How did you get started in music and playing guitar?

I’ve always loved Music for as long as I can remember. Listening to my parents Elvis, The Who, Kiss and Led Zeppelin records was a great part of my childhood.

I first heard Van Halen when I was about 12. Hearing them really gave me the bug for wanting to actually play the Guitar. Eddie Van Halen’s Guitar playing was so revolutionary and innovative. I still get goosebumps when I hear some of his earlier solos.

My parents, however, were not as supportive of me wanting to pick up the guitar. I was good at sports and art and that’s exactly where they tried to push me. I dated a girl when I was 16 who’s Mother played a little. She let me borrow a 3/4 size acoustic, and I just loved it from day 1.

It wasn’t until I got my first job in high-school that I was able to save up enough money to put a down payment on an Electric Guitar and Amp. My parents eventually came around and helped me pay it off after they saw how much I loved it.

Guitarist Eddie Van Halen

Edward Van Halen c. 1984

How many hours a week do you spend playing gigs, teaching, and writing?

I never thought that at 47 I’d be playing more than ever, but I really am! I played 6 gigs last week and have 5 this week. I average over 200 gigs per year. With a schedule this crazy and changing from week to week, it’s hard for me to stay on a regular Guitar Teaching schedule. I do maintain a small group of Adult students who are somewhat flexible and try to get them in whenever I can make the time.

I tend to work on my Writing and Blog stuff in the mornings or very late at night. I try to write at least an hour every day. If it’s a day off, it may be 3-5 hours depending on the topic. I can knock out a 2000+ word blog post with graphics and everything in about 3 hours… but if it’s something for my books and music it could be much longer.

How much money can you expect to make starting out as a musician?

Don’t expect to make much! I was lucky that I started teaching at 19. My parents couldn’t afford College and scholarships were non-existent for me. I was able to teach a full schedule until joining my first professional band at age 21. I really didn’t have a lot of choices. It was either get out and do it or find another job. I never looked back and stuck with it.

What would be your advice to new guitarists just starting out?

Learn as much as you can both in terms of Music theory and Technique regardless of what instrument you play. When you’re young, you’ll have more opportunities in the industry based on superficial things like your looks, image etc… but it doesn’t always last.

Music trends come and go. Once you get a little older, all that’s left is your talent and ability to work in a variety of musical situations. Whether it be teaching or performing, being well-rounded is very important if you want to make a lifelong career in music.

Put together an effective guitar practice routine!

Guitar 7 Day Practice Routine

Guitar 7 Day Practice Routine

What would you tell a new guitarist to focus on for their music career?

Be a Rockstar.

I always tell people when they’re young to focus on writing and producing their own music. Be a Rock Star!… or at least give it a try. The Music industry is like anything else.. there are the top .001% who make it “BIG” and then there are the rest who have a fulfilling, normal, middle-class income & career like anyone else.

Stick With it.

The closest I ever came to major success was in a Heavy Metal band I was in at 20 years old. Although we came close to getting that big record deal, it just didn’t work out. I stuck with it afterword and have had a wonderful career as a normal guy who just happens to play guitar for a living.

Relocate!

I’m originally from Canton, OH… not exactly a hotbed for music career activity. Moving to Central Florida has allowed me to take a wide variety of gigs ranging from theme parks and vacation resorts to large conventions and corporate events.

Unless you’re already in a thriving music town like L.A., Orlando, New York, Las Vegas, Nashville, Austin etc, don’t be afraid to go somewhere that has a built-in community for the musician work you’re looking for.

Craig @ Gaylord Palms 2013

Craig Live: Gaylord Palms 2013

What do you love the most about playing the guitar for a living?

Every good thing I’ve ever had in my life I owe to music and the guitar. Everything. I met my wife Celeste (Married 21 years) and most of my best friends through music.

I will say though, while I genuinely love music, I never cared for the music business.

What are some challenges you face as a guitarist?

Keeping my chops up! It’s a big reason why I wrote my book The 7 Day Practice Routine for Guitarists. Maintaining a regular technical routine is always a challenge, both in terms of time restrictions and physicality.

You know how people say “It’s just like riding a bike, you never forget”? There’s some science behind that.

Large motor-skill movements are much easier to retain and maintain throughout your life.. like riding a bike or Skateboarding. Small motor-skill movements like playing a musical instrument, require constant maintenance and daily work.

Unfortunately, all Musicians face this challenge. Imagine each one of your 4 fingers doing 1000+ different purposeful movements per minute. Crazy right?

I originally wrote the outline for my book as a daily routine for myself. Something I could do in the afternoon before a gig to maintain my physical ability on the guitar. Over some time and tweaking, it evolved gradually into a 90-page book!

Craig Live at House of Blues, Orlando

Craig Live at House of Blues, Orlando

Tell us more about your guitar practice routine book.

Well, I really started writing it for myself at first. I wanted an organized practice routine that I could do throughout the week between my busy gigging, teaching and writing schedule.

I’ve curated material from teaching Guitar lessons over the years and written some really effective music pieces to facilitate getting your hands (and brain) in shape in as little time possible.

The 7 Day Practice Routine For Guitarists

After the routine was finished I filled the book out with all of the Music theory required to get the most out of each day’s lesson. It was originally clocking in at over 150 pages… probably too much for a music book. After some editing, I was able to get it down to a much more digestible 90 pages.

Do you have any final thoughts, words of wisdom, or suggestions for someone wanting to get started in music and owning a business they love?

Hey let’s face it… there’s just nothing better than being your OWN boss, right? Whether you’re a musician, writer or blogger you can have that complete freedom to call your own shots.

My best advice is to stay focused and disciplined in everything you do. While being your own boss is the best, you can also easily fall into a routine where you’re not keeping up with your work and slacking off a bit. Stay focused and you’ll stay working regardless of your chosen career path.

Let’s talk about teaching for a bit. As you know I’m a busy mummy!

What is the youngest age child you have taught?

I think the youngest I’ve had was a 6-year-old little girl. It was a bit of a challenge, but she was enthusiastic and her Father played Guitar too, so that helped.

I think a good rule to follow is, if a child under age 10 shows an interest in the Guitar or music in general, it should be encouraged. If you force a young kid to take lessons, it may ruin any future interest in a musical instrument later on.

Do you find the younger children harder to teach than the older ones?

Certainly, below the age of 8, it can be more difficult. That being said, the best student I’ve ever had was a 10-year-old boy who has grown into a world-class professional musician. At 28, he now tours in various bands, teaches lessons himself, and has several worldwide music and video releases to his name.

I think the magic number for successful music students is around ages 10-12.

What is the hardest guitar lesson you had to teach?

I had a Special Needs child a few years back. While there are many challenges for the teacher, I would encourage music education (and the arts) for any child that shows an interest, even those with special needs.

What advice do you have to parents getting their children ready for their first music lesson?

Don’t force it. Just because you or your spouse have a love for music, it doesn’t necessarily mean your child will take to it. Often times parents will force children to take lessons for all of the wrong reasons.

The other problem that has become more prevalent in the past 10 years or so, are parents who put their children into too many activities at once.

For example, I had a family recently that had two siblings taking Guitar Lessons from me at the same time.

Child #1 – Was involved in Karate, Soccer and a few other after-school programs.

Child #2 – Was more introverted and was really only interested in playing the guitar.

Child #2 excelled at music because (she) didn’t have the distractions of too many activities. When you spread a child’s often limited after-school time between too many activities, much like everything in life, they will never really get good at any one particular thing.

My challenge to parents is this: I understand physical activity is important, BUT… in 5, 10 or 20 years from now your child will probably never touch a soccer ball again… but a music education can be a fulfilling hobby that can be nurtured for a lifetime. (And passed on to your Grandkids!)


Craig Smith Guitarist and Writer

Craig Smith is a Professional Guitarist, Writer and Blogger in Sanford, Florida. After teaching and performing for over 25 years he started www.Lifein12Keys.com as an online outlet for his writing passion.

An Educator at heart, Craig loves to teach people how to play Guitar and Blog.

When he’s not playing Guitar, Skateboarding or arguing with you about why Vinyl Records sound better than CDs, you may find him by the pool with his wife Celeste, 4 Chihuahuas and a drink.