Mastering the Music

Instructor teaches bass guitar student by letting him choose favorite songs
Sunday, January 16, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:06 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

At the music store, the guitar teacher sits in a room just large enough for two people, casually strumming an electric guitar until the next student arrives.

A poster of guitar notes hangs below a picturesque print of New Zealand. Twenty music books lean vertically against the wall in two clean stacks. A compact disc labeled “Family Tradition” sits next to the small boombox on the carpet.

“My student should be here any minute,” says Monte Moore, 34, who teaches 50 guitar lessons each week.

Sure enough, when Moore steps out of the room and into the main area of Brook Mays Music Company in Columbia, Andrew Helmrich, a 14-year-old West Junior High student, is waiting between the baby grand pianos and drums for Moore.

The two walk back to the tiny room. Andrew takes his seat across from his teacher.

The teenager unzips a soft guitar case, revealing a brick-red bass guitar matching his sweater.

“What have you been working on?” Moore asks.

Andrew quietly hands him AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and says that he wants to learn a particularly ribald song from the CD.

Moore teaches Andrew the bass guitar by letting him play what he wants.

“Are there any songs on here about doing your homework?” Moore jokes.

As the first few seconds of the song pass, Moore identifies the bass notes. He takes Andrew’s bass to demonstrate.

The music instructor quickly plays the first few notes in harmony with the song, writing them down on a sheet of music paper.

“See, the start of the song is really easy,” he says as he plays the same note five times in a row. The two listen and wait for the bass section to speed up.

“But here …” Moore trails off while trying a few other notes on the bass. As he stops the music for a minute to review the work, Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll” is heard in the next practice room on the piano.

As Moore replays parts of the AC/DC song, Andrew rests his hand under his chin, and quietly sits in amazement while the lesson comes to life on the music sheet.

Later Moore hands the bass to its owner, and Andrew attempts the song on his own.

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