30+ Years Teaching Experience
From the Kojien Dictionary comes the honorific term shared in Chinese and Japanese, “sensei” (teacher), which is literally translated as “one who comes before.”
When I was six years old my grandmother, Yetta discovered me teaching something to a friend of mine and said: “You’re very good, you should become a teacher!” I never gave it much thought, continued on with my life and eventually went on to play the guitar when I was nine (probably one of the most important life-shaping events for me).
I declared my majors in Jazz Composition and Music Education while studying at Berklee College of Music, Boston MA in the 1980’s. Student teaching was very challenging, but I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience teaching K-6 classroom music, middle school band, and high school chorus.
After graduating Berklee I became a teaching assistant during my master’s degree at New England Conservatory, Boston MA. I went on to enjoy a tenured teaching arranging at Berklee, a spring stint as an instructor at Cat Music College in Osaka, Japan and taught middle school band and orchestra at St. Stevens and St. Agnes School, in Alexandria, VA in the early 1990’s. Between 1987 and 1999 I also taught at numerous music schools and stores in the Boston area, Northern VA and throughout the Philadelphia and Tri-state area.
In 1998 I began instructing from my home music studio, now known as David Joel Guitar Studio, as my full-time teaching gig. I’ve taught over 15,000 hours of students to this point (December 2017), here in my home and have enjoyed and been thoroughly privileged to assist these individuals to expand as human beings and gain a greater fulfillment of their lives through creating music.
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Bachelor of Music, Berklee College of Music
I loved and recognized the importance of music when I was a young child. Picking up the guitar at nine, I pretty much knew I wanted to be a musician by the time I was eleven years old. I stopped taking lessons by the time I was twelve or thirteen (and by that age we, of course, all know everything about everything) but continued to play passionately through my teen years.
The year after high school I confronted and realized that I was not going to make it as a musician with what I knew and that would have to take the next and logical steps of going to a music college so I could formally study, learn and understand this thing called music which was the essential centerpiece of my life.
Going to Boston to study at Berklee was a Rite of Passage. Here I was, a young 19-year-old who had lived his whole life playing Rock music, just beginning to listen to Jazz and was making the ultimate pilgrimage in order to change my life and figure out what made music tick (so to speak).
Boston was wild, wild times. The 1980’s! It was amazing to be in an environment with a large enthusiastic group of people who were my age and were shooting to make a go of it as a musician. I met lots of great people and friends and learned a lot about myself and life. During my time at Berklee, I gave many of my own recitals with all kinds of players, played all kinds of music and had the opportunity to develop my original music and also play some gigs around town.
The faculty was a fantastic, fun, incredibly diverse, intellectually stimulating, stunningly creative and overall, a wonderful group of human beings. I loved my guitar teachers John Wilkins, from whom I learn patience, deliberateness and understanding and Jon Damian, from whom I learned that you don’t have to be outrageous in order to create, but if you want to be, that’s fine as well. I was fortunate to study with William G. Leavitt, the then Chair and originator of the Berklee Guitar Department as well as author of A Modern Method for Guitar, Vols. 1,2 and 3 during my last semester. “Bill” was a sweetheart of a guy (very grandfather-like and close to that age for me) who knew music and the guitar like nobody’s business. He was always incredibly polite. Studying with him was an absolute treat. I’ve used the Modern Method books as the backbone in my practice for many years – my students love them! Berklee is known and respected worldwide for its guitar department, isn’t it? Thank you, Mr. Leavitt!
I also loved the Professional Writing Faculty. I took numerous classes with one of my favorites, Alan Chase, who’s still teaching, now as Chair of the Ear Training Department. Alan always had an incredible sense of balance as a person and musician; very creatively diverse and methodical in his presentation. Always fun! Ken Pullig, former Chair of the Jazz Composition Department was a great wealth of knowledge. He knew music from all sides and was always very encouraging of me stretching as a musician, going beyond the limits, but still focusing on the goal of aesthetics and resolution of musical tension. Tension, release, tension, release. Fabulous!
I studied at Berklee College of Music, 1982-1986 and earned my bachelor’s degree in Jazz Composition and Arranging and Music Education. No school is ever perfect but I had a great time and never regretted going to Berklee. I am eternally thankful for my opportunity to have had my experience studying there.
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What are our musical goals? What is it you want to achieve with music? Everyone who comes to study with me has a muse who has inspired them to create. For some the drive is to learn Hard Rock or Blues, others it’s to play acoustic music, classical guitar or write songs. There are those who want to play Jazz, improvise and learn to play solo guitar, finger pick or play chord melodies. Then there are those who want it all! Good for you – go for it!!!
Playing music is fun (something we do because we don’t have to) and we should feel the inspiration to do so because it gives us joy. In the process, there are many things to learn and understand (or relearn and work out newly – for those of us who have been doing it for a while and didn’t quite get as far as we wanted, up until now). Learning the correct information and how to practice effectively while mastering exercises and tunes (the little steps) will allow you to move you onto and achieve your goals (the big steps).
This is how I teach and work with my students, step by step, methodically and in a way that the student can comfortably experience while making smooth and steady progress. I’ll teach you to read, learn chords, play songs, and help you improve your technique, ability to practice and understand your musical fundamentals so that they are a part of you. If you want to get into tune writing and improvisation (in any style) I’ll take you there. It will be up to you to do the work (or maybe I should say play, because that’s what it really amounts to) but as an instructor it is my position and pleasure to help my students grow, create and ultimately learn about and express themselves while they make music – something we do because we don’t have to!
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Master of Music, New England Conservatory
My Time at NEC was magical, hard work, a revelatory and rebirthing period of life and music, and a lot of fun. Having completed my bachelor’s at Berklee, I attended New England Conservatory of Music for three distinct reasons, 1. To avoid the payment of my student loan, 2. To study with guitarist, Mick Goodrick and drummer, Bob Moses and 3. To further my musical understanding and have the opportunity to greater develop myself as an artist and human being.
NEC is predominantly a classical conservatory (and one of the oldest in our country). The Jazz department at was quite small and intimate (approximately 100 students in total), a shock after attending Berklee College of Music where there were about 900 guitarists alone! I was a Jazz Composition Major. I always created opportunities to perform and play with other musicians, despite my focus on writing.
I enjoyed the student body very much! Like Berklee, a very diverse group of individuals. Highly creative and technical in terms of their writing and performance skills (and I was more involved with rad than undergrad students, in general), I was quite frequently impressed with the expressed aesthetic value. Pretty amazing group of young musicians. I made some good friends during my time there.
I moved out of Boston to Newton, MA at the end of my first semester at NEC (had my apartment broken into) as it was time for a change to move out of the city. Newton is a beautiful area, really great. I loved it there and stayed for about four and a half years, into the time I went on to teach at Berklee…but that’s yet another story…
While at NEC I had the privilege to study under Hankus Netsky, the Head of the Jazz Department. Hankus was (and still is) a brilliant and extremely eclectic musician who allowed and encouraged me an assistantship in the department. I worked one or more days a week taking calls, helping to keep the Jazz Office organized and running smoothly and in my last year, directing/leading a student ensemble. One of my highlights was was to work with the great Jimmy Giuffre co-directing the Jazz Composer Concerts; I did this for two years with him. Jimmy was a fabulous musician and certainly a gentleman – always polite and supportive of others, a pleasure to be around!
Over my first four semesters (I attended five – last two part-time) I studied under William Thomas McKinley, an absolutely amazing and extremely prolific classical composer and jazz and classical pianist. “Tom” encouraged me to stretch musically and compose modern classical pieces. As a result, I went on to write duets for guitar and piano, violin and marimba and cello and piano. I also composed for woodwind quintet, solo pieces for various orchestral instruments, big band pieces and tunes, which were some of the seeds in the genesis of the David Joel Quartet.
In my last year, I had the good fortune to study with the great jazz drummer, Bob Moses, who play on Pat Metheny’s first album. Bob’s rhythmic concept is original to the way he thinks and he was very intense and inspiring as an instructor. Guitarist, Mick Goodrick (who’s played with a who’s who of jazz luminaries as well as having a cult following) changed the way I looked at playing and writing music; he also had a lot of very interesting insights to teaching and life as well. He liked my music copying and calligraphy enough to hired me to copy parts for his guitar quartet, pretty amazing. Mick was a great guy and I always enjoyed his company. He shared a lot of stories about his life. He could be conservative with his praise, though when he gave a compliment it had weight. I remember playing a tape for him of a recital which premiered a piano piece I had written. At the conclusion, he looked at me and replied that he would really like to hear what I would be writing in ten years. A very great compliment, indeed. Probably one of the reasons I went to NEC in the first place…
At Berklee learned my musical fundamentals, at NEC I learned to create on a higher and more aesthetic level. It was like building a bridge to a place where I would like to go, but at the same time, figuring that out as I was continually traveling to that location. Creating music has such a natural flow, it matches that of life so perfectly!