James Lipka: Guitar Lessons at Rock Lititz
The old trope - “music soothes the savage breast” is something everyone has heard. But, did you know that playing music can also help your brain? The Journal of Neuroscience recently published a study conducted by Baycrest Health Sciences, showing that playing a musical instrument can help defer age related cognitive decline. So, we recently spoke with local music educator, James Lipka, about his experience in the music field and his thoughts on music education.
Fine Living Lancaster- How old were you when you started learning to play, and what inspired you?
James Lipka- I was 12 years old. The first song I remember hearing that made me go “I want to do that” was Say It Ain’t So by Weezer. When I was 15 I heard (original Ozzy Osbourne guitarist) Randy Rhoads for the first time, and that was what made me really want to dedicate myself to the guitar.
FLL- You are a graduate of perhaps the most prestigious music school of all time - Berklee. What was that experience like?
JL- It was a trial by fire for sure. Growing up, there weren’t really that many guitar players around me. By that I mean, I knew a lot of people that had guitars, but not too many of my peers at the time were really dedicated to it the way I was. I didn’t really have a reference point for what a “good” guitar player was. When I got to Berklee, I was suddenly surrounded by the best players in the world. I was definitely at the bottom of the pile. The first year was a rude awakening in a lot of ways. But I got through it, and it made me a much better musician. Since then, I’ve come to enjoy the feeling of being the “worst” musician when I’m playing with people. It forces you to rise to the occasion.
FLL- How does having had the Berklee experience, impact your teaching style?
JL- They’ve been doing what they do for a long time. All of their courses are integrated with each other, and are presented in a very logical way. The harmony classes relate to the ear training classes, etc. I use a similar model, in the sense that the guitar is a musical instrument, so in addition to guitar specific things, like chord shapes, scale patterns, etc, I also stress a lot of musical concepts, like a good sense of rhythm, ear training, etc. Those things are important, no matter what instrument you play.
FLL- Generally, people learning to play an instrument, look to learn to play songs that are currently in vogue, is that the case with your students?
JL- It really depends on the student. I have young kids who want to learn AC/DC songs, and older students who want to learn Ed Sheeran songs. You never really know. And some people just want to learn about chords and scales on their own. Every student is a little bit different, which I like because it keeps me on my toes.
FLL- Can you tell us about the teaching facility?
JL- I teach out of Tone Tailors, which is in Lititz, in the Rock Lititz community. The shop itself is great. We have a huge selection of effects pedals and guitars, as well as instrument and amplifier repair, so in addition to the lessons, you can get all of your other guitar needs met.
FLL- You play in local bands, does that impact your teaching style or the experience for your students in any specific way?
JL- The biggest takeaway I have from my gigging experience is that the more you can get out and play, the faster you’re going to progress. That’s where the application of all the material comes in. I’m constantly telling my students that the more often that they can play with other people, even if they think it sounds “bad”, the better they are going to get.
FL- In your opinion, is the future of music looking bright?
JL- Absolutely. Music never goes away, it just changes. I see so many kids in the shop who are amazingly talented and creative, so there’s certainly no lack of talent. There’s always going to be good music coming out. With the advent of affordable home recording equipment and electronic distribution, a lot more people have the ability to easily record and release their music. I think we’re going to see a lot of really interesting things happening in the next few years.
FL- Finally, what’s in store for James Lipka, musically?
JL- I love to play, so honestly, whatever comes my way. I’ve done a few musicals recently, and have really enjoyed those, so I’d like to do more of them. I’ve also been getting back into a lot of the solo fingerstyle guitar that I grew up playing. With my busy gigging schedule the last few years, I haven’t been been able to work on that as much as I’d like to, but I’m really making an effort to get back to it. No matter what the future holds, there will definitely be a lot of guitar involved.
To arrange lessons with James Lipka - call 717.538.3988
Photographs by Rachel Stauffer