In this episode I’m going to introduce you to someone who’s a great example of how you can target your teaching business toward a specific group of students, and how that can help you stand out in a crowded local market and actually make an even bigger difference in the lives of the people you teach!
October Crifasi is doing really well with her teaching business in the Los Angeles-area and she has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with us in this interview. She was generous enough to take an hour to talk with me about teaching guitar, attracting new students, keeping them from quitting and especially how women can be more successful in a business traditionally dominated by men. It’s a great interview and I’m sure you’re going to really enjoy it.
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Items Mentioned In This Episode:
Link – Girls Guitar School
Okay, everybody. Just want to welcome you to this episode of the Start Teaching Guitar Podcast, and this is a special episode because I have an interview with October Crifasi today. And October is the Founder and Director of Girls Guitar School in Los Angeles, California.
October honed her skills as a group teacher, ensemble leader, and songwriter, working with artists like Justin Townes Earle and founding the Old Town School of Folks Music’s first female rock ensemble. Her positive and humorous attitudes toward the guitar, and music in general, made her a student favorite and an integral part of the guitar faculty. And in Los Angeles, October has maintained an active teaching studio for over ten years as well as providing coaching and consulting services to the local film and television community there, working on projects for the Great American Country channel, Lifetime TV, and also MTV.
And I actually found out about October through an online article about Girls Guitar School, and I think she’s a perfect example of someone who knows how to specialize her teaching business and go after a specific group of students that she wants to reach. And also, to use that core difference to actually help people and to also try to help make the world a better place. So, you can find out more about October and Girls Guitar School by visiting www.GirlsGuitarSchool.com.
Donnie: So, I just want to say hi, October, and welcome to the Start Teaching Guitar Podcast.
October: Hi! Thanks!
Donnie: Yeah, it’s good to have you on the show today.
October: It’s excellent to be here.
Donnie: Cool. So, can you start out just by telling us a little bit about yourself, like what’s your background and how you got actually started playing the guitar?
October: Sure. I started taking lessons on the guitar when I was seven with my mom. It was something she wanted us to do together. And then I was kind of playing on and off, until I was about 11, and that’s when I got really serious about it. And then I moved on to kind of my more formal training at Walnut Hill School for the Arts. It’s just outside of Boston, and I studied classical and flamenco guitar there, and then just kind of was studying with different people on and off through college. And then, when I moved to Chicago, before I moved here. And I actually started teaching because of the Music Department at Cornell.
I went to Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa. And it’s a very, very small town, but the Music Department was wanting to get involved with offering lessons to the community and the person that was my instructor through the school had a really full roster, didn’t really have time to do that, so he suggested that the school talk to me and started mentoring me in teaching. So, I started teaching when I was 18, and I have not stopped.
Donnie: That’s cool. So, they actually mentored you as a guitar teacher there at the school. Is that right?
October: Yeah. Yes and no. It was a little bit of, you know, these are the things you’re probably going to want to teach, this is probably how you should go about it, and here are your first four students. Thanks. Go. So, it was a little bit of both. So, it was a lot of, I think at the very beginning, going through my guitar magazines and I’m like: “Okay, this song is really cool, and this kid wants to work on this, so we’ll do that.” And just kind of figuring it out a little bit as I was going along.
Donnie: Cool. So, you’ve been actually teaching there, in Los Angeles, for around ten years now, it sounds like.
Donnie: So, what can you tell us about your students and your program there?
October: Well, the Girls Guitar Program has been around since about 2009, and I’ve been teaching. My roster, since I started teaching in Los Angeles, just because I think of how it kind of ended up working out, it was predominantly girls and women, but I do. I have taught boys and men, but that’s kind of the direction that my roster was traveling. In about 2009, I was doing strictly private at that point and I missed teaching group classes. That’s what I did primarily at the Old Town School of Folk Music, and I wanted to be bringing that to where I was. So, it started first as a class for adults, and then the parents of my private students of my girls really wanted them to start having an ensemble experience because they were looking into other places around the city to be doing that, and there were certain aspects, I guess, of those programs that they weren’t kind of into for their kids.
So, they asked me if I would start up something like that, so it morphed into that. And so, it started as group classes for beginner group classes for girls. I think my first class was for teen girls, and it’s just kind of grown from there. So, I have beginner classes right now, running eight and nine-year-olds, and that’s been going for like a year and a half. And they are the most amazing players and the songs that they’ve come up with and written have been amazing.
October: Yeah. And I have a teen class right now. I’ve done a few ensembles with some of my private students, and they’ve placed some shows around the city. So, it’s ever changing. You know, it’s whatever. If people express an interest, if they want something or a certain experience for themselves or their girls, then I try to do my best to see if I can make it happen.
Donnie: Very cool.
Donnie: So, it sounds like you kind of offer a mix of things. Are you still doing private lessons too, or is it mostly just groups?
October: No, I do. The private lessons right now are kind of the mainstay of my week. The group classes happen on the weekend. I have about 30 to 35 private students right now, and the ages range. I have several six-year-old students, which is a lot of fun.
October: Yeah. And you know, they talk. They have music down. I sit there and awe sometimes because they’ll ask me questions about music and music theory, and they ask it like they’ve been playing forever. It’s an incredible experience. You know, I’m like: “Oh my God, okay. Teach me, please.” And the other thing that I’ve just started doing is offering. Well, no, that’s not true. I’ve started this a couple years ago; is doing semi-private lessons specifically for moms and daughters. Since that’s kind of how I started, I wanted to offer that as an option. And so, I have taught a few mom-daughter teams, and that’s been great. That’s been a lot of fun too.
Donnie: Yeah, I love the way that you’re just kind of taking it all the way back to your roots, and you’re probably inspiring a bunch of young girls to probably do some of the same things that you’ve done. So, that’s really cool.
October: Yeah, I hope so.
Donnie: Yeah. So, you talked a little bit about how you started kind of developing your business and focusing on teaching girls specifically, but can you kind of talk a little more about what made you decide to do that? And also, how did you go about building such a distinctive brand?
October: Okay. So, let’s see. You know, the decision to go primarily – you know, do the whole Girls Guitar Program, focusing on girls and women, where I have my studios is also, and my group class place is also, part of our larger music store, and they’ve been very supportive through this whole time of me really developing and fine-tuning what it is that I’m doing. So, let’s see. Okay. It does kind of go back to my experience at Old Town School because for me, as a teacher, how I work primarily is just observing and paying attention to kind of what’s going on with students.
That’s kind of vague, but back in Old Town, when I was teaching group classes, what I noticed is I was teaching beginner classes up through about intermediate/advanced. Intermediate class, I’ll say. And what I was noticing is there were a lot of women taking classes. It was mixed classes. It was primarily adults. And what I noticed is, right about the intermediate level, women were not continuing on and taking the more advanced classes. And I, myself, was taking some classes at the school in improvisation and, you know, I’m always about wanting to just be educating myself, learning more things, and so I was taking those classes and noticing that the women just weren’t there, or if they were there, it was only one or two. So, I was just trying to figure out why is this happening, and so I talked to a lot of the women there and I got a whole variety of answers.
So, some of it had to do with they really weren’t interested in learning anymore, and so okay, that’s fine. And then some were feeling a little bit not intimidated, but yeah, a little intimidated in those classes. When you get into the advanced classes – now, I love all guitar players, so this is not any kind. I don’t mean to slide against anybody. But you know, I mean you begin those classes, and I’ve been in this situation, there’s a lot of noodling. So, there’s a lot of like: “Here’s my riff.” Some women, I don’t know. I think sometimes there’s this, you know, you sit around that and maybe that’s not just a woman thing. That could be an everybody thing, but I think that can be a little intimidating at first, especially if you haven’t done something like soloing for the first time, or just kind of trying that out.
So, they weren’t taking those classes sometimes because of that. Sometimes it was because all that was being taught was this classic rock cannon. And again, I love all of that. I grew up on that stuff, but I think when you’re listening to music that isn’t that, to be presented with a class that that’s all you’re learning, you know, just the interest wasn’t there. So, I came up with this ensemble idea that was for advanced female players. They had to audition to get in, but the material that we were doing – and there was a full-on band setup, so we had drums, bass, and all that stuff. But all the material that we were doing was the material they wanted to be doing, so it was a lot of female artists, it was stuff that they were writing on their own, and then we would perform.
So, that was a big learning curve for me, trying to figure out: “Okay, I need to do this and that,” but it was great. And to see the confidence of all those women build as they were going through, and they’d never had the experience of playing with an all-female band, which I think is a slightly different experience. So, I think it provided a safe place for them to do that, and so now, back to Los Angeles, you know, I went around. Because my focus is so – since I have primarily female students, some of the local places around here wanted to be bringing in more female students. And so, I talked to some different people about developing potentially something for them to do that, and through the course of that process, I kind of came up with this idea and curriculum for what I’m doing now, because in the long run, a few of these places were like: “Yes, that’s what we want,” and then, when I presented them with what I thought would be some of the ways to do that, at the time, they just didn’t feel like it was something that they wanted to do.
So, I was disappointed initially, and then I realized: “Oh my God, I have this whole curriculum now. I have created this whole idea and program, and really fine-tuned it,” and the brand itself also came from parents sitting down me and saying, “Okay, you just went through this experience and you have all of this.” Like I’m not a graphics design person at all. I do my best at marketing, but that’s my forte. And the nice thing about behind here specifically is that parents of one of my students said, “You know, we really believe in what you’re doing. We want you to be able to offer that to our daughter and to the other girls that you’re working on. You do what you do well, which is creating a curriculum, teaching it, and making music, and let us help you develop a really great plan and like marketing thing for what you’re doing.” And so, they did. Like they came up with this whole Erica Clapton Campaign, which is just amazing.
And so, those are the big, pink posters that I have in the front window. Maybe I’ll get a picture of it. I’ll send it to you.
October: Yeah, so it’s these big, pink posters with black. It’s like total Jones Jet, like ’80s style, but like Erica Clapton. And we were brainstorming all these different names of who you generally think of as rock gods, and turning them kind of on its head. And that kind of cinched it because that was it. Like I’m so grateful to them because they’re like: “We love your vision. We support what you’re doing. And your graphic design skills, not so good. You know? Let us do this for you. We want to do this for you.” And that was about 2009, so that’s really kind of what brought it all together and started putting it out into the community.
And just a side note, because this blew me away. I found this out last year. I was concerned because I am in Los Angeles that, with us doing that, those kinds of play on words. You know, I was just like: “Are we going to get contacted by any camp? Like somebody’s management team, saying, “What are you doing?”
October: But the cool thing is, just this town being what it is, Eric Clapton actually found out about what we were doing, because that’s our lead. That’s the main thing that we use. And he was really excited about it and shared it with his daughter. So, to me, I was like: “We’re good! We are so fine. The light is green. Let’s go.”
Donnie: That is so cool. That is so cool.
Donnie: I mean I guess the thing that strikes me about everything that you just described was that you took something that you are really good at and passionate about and something that you care about and you worked that into your business as a primary focus. And then, as a result, all the parents of all of these young girls all just gathered around you and said, “Hey, how can we help? How can we make this successful?”
Donnie: You know, that’s just amazing. That’s just a perfect example of what can happen whenever you really focus your business on what really matters to you.
Donnie: Okay, so now you have this really cool business and this really cool brand. You know, the whole Erica Clapton thing, which I love by the way. That’s really cool. So, through this, what’s your vision, I guess, for girls and for the guitar? What is it that you’re actually trying to accomplish?
October: Okay. Initially, when I was kind of jumping into this, it was because I wanted more girls to be learning, but I also not only wanted more girls to be visible, to be seen playing guitar, but I also wanted them to be musicians and really well-versed, grounded, just well-spoken musicians. So, not only do they – maybe they’re playing a pink, sparkly guitar, if that’s their choice, but that they actually then have the skills and the chops behind that. And for me, that was first and foremost, in addition to building their confidence.
So, part of what I do in my work is a balance between technique and then confidence-building work. So, I kind of do a little bit of both, because that’s important to me, especially for girls between the ages. And right now I have a lot of these girls, between the ages of like eight and ten. Just getting right in there and using their education on the instrument also as a way to be building their confidence with being able to learn an instrument, being able to create – you know, writing songs or whatever those songs may be -, and just having a really positive experience on the all-around. So, then that carries with them forward, because on they hit about age like 11, there’s a shift.
And I can’t remember the name. There’s an actual name for this. I meant to find it before we spoke today, but there is an actual shift that happens. And I don’t know if you’ve experienced this or if other teachers have experienced this, but you’ll have a girl – and this might happen with boys too – that is really gun-ho about the guitar. They love it, they’re practicing, and they’re just sailing through. And then they hit about age 11 and suddenly it’s this whole confidence crisis, and their focus goes to those around them and how they’re being perceived. And so, there can be this sudden shift in a kid that was loving to play and had all the confidence in the world is suddenly coming in, crying. You know, they’re struggling with their work.
So, if I can somehow be working with them in a way that’s going to strengthen their confidence and kind of build a foundation so that doesn’t happen or that doesn’t happen as much as I guess it potentially could be, that’s great. And it’s also offering them a creative outlet and a positive, creative outlet if they’re having a difficult time. So, that’s kind of, and then it goes through my teens, and women are a whole other ball game because women have the whole perfectionist thing going on. At least that’s been my experience, because I have taught men and women. And I don’t know. Male students don’t seem to kind of have that issue. A woman comes in, by the second lesson, and they’re like: “I failed.” I’m like: “What are you talking about?” “I had to get every single thing right.” And I’m like: “Oh my God, you’ve taken one guitar lesson. You know, you need to give yourself. Develop a beginner mindset, you know? Like just relax. It’s all right. We’re not on a timeline here.”
Anyway. So, for me, a large part of what I do is also fostering that for all of my students, and that’s for the boys and the men that I work with too because I do have a few students that aren’t female. So, it’s slightly different. I kind of think of it as a little bit more of an organic approach to what might be considered kind of your typical guitar lesson, because I’m wanting to incorporate a lot of things into what we’re doing. So, that was a long answer. Yeah, that’s kind of what I’m doing.
Donnie: Yea, that’s great. I like how you’re building in the confidence piece of it as well, because that’s been, my experience, one of the things that holds a lot of people back. It’s just their lack of confidence.
Donnie: And that’s actually a great transition into my next question. Since we’re talking specifically about girls in this episode, what are some of the biggest things, in your opinion, that tend to hold girls back not just on the guitar, but from living their bigger dreams and becoming the best that they can be, and doing the things that they want to do in their lives? What do you think are some of those obstacles?
October: I do think confidence does play into that. I think having positive experience with attempting something and having success or having a supportive response if it isn’t necessarily a success. I think often understanding and learning that a failure actually isn’t a failure. You know, it’s how you actually learn, and that that’s not a bad thing.
Donnie: Right. Right.
October: So, I’m just trying to think of specific example, and they’re just eluding me at the moment. But I also think having support of other girls too, I think, is also important. I think girls and women can do anything they want, so you’re asking about obstacles and I’m finding myself saying, “No. No. There are no obstacles. They can do whatever they want. We are amazing, and we are.”
Donnie: Yes, I would agree.
October: But I think the confidence thing is a big issue. The other thing, which I don’t know that it’s necessarily an obstacle per se. And I don’t know. I’m curious sometimes. I like to talk to teachers in other parts of the country because where I am is such a specific market and it’s such an interesting market to be in. I think also discipline, and not discipline. I shouldn’t say discipline, but routine. Developing routine. Yeah, I guess it is discipline and coming up with a schedule and then following that, and fostering that. By doing that, by figuring out times to practice and doing all of those kinds of things, I think is fostering skills for later in life as well. And I think that sometimes that can be an obstacle if girls haven’t be presented with a role model or something that gives them a road map to how to get something done. I hope that makes sense.
Donnie: Yeah. Yeah, it does, and you used the word role model and that’s really cool, because I think a lot of what holds everybody back from doing things that they would love to do is that they just don’t really believe that they could do it.
Donnie: You know? And just seeing someone else that they can relate to, that’s doing it and being successful and actually cares about them, I think that’s huge. That’s been my experience with lessons too. I mean I haven’t seen your teaching business up-close, but it just kind of seems like that’s happening; that there’s a lot of inspiration that’s going on.
October: Yeah. Yeah. Yes. I mean they kind of inspire me in many ways, but yeah, that’s really important to me. And that’s the other reason why now I’m in the midst of trying to figure out how I can be fostering a really strong ensemble program for my private students, because I think having that experience and working with other girls also can be inspiration and be seeing that: “Oh yeah, hey, you like this too. So do I,” or, “I can play this and so can you, and that’s great.”
Donnie: Cool. Cool. So, let’s shift gears a little bit and talk more about maybe some tips and advice for some of the other guitar teachers that are going to be listening to this. So, what do you think has been the biggest key to success in your teaching business so far?
October: Let’s see. I would say word-of-mouth has been very helpful. The support of the parents has been really helpful, but quite frankly, there are two things that I can say without a doubt helped to get my studio kind of back on its feet and where it is right now. And that is finding, in the community, the family email list, family activities email list, and reaching out to them and family groups and things like that, especially if your focus is on younger students, and reaching out to local schools. There’s a great family activity email list here, called Jen’s List, and one of my parents told me about it. And I just started. You can list your events for free, and they send it directly to anybody who signs up. It goes right into parent’s email inboxes.
And so, I posted. When I would have a class coming up, I would post there, and it was from there that I started getting calls from the right families for what I’m doing, like that was the right way to go because it was also a list of just families that kind of got what I was doing. So, I started getting calls from families that way, and then what happened from being on that list is I got a call from Living Social. So, this is the second thing. And Living Social is like a Groupon, voucher, you know, buy a cheap voucher deal. And they contacted me and said, “You’re a very unique business. We want to work with you,” and initially they wanted me to discount my group classes. And I don’t know if you’re familiar with how all of that works, but.
October: Yeah. So, what they want you to do is offer your services for half price, and then how that goes from there is then they pay you half price.
October: So, you’re taking a big hit, and so I told them no. You’re not going to get my group tuition because I’m just starting out, and I don’t even know if this is going to be a good fit. But they were persistent with me, and so what I did was I went ahead and took a risk and I went ahead and told them that we could do it, but it had to be private lessons. And they wanted me to offer like a discount on two months of lessons or a month of lessons, and I was like: “There’s no way I’m going to do that, because you’re just not setting up a good situation.”
October: Because if you’re offering them your services at like 75 percent discount, when they go to resign up for a month and it’s suddenly a full price, you know. My experience and my thought was anyways that’s too much of a jump in price. You know, you’re not going to keep them. So, anyway. So, we figured out a deal that work for everybody and I said, “All right, let’s just do it and see.” And that, taking that risk and working it out with them about how it was going to work in my favor as well, ended up totally kind of transforming my clientele, you know, my students, because it marketed my work to an area of the city. Just across the city. Like it was rather amazing, because they give you all the data, and so you can kind of see who’s buying, which is great. And age range, and part of the city, and like all of that stuff.
So, just those two things together really helped to kind of spread the word out in terms of that. And then the popularity of those kinds of program I think are dying down, especially for music lessons, so I did it again this last summer because they asked me to and, again, it was kind of a wave of people coming in. So, I think reaching out to the community email lists and organizations that are kind of down with what you’re doing, and then also taking risks like doing a Living Social voucher, but negotiating it in a way that helps your business.
October: You know, that’s really, really important. And what I ended up doing was doing two lessons. Two private lessons for the price of one. So, people were like, when I would tell them, “Oh, we really want to keep with you. You know, stay with you and this is great. So, what are we looking at now for lessons?” And I would tell them and they would be like: “Oh, oh, that’s great. Yeah, excellent.” And I still have. I would say I have probably about 80 percent of those folks are still working with me.
Donnie: Yeah, and that’s great advice too, because I’ve also dealt with things like Groupon and I’ve talked to some other teachers that have done similar things. And if you’re not careful, it’s real easy to devalue your lessons in the eyes of the people that would be signing up, and then they just come based on the lowest price, and a lot of times those aren’t the kids of students that you want to be teaching.
October: Yeah, absolutely not. Yeah. Yeah, I mean that’s, you know. Yes. Yes. In fact, it would be a hard lesson to learn though, but yes.
Donnie: Yeah. So, how about student retention? What have been some of your most effective ways of keeping your existing students from dropping off?
October: Well, you know, I try to get. I don’t try. I’m presenting music theory and stuff like that in their lessons, but I also am really diligent in making sure that we’re working on songs and music that they want to be working on. So, adaptability, I think, goes a long way, and so I do a mix of both with my students. And then the other thing that has been really important to me over the last, I would say, year and a half to two years is fostering community. So, again, it’s listening to what parents are saying. It’s just observing what’s happening with families and all those kinds of things, and creating events to serve that, and creating events that are free and that are just about bringing my student family together.
So, you know, I had parents. This ongoing thing that parents would say to me after a lesson, you know, like: “Okay. Well, did you write it all down really clear? Were you really, really clear about it because I don’t know anything about music, and so when they’re working on this at home, I don’t know how to help them, so you’ve got to make sure that it’s clear,” or, “Did you show them how to use the tuner, because I don’t know how to use a tuner and if you don’t show them, then it won’t get tuned.” So, I created a parents and practice night, which is open to parents. They do it quarterly. And it’s about, you know, learning how to use a guitar tuner. It’s about, you know, this is how you read a chord chart. You know, it’s about whatever they need to know how to be a parent of a guitar student. You know?
October: Or other things like that. So, that’s just one example. I just started doing that, and that’s been kind of a big hit. It was really cool. In fact, I had two moms show up and I was like: “All right, we’re going to use an electric guitar tuner. Here we go.” You know? And one of them went through kind of: “Okay, okay, okay,” and then another women got it and she was tuning up, like I just had them tune one string with the tuner and I said, “Okay. So, now let’s hand it on.” She’s like: “Oh, no! I’ve got this now. I’m tuning the rest of the guitar,” and I was like: “Yay! Good. That’s why I’m here. You know, that’s great.” But then I open it up to, you know, any other questions that they have.
And so, also if they want to know how I’m working with students in the lesson, because they don’t see that. I know everybody has different approaches to this, but I don’t let parents sit in on the lessons with me ever. So, you know, the parents don’t really get a chance to experience what is happening in my studio. So, I provide that as an opportunity for them to have a taste of what it’s like to be in a lesson, you know? And I also do open houses, and I try to do really casual performances once a quarter in my classroom space, and anything that can just bring them all together. And this year I’m working on getting. I want to start getting local female players and national female players coming in to talk to like have an afternoon with my students, so I’m working on that right now. I’ve got to kind of figure out the logistics of that.
But until that happens, we’re going to start doing meet-ups; is what I’m calling them. You know, we’re just going to. If it’s an all-ages show and it’s a female artist that everybody wants to see, then we’ll go and have it be like Team Girls Guitar School. We’re all there, you know, and having a good time. So, I’m always looking for ways that I can be doing that and really bringing everybody together as a community because then they’re supporting each other and it’s, hopefully, an overall positive experience. So, for me, that’s also a big piece of retaining students, because I realized all this started was us talking about that. But I think that’s what brings people to my program, because they hear about that stuff and they want to also be involved in that as well.
Donnie: Yeah, that’s excellent advice. And you really hit it on the head because, especially when you’re teaching younger students, I mean if you think you’re just teaching kids, that’s a big mistake in your thinking because you’re really teaching the parents too in a certain aspect of this. Right?
Donnie: Because they’re the ones that are going to be primarily responsible for a lot of the results that their kids are going to get.
Donnie: Yeah, so that’s genius, bringing everybody together like that. Great advice. So, how about this? What helps to keep you motivated to continue when things don’t seem to be going as well as you would like them to?
October: Okay. So, I would have to say the primary thing that has kept me going honestly has been my students, because I would say about 2008, in this market anyway, all of, I think, guitar teachers. It was the strangest thing, like band teachers – their rosters were off the charts, but it was the rock instrument teachers that I spoke to. We were all experiencing a pretty big hit. And honestly, it would be coming in and working with my students that would be writing, taking like the three chords I taught them and writing a really great song with like, you know, all they learned was the one-finger C, G7, and like maybe D7. And they would come in and write this really – you know, we’re talking like eight years old now.
October: And they would write this amazingly sophisticated or really funny song. One of them was I Like Legos, which I was great, because it was a girl. I was like: “Oh my God, I love Legos too! I’m so glad this is happening.” And she would come in and her song was: “I like Legos. Legos. Legos. Legos. I like Legos. Play with me.” But the refrain was brilliant, you know? And it was being in those lessons and being like: “Okay, like this is the good stuff right here,” and that it’s going to turn around. And the thing that I’ve had to reframe for myself, and this was a big one for me and I’m sure it is for other people too, but it was getting my mindset out of the lack mentality, which basically means, you know: “Oh my God, there’s all these guitar teachers in the city of Los Angeles and it’s a competition, and nobody is making money in this economy, doing this.”
And what I started doing was I started asking, looking at music studios that I saw were actually really prosperous during that time and talking to them, and finding out: “Oh, okay, there is prosperity going on right now. You know?” And just holding that to be true that there is always, always, always music and there’s always going to be the right guitar students for what you’re doing. If you know what it is that your focus and your joy comes from, you know, the right people are going to find you and that it isn’t lack. Like there are so many different people that want to be learning guitar forever and always, and there might be a lot of other people teaching guitar too, but the right students are finding them.
So, you know, I’m not always successful reminding myself of that truth, but I think it’s really important to just talk to other people, remind yourself that there is plenty. Like there just is. And as long as you’re enjoying what you’re doing, I just love going in and teaching the group eight and nine-year-old class and my teen class. I taught them all yesterday and, you know, I just come out of that day revived and renewed. Like this was great. Eight and nine-year-olds, mind you. They were composing their first piece using E, F, and G, and one of them shared her song. I was like: “Oh my God, like how can that be bad?”
And then my teen class is all nerds, which is great because so am I, and we started doing blues in A, and they all realized that they had. Like they love David Tennant and Doctor Who, which I thought was great, and so they decided that their blues song that they were going to write was going to be the Tardis Blues in A, which I just was like: “Yes.”
Donnie: That’s great.
October: So, anyway. So, you know, I can’t end a day, going: “Oh, life is difficult,” when I’ve got that. You know?
Donnie: Yeah, that’s great. And actually it’s funny that you just brought that up about scarcity and abundance. The last podcast episode I just released was all about that.
Donnie: So, I’m a big believer in that too. A lot of times, if you think there’s lack, then it kind of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
October: That’s right.
Donnie: Yeah. I mean your students kind of start to disappear, but the opposite is also true too, in my experience.
October: Yeah. Yeah, I agree. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that’s one that I just have to keep myself coming back to because I think our initial human reaction is to want to go to that place.
October: You know? So, just go: “Oh, no, no, no, it’s all good. There’s plenty everywhere.”
Donnie: Absolutely. Cool. So, here’s another question for you.
Donnie: What kind of advice would you have for somebody that would be interested in getting started as a guitar teacher for the very first time?
October: Okie-dokie. So, I think there are a few things. So, knowing what it is you want to teach and knowing what your focus is, I think, is really important. And it’s taken me a while to kind of get to that point, but it is so important. You know, if you think that you want to be working with beginners, then let that be your focus, at least when you’re starting out, so you can really develop a strong curriculum for yourself and have some lesson plans that you know will work and can build your own confidence as a teacher as you’re working. Excuse me, same would be true for any other level or genre or focus.
Here’s another one. Don’t undersell yourself.
October: Do not. Find out what the market rates are. Do not charge less than that. That makes me insane, when I see that around here, because I know what the average market is for music lessons around here, and then I’ll see signs that are like: “Guitar. Learn how to play guitar. 15 bucks.” And I’m like: “Oh my God, like what are you doing? Like that’s not good for anybody.” You’re setting a low threshold of expectation for yourself, you’re devaluing your service, and then actually you’re also impacting all of your other fellow teachers when you bring that kind of medium price down.
So, do not, do not, do not charge less just because you think that. Either you’re like: “Oh, I’m just starting,” or, “People won’t come.” So, that’s another important thing. I would say also be in conversation with other guitar teachers in the area, and just opening conversation, because, to me, I’m always learning and always growing from those conversations. So, being in touch with other teachers, and then also knowing your boundaries, in the sense of have a contract for your students and then stand by it. I think that that can be such a difficult thing. You set a 24-hour cancellation policy, and then suddenly parents are coming to you, saying, “Well, she’s got homework to do, so we have to cancel,” or this or that, or this or that. And then you’re like: “Oh, well.” I don’t know. You find yourself going: “Oh, well, it’s okay. I won’t charge you this time. You know, we’ll do it.”
No. You know? Don’t do that, and that’s been a hard one for me to get. Finally I’ve come up with some roundabout solutions for that, but come up with something you feel you can enforce and that also shows respect for what you do, because I think sometimes, at least in this area and I don’t know that it’s true for other parts of the country. I didn’t experience it as much when I was teaching in the other parts of the country, but you know, sometimes the guitar teacher just gets considered another service. So, we’re respect isn’t. You’re just the person that teaches my kid. You know? So, meaning I don’t have to pay you with your 24-hour cancellation policy. I can not show up for two weeks and still expect to get on your schedule the same time. Oh, what do you mean you need me to pay today? Can’t I pay next week? I’m like: “Well, how would you like it if your job told you that?”
So, I think having a contract that’s spells it our clearly, and there’s always room for flexibility with that, depending on the student I think and the family. You know, if you know they’re pretty consistent in paying you, you know, you always have that room for flexibility, but I think it’s important to just establish that right out of the gate and not feel bad about it because what you’re doing is important. We’ve got special education for it. You know, it’s just like any other doctor, lawyer, you know, insert thing here. You know? So, it’s just as important.
And the other thing I would say is have a couple of really great, strong lesson plans for a couple of beginner lessons, like I don’t know. Chart it out and create them for at least four to six weeks that you can use over and over and over again, that you know really work well, and you have it down, and then that will kind of allow you to go from there.
Donnie: Good, that’s great advice. So, we’re just about out of time here in the interview, but I do have one more question for you.
Donnie: Since kind of focus is on girls and women in this episode, what words of advice and encouragement, to close this out, would you have for any female guitar teachers and aspiring female teachers that would be listening to this episode right now?
October: Just do what you love, and also it’s okay to stand your ground and do things like what I was just talking about. Having a contract, enforcing your policies, and talking to other musicians and reaching out to other female teachers and musicians that are in your area, because we need to support each other, but we need more women teaching guitar. They are out there. I know they are. Get yourself visible. Reach out to your community and just be a role model not just for girls, but for boys, for everybody, because honestly my goal – I realize what I’m doing is kind of created as yes, girls only, but honestly my goal: I want to be able to look at a list of top 100 guitarists by whatever music magazine and actually have it be a fair mix of male and female artists.
I want to be able to watch some benefit concert on TV and actually see that it’s a pretty fair mix of female instrumentalists – you know, guitar players, rock bands. You know, I don’t care if it’s men and women in the band. For me, the important thing is to start seeing more of a balance. I don’t necessarily feel like we need to be just all female, like to me it’s having that balance of seeing more women and girls in music, especially rock music. And other genres too, but yeah, now I’m losing my train of thought. But seriously, just so we can start having a balance.
So, it isn’t an issue of gender anymore. It’s an issue of are they are good guitarist or not, you know, or do you enjoy the music or not. Yeah, so there’s that.
Donnie: That’s great. That’s very inspiring and good information for all of us, male and female. So, yeah, I guess we should probably wrap it up.
Donnie: Yeah. Thanks so much for taking the time to be on the podcast, October.
October: Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you for getting in touch with me.
Donnie: Yeah, it’s been a great discussion.
Donnie: And again, if you’re listening to this, you can find out more about October and Girls Guitar School by visiting GirlsGuitarSchool.com.
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