stay quiet, or even better, sing along or dance during a song. More often then not, they want to talk about the song as you’re singing it.

S&S: What’s in heavy rotation on your stereo/iPod lately?

Sufjan Stevens’ “C’mon Feel The Illinoise” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Friends.

S&S: If you could headline a festival with three other performers, who would they be?

RH: With ANYONE? Let’s see...how about Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young? And we all come out at the end and sing “Hey Jude.” Heaven.

The Pivot Questionnaire is a set of questions popularized on “The Actor’s Studio” and have become a vital part of the interview series of the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Since 7Imp is my model and inspiration, I pose the questions here:

What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?
Who wants to write their least favorite word? Blechh!

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
My week at Puget Sound Guitar Workshop. That, and women in navy uniforms.

What turns you off?
Cruel, impersonal, jargon-infested corporate culture.

What is your favorite curse word?
Imperio! Yes, I’m a closet Harry Potter fanatic.

What sound or noise do you love?
Mourning dove and robin song.

What sound or noise do you hate?
Synth pop. I must have been forced to eat brussel sprouts while listening to The Pet Shop Boys in a former life.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I’m producing a DVD right now. Being a filmmaker is pretty fun so far.

What profession would you not like to do?
Law, politics, big business--anything that puts kindness on the back burner.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
“I suppose you’ll want to check out our vintage guitar vault before selecting your cloud...”


Tony said...

Great interview! Thanks for doing these. I know it taks a lot of time and effort.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Thanks so much for commenting, Tony. It's always good to know when people are actually reading these things!

Melangell said...

I read "these things," but I don't always have a fascinating comment, like so many of your friends do. I really enjoyed this interview and am constantly amazed by people like your guitar teacher.

Melangell said...

P.S. I am also constantly amazed by your blog. Wow! Love the links, too.