CAPITAL DISTRICT — Don Warren has a message for anyone who has wanted to learn to play a musical instrument, but is too afraid to take lessons: don’t let fear hold you back.
Warren not only offers guitar lessons to students of all ages and abilities, but he also offers separate jam camps for teens and adults. Teens and adults meet four times a year at North Albany Studios on North Pearl Street in Albany. U-Rock Camps take place in February, July, August and November, while the adults jam camps are spaced three months apart.
Warren, who has been teaching full-time for the last 12 years after leaving the corporate world, said the camps began with his younger students.
“Shortly into teaching, I started a rock camp called U-Rock (at Edie Road Studios in Argyle),” said Warren. “I’ve done that for years, and it’s been very successful.”
Warren, who teaches guitar and bass at Drome Sound in Schenectady along with his son, Michael, said that he started the adult jams a couple of years ago when his adult students heard about the teen camps.
“The adults said, ‘Can we do some type of jam?’” said Warren. “So, we do a single thing where they get together from noon to 5 (p.m.) at a local recording studio … and they get together and work on the music that I help them put together. Simple stuff, but they have a good time playing with it, and they develop their skills while they’re doing it.”
Each jam session starts with a warm-up period, followed by a little bit of instruction from Warren. Then, the students work on whatever songs they want to play, be it covers or originals.
Warren said he averages 10 to 12 students at his adult jam camps, many of who never played in a group before.
“Some of them are absolutely petrified (at first). And I start to realize that a lot of these people, wherever their station is in life, some of them may feel beaten down and some of them may never have had a lot of their confidence in their lives and they’re very timid,” said Warren. “But, it’s such a relaxed atmosphere. So, what I offer for them to do before they come into camp is to come in on a lesson with me and another student who might be timid or of like minds and feelings. And those two get together and work together. And then, I’ll have another person join in at another point.
“Once they get comfortable (playing music) with two or three people in my room, then I tell them let’s take this up a notch — let’s take it to the camp.”
Warren said he tries to keep the focus on playing songs, rather than learning techniques.
“I always tell my students, don’t ever let me catch you practicing, but do let me see the results of your playing with the stuff that you’ve been getting,” said Warren. “It’s semantics, but it’s a mindset … It’s like video games. They get good at it not because they practice one move. They play it because they like it, and they get better. That’s what’s happening with these adults.”
Warren also said he tries to keep his teaching approach simple, so as not to overwhelm his students.
“I keep simplifying and simplifying and simplifying the guitar because I was a real slow learner on the instrument,” said Warren. “It frustrated me that people were learning so much faster, so I developed a super easy way for almost anybody at any level to increase their abilities right away.
And as they get better at their instruments, Warren said he sees a change in his students’ confidence levels, especially with the adults.
“They just emerge, and it’s amazing. I’ve had letters and notes from their wives that other people they know are noting their transformation,” said Warren.
Some of Warren’s adult students take it a step further and start writing their own songs.
“I don’t think it’s possible for a human being not to be a songwriter – with my help, with Michael’s help – and I’ll tell you why,” said Warren. “It’s not a book thing, and it’s not something I can show somebody else how to do. For whatever reason, they always say to me, ‘I never thought I’d see me do this, but somehow you got it out of me.’ I’m like, ‘I wasn’t trying to.’
“I don’t know what it is. It must be within our conversations. I know I’ve created a relaxed atmosphere. I know I always start each lesson with how was your weekend, how are you doing, what’s going on in your life, and they’ll start talking about stuff. And from that, I’ll go, ‘Boy, that sounds like quite a story.’ And they’ll be like, ‘Yeah,’ and you can start to see the wheels spinning.”
Since the camps take place at recording studios, Warren said it’s only a natural step to start recording what his students are working on. That’s what he intends to do at February’s U-Rock Camp for teens.
“I’ll be having John Chiara professionally record their performance,” said Warren. “With the teens, they put on a full, one-hour show with a lot of songs.”
Learning how to play music has more benefits than just offering a confidence boost. Warren said music can also help reduce stress and offer people a creative outlet that they never had before.
The best part, said Warren, is watching his students start thinking musically.
“Half these guys don’t even know they’re learning music theory, and then they say, ‘Wait a minute. A 1-3-5 makes a chord.’… And then, they start talking (theory) amongst each other, and I act like I’m just as surprised as they are. It’s truly fun.”
For more information about taking lessons or participating in a jam camp, call Don Warren at 791-6185 or visit www.donwarrenmusic.com.