Teaching the world to play
How Lisa McCormick became one of the Web’s leading guitar instructors
BRATTLEBORO—Lisa McCormick’s online guitar course, Guitar Fundamentals 1, went live in October 2014, bringing her teaching and her music to the world beyond Brattleboro.
The following month, the local singer/songwriter released her new album, “Love Changes Everything,” with some of the tracks having resulted from her Internet guitar classes.
She’s also set to perform with Scott Ainslie and Samirah Evans with Eugene Uman, Hannah Hoffman, House Blend, and Singcrony on Jan. 18 from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church for a benefit show called “Gimme Shelter.”
It helps that Guitar Fundamentals 1 is part of the largest and most highly rated online guitar lesson sites on the Web, GuitarTricks.com.
“GuitarTricks is akin to an online university devoted just to guitar studies. Students subscribe to the site, and then have access to over 8,000 video guitar lessons,” McCormick explains.
She says she designed her course for “all beginning material. I don’t assume the student knows anything. There are approximately 180 video lessons from absolute beginner to very functional strummer. And there’s a free trial,” she adds, directing interested parties to this signup page.
She describes the “comprehensive” guitar course as “designed to accommodate both absolute beginners and self-taught players who need to brush up on the basics. It is extremely thorough, attempting to leave no question unanswered, no player left scratching their head or not succeeding at the learning task.”
In an early review of the course on Guitar Chalk, a Website that bills itself as an educational resource for the modern guitar player and teacher, Bobby Kittleberger writes that McCormick discusses proper technique and best practices “right down to the placement and movement of each finger for making those chord changes. That’s a level of detail that’s typically found only in personal tutoring and in-person guitar lessons.”
An almost-accidental teacher
McCormick began teaching guitar lessons on GuitarTricks almost by accident. She was teaching guitar in Brattleboro in one-on-one settings and her students were studying rock ’n’ roll improv.
She needed musical tracks for them to play against to challenge and increase their improvisational skills, she says. She went online and found GuitarTricks: “They had tracks there and I used them in my lessons.”
One day, as McCormick scrolled to the bottom of the site’s page, she saw a solicitation for new teachers.
Although at that point McCormick had logged about 13 years as a guitar instructor; the “careful vetting” process for joining GuitarTricks’ roster, as she described it, required her to jump through a lot of hoops and involved a steep learning curve.
“I never touched a video camera in my life. I am not a technology geek,” she says, explaining that she knew little about video and computers.
Jumping through the hoops worked. McCormick has been teaching with GuitarTricks for seven years now. Broderick describes her as one of the site’s most popular instructors.
“Even my videographer, who doesn’t play guitar at all, said to me about playing guitar, ‘Well, I could do that,’ just from filming McCormick’s lessons, McCormick says.
Teaching online allowed McCormick to expand her business. Although she says teaching guitar one on one in her Brattleboro studio was “a steadying thing” for the self-employed artist — it allowed her a stable income and “removed the crapshoot of relying solely on gig income” — she “completely maxed out” with a full roster of students.
And the waitlist was twice as long as her roster, she says.
GuitarTricks gave her a way to teach many more people. “It was an opportunity to grow as a teacher beyond my Brattleboro studios,” she says.
McCormick’s success as an instructor may stem from the way in which she learned to play guitar.
She describes herself as mostly self-taught and attributes her first lessons to her father. “When I was 10 he taught me to play three chords on the guitar. They were the only three he knew. I played ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ and I studied folk and classical guitar. I holed up in my room after school and pored over the James Taylor songbook.”
She later took lessons in “specific things I wanted to learn or understand better.”
McCormick’s skill at teaching guitar may have also come from her non-musical educational experiences. She took her bachelor of science in education at Keene State, where she learned to teach students with what she calls “alternative learning styles.”
After graduating, McCormick taught at Landmark College, and says the college “had a very extensive training program for teachers teaching to a diversified student body. This instruction paid off: I can reach different people with different learning styles.”
“I’m really interested in learning the process of a beginner being passionate” about learning guitar, she says. “I ask myself, How do learners learn guitar? I use my mojo to figure out how each student learns. I tailor my teaching to reach you,” she adds.
In her 20 years of teaching guitar, she says: “I’ve taught hundreds of people in real time, and I’ve been asked every question thousands of times. So, in my course, all of the questions I’ve been asked, I answer.
“It interests me to communicate new information and skills in a way that people of all different backgrounds, ages, genders, nationalities — can grasp. Some teachers say, Let me show you a scale; now do it like me” she explains.
In contrast, she says, “In my teaching I lead the students on a journey. It’s their own curiosity that makes them want to learn, not me dictating to them. My lessons are relaxed, friendly, and clear. They’re not confusing. They’re encouraging, positive, and supportive of their learning process.”
McCormick’s new album, “Love Changes Everything,” contains songs she wrote specifically for her digital guitar lessons, providing her with what she calls a creative surprise.
Although McCormick can use any song she wants in her one-on-one guitar lessons, GuitarTricks has different rules: “My mandate was: I couldn’t use copyrighted songs or songs from the public domain.” That left her no extant music.
“So,” she says, “for the course, I had a choice: make up songs or don’t use songs.”
“My philosophy of teaching is, let’s use songs immediately. I don’t want to just teach technical skills; I want students to see the association between notes and chords and actual music. If we learn one chord in a lesson, we’ll play a song with that one chord,” she adds.
Even with her online teaching success, McCormick insists on keeping her one-on-one lesson schedule and continues teaching in Brattleboro one day per week.
“I want the personal relationship,” she says. “It’s something I miss from teaching online: I like having a human being come into my house. It’s good for the soul. I get to experience the evolution of them as musicians. I consider it a blessing.”
She adds she’s gearing up to announce a full CD release party in spring with a full band at Next Stage Arts in Putney to celebrate “Love Changes Everything.”