Aaron Wolf

When my wife showed me Aaron's website, I knew right away he was going to be a great fit for me as a guitar teacher. After taking lessons for several months, I can only say that I am more sure than ever of that assessment; my only regret is that life took me away from the Portland area he teaches in. I want to highlight four qualities that I think make Aaron stand out as a teacher: he is transparent, flexible, expert, and personal.

Aaron is one of the most transparent people I know. In his speech, and in his writing, he takes great care to identify the core of his thoughts and opinions, and to express them directly and with clarity. If you take nothing else away from this review, I hope you will visit his website and read his writing. He has a huge collection of (often unorthodox) thoughts on how to teach guitar well and how to learn guitar well. Each idea is discussed with his signature bluff-free style: with an honest assessment of the advantages and drawbacks. His in-person teaching style is a direct match with the claims he makes about his style. When he says he wants you to argue with him, because this can lead to better understanding for both teacher and student, he means it literally—some of the most enlightening conversations we had were the result of me trying to back him into a corner (and generally failing). When he says he encourages exploration in whatever direction a student finds fascinating, he means it. When he says he encourages understanding over memorization, he means it—when he taught me the basic chord finger positions, he taught it as a progression I could reason through and reinvent myself rather than as a collection of positions to memorize. When he says he doesn't think there is a connection between how good a piece of music is and how difficult it is, he means it—even as a very new beginner, he directed me towards beautiful works that were within my ability to achieve.

In short, he says what he means. Please review his website—you will get a very accurate picture of his teaching style from it.

Aaron expresses flexibility in two core ways. The first is irreverence. Many lessons began with some variant of, "The traditional way to teach this is... but we're not going to do that.". But this was never "just because": in all cases, this was followed by a short discussion of why the traditional ways made sense in the past, and what had changed since then. These were valuable discussions to have; like any serious student, I sought out and consumed other learning resources, and Aaron's history lessons gave me the context I needed to confidently adhere to or ignore their advice. The second is attentiveness. Aaron paid close attention to me, going out of his way to encourage me to discuss my practice habits, musical preferences, and learning goals. Then he tailored our lessons, redirecting them towards techniques, styles, and exercises that he thought were a good mix between matching my interests and extending my command of the fundamentals. There was no agenda set in stone on day one; as appropriate, we reassessed where we were currently headed and where we wanted to be going. His focus on staying in my interest zone was, I think, a significant factor in my continued practice time.

Though I am still a beginner, it does not take an expert to recognize an expert, and it is clear to me that Aaron's expertise runs deep. We had many tangential discussions that ran dangerously deep and detailed; despite that, we never appeared to getting anywhere near the boundaries of Aaron's expertise. His explanations, even of complicated ideas, were always easy to follow and to the point. (Having tried to construct such explanations of my own, I know this is not possible without a deep and confident understanding of the material being taught plus a few layers beyond!) I would have no hesitation recommending Aaron as a teacher even to an experienced guitarist.

Finally, besides his many technical qualifications, Aaron is a very personal and friendly teacher. I honestly went into the first lesson intending to enter into a business transaction: I give him dollars, he makes me better at guitar. But things didn't unfold that way. Aaron showed me warmth and humanity throughout the time I was taking lessons with him; was understanding of times in which I felt unmotivated; shared my exuberance when I (re)discovered fun corners of guitar culture; and was generally an unexpected but empathetic friend. How he managed to balance that connection with his other role as an authority figure I will never know, but he won't be soon forgotten.

For his transparency and the trust it generates; for his flexibility and the confidence it brings; for his expertise and the reliance it allows; and for his personality and the friendship it led to; I give Aaron the highest rating possible.