Michael Forget is learning to play guitar to a popular Adele song that has no guitar instrumentation.
No matter for 9-year-old Michael, or his instructor, Jordan Strauss, director of Lesson Advantage, a systemized, interactive method of teaching kids ages 7 to 12 to play their favorite songs on guitar.
Using an iPad and a Mac computer, Strauss, 30, of Hatboro, slows down and simplifies popular songs, like Adele’s “Set Fire to Rain,” claps out the beats, has his students play along, one riff at a time and adds plenty of positive reinforcement throughout.
“I’m trying to completely break the mold,” Strauss said after a recent lesson with Michael. “Everybody should have the opportunity to succeed at a musical instrument.”
Typically when teaching young children guitar, instructors too often have students play nursery rhymes or read from a method book, Strauss said. In his 10 years of teaching - at DeLuca Music in Hatboro – Strauss said he’s seen kids “getting babied” who get bored and quit, or who are taught like an adult.
Instead, he asks his students to choose 10 songs they want to learn. Strauss said he slows down the song, while preserving the pitch of the music and lessons evolve from there.
“I mold the song to the student,” Strauss said. “(I often tell people) I teach 8-year-old kids to play Justin Biber songs on a guitar. It’s less about the instrument and more about the song.”
Michael, who started taking lessons from Strauss in November, is just about finished learning his second song. He plays a red and black Ibanez electric guitar that Strauss tunes for him at the beginning of the lesson.
“I kinda really like to play guitar,” Michael said.
Strauss said he developed his Lesson Advantage approach gradually, and had it fully in place for the last three years. Strauss said he hired his first employee in November and shared with him his niche for teaching kids’ guitar lessons. The methodology functions like an app, or a "glorified powerpoint presentation," according to Strauss, and guides the lesson based on how the student performs the given task.
By systemizing everything, Strauss said he noticed that students “stick around longer.”
Another key to Strauss’ approach is to teach kids to play one finger at a time, as opposed to using multiple fingers immediately.
“The less resistance that the student experiences, the better,” Strauss said.
Strauss, who has been playing guitar for 17 years and is a former high school jazz and concert band guitarist, later evolved into playing in metal bands, but said he was “scared out of pursuing music” in college. Then a psychology major, Strauss said he starting teaching guitar lessons to make money in school and it stuck.
He credits DeLuca Music store owner Mark Henkels with giving him the opportunity to teach others and, in doing so, laying the foundation for his development of out-of-the-box kids guitar instruction.
Henkels, who has owned the Hatboro store since 1986, said one of his instructors recommended Strauss, who has become “one of our best teachers.”
Strauss’ Lesson Advantage is one way Henkels hopes to rebuild the music programs offered in the 10 lesson rooms upstairs from the store.
“The recession took a little dip,” Henkels said.
Besides Strauss, Henkels said 15 or 16 other teachers use his roughly 2,500 square feet to offer upwards of 250 lessons per week.
In the spring, Henkels said he plans to again hold recitals for students. Henkels is in discussion with Maine Star Coffee in Hatboro for students to perform there.
“It gives the kids a feeling of being in a public venue,” Henkels said.
And by spring, Michael, who is close to perfecting the added guitar riffs on the Adele song, will be well into - if not finished - learning his third song.