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Meet Robert Bussey, Guitar Instructor

October 13, 2012

We recently interviewed Academy guitar teacher, Robert Bussey.  Robert has been with Charlotte Academy of Music since we opened our doors and we are continually impressed by the dedication he shows to his craft, both as a performing musician and music educator.  Enjoy reading about this remarkable teacher!

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Robert Bussey, Acoustic/Electric/Bass Guitar

When describing Robert Bussey to potential guitar students, I always let them know that he is an incredible musician, an excellent, thorough teacher and above all, a truly wonderful person. We are blessed to have Robert on faculty. He has been with us since we opened our doors! I hope you enjoy reading the interview with Robert below. ~Regina Ziliani

How did you become interested in the guitar?

I’ve loved music all of my life as far back as I can remember. When I was around 6 or 7 years old, my parents took me to see Glen Campbell, Jerry Reed and John Hartford in concert. It was the Glen Campbell Good Time Show. The musicianship and showmanship that was on display that night, along with the audience response made such an impression that I began to envision doing that myself some day. Then at age 10 while at summer camp, a couple of the counselors were playing guitar around the bonfire and it was at that point I made the decision “I’m a going to play guitar and pursue music.”I got my first taste of “stardom” when I played and sang the song “Sally G” by Paul McCartney in the school talent show when I was a 6th grader. The packed gymnasium went nuts and called me back out for an encore. I haven’t looked back since then.

How Long have you been teaching guitar?

I landed my first teaching job in 1991 at Picker’s Supply in Fredericksburg, VA. Bran Dilliard, the store owner, had a concert hall in the top of his music store. He used to do an outreach to the youth called Street Cry, and bring in faith based bands to play concerts. Two different bands that I used to be in, Taker and Armageddon used to play there. One evening I got a call from Bran saying “I’m in need of a guitar teacher, and God laid you on my heart. Are in you interested?” That’s how I got my start. I basically went into it emulating the way my guitar teacher taught me… teaching through method books but leaving time to teach students any songs that they were interested in. I still mark my student’s method book with date of the lesson at the beginning of the practice assignment and a bracket after the double bar line at the end of the practice assignment the way my teacher marked my books.

What do you consider to be your proudest teaching moment/accomplishment?

I have had many of those moments, but the one that stands out the most involved this one student named Wes Waters when I was teaching at Melodee School Of Music and Performance Center in Northern Virginia. Wes signed on for Classical guitar lessons with me upon his retirement from an illustrious career with Lockheed Martin. He had an amazing mind and used to write articles for Popular Mechanics. He was also an antiques dealer and restored an antique car from the 1930s called a Lasalle. This car had medals going across the entire back bumper from winning all these different car shows and many of the parts were machined by Wes himself.

Wes had always dreamed about studying Classical Guitar and his retirement now afforded him the time to do so. Now classical guitar is a world all of it’s own from any other style of music. It has it’s own disciplines, it’s formal and very demanding. Wes embraced that and worked very hard. After a year and a half of studies, he was in New York at an antiques convention. He had his guitar on hand and would sit there and play in his booth during his down time. At one point after he finished playing, he looked up to find that there were two guys standing there watching him and they applauded. They went on two ask him who he was studying with in which he replied that he had an instructor down in Virginia that he was studying under. Their reply was “well we’re graduates of Julliard and he’s taught you well”.

When Wes related that to me, I was so happy for him that he got that kind of feedback for his playing. It was such a morale boost for me because when it comes to Classical guitar, I’m entirely self taught. I first became inspired to learn classical guitar from the late Randy Rhodes, Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist that died in a plane crash in 1982. He was an avid Classical guitar enthusiast that carried over into his metal playing with Ozzy and that prompted me to want to learn. I used to get lost for hours playing baroque and I put myself through Aaron Shearer’s Classic Guitar techniques. But I often questioned whether I was really qualified to teach Classical and Wes’ accolade of “He taught you well” answered that for me.

Please tell us about your latest recording project!

I’m preparing to go into Polar Bear Lair Studio in Middleton, MD with my old band mates from Armageddon to record five new songs on October 16th through the 21st. I wrote the music for one of the songs entitled “Time Divider” along with vocalist Mike Vance who penned the lyric. The other songs were written by Mike Vance and guitarist Rob Lee (Yes, both of us guitarists in the band are named Robert). It is being produced by Joe Hasselvander, who is the drummer for the band Raven. Joe is also drumming on the project and Raven bassist John Gallagher is doing a lot of the bass work. Actually most of the tracking was done the week I was in Florida for my wife’s graduation from Full Sail University. I’m going up to cut my guitar parts just prior to the mix down. This studio happens to be in an old house from the 1800s on “Blair Witch” Mountain where the filming of the movie Blair Witch Project was filmed. The music that comes out of that studio has a particular warmth to it which I guess is due to the aged wood in the house’s construction.

Armageddon’s first album “The Money Mask” did incredibly well on a worldwide basis. It’s Classic Metal in the order of Judas Priest, Metal Church and Savatage. For those not familiar with Savatage, several years ago they did a little side project called Trans Siberian Orchestra hinging it on the Success of their song Christmas Eve Sarajevo. Anyway I digress. There’s always been a legion of Armageddon fans that have wanted a follow up even to this day. We’re finally getting around to it, first with these five songs, and then possibly a full length album to follow. Someone from Russia put up a vinyl copy of The Money Mask on Ebay awhile back and it sold for $150.00.

You use really interesting materials with your students. Tell us a little about some of your favorite guitar teaching series and why you use them.

First let me say, there is no one set approach to learning to play guitar and there are many different reasons that vary from student to student as to why they are prompted to want to learn. When they come in for that first lesson, the main thing I want to nail down is what is inspiring them, how is the guitar going to fit into their life, what kind of music they like and for the child student, what kind of music their family likes. Then have a learning system in place that addresses those particulars.

For general instruction, The 21st Century Guitar Method has been my mainstay for many years. The content is awesome, but notation is small, the layout is cluttered with teacher accompaniment on the same page as student material and it poses a challenge for students to be able to follow the music and not lose their place. Recently I began using a new interactive method called “You’re In The Band”. The layout is clean as students learn to play along with the band on the CD. Progress is documented as they master both a rehearsal track and a performance track. The music sounds great and students are better able to make an emotional connection with the music. The arrangements are designed to train the hands with repetitions that you don’t have in other methods that use old standards and familiar melodies.

For specialty instruction, my favorite books are John Ganapes’ “Blues You Can Use” series, for Hard Rock and Metal, there’s Troy Stetina’s “Metal”series, his “Total Rock Guitar” book and Music Institute’s “Modern Rock Rhythm Guitar”. These materials are the real deal for the aspiring Blues man or Metal shredder. I love teaching from them because it’s the music closest to my heart and what I write and perform.

There is also an alternate musical world I Iive in called Fingerstyle Guitar or Finger Picking. With this style of playing you can be become a one man orchestra whether creating an awe inspiring soundscape or a dazzling arrangement of a classic rock tune by artists such as The Beatles or Queen. On my own Attic Symphony albums

(available on i-tunes or at www.cdbaby.com/artist/atticsymphony), I always like to include an acoustic fingerstyle piece in what I call “the acoustic eye in the electric storm”. National Guitar Workshop’s “Fingerstyle Guitar” Series is tops for any student wanting to learn what is considered to be one of the most cutting edge forms of guitar playing.

For Master Class students or for those that want to prepare for a University level guitar program, a career as a session player or simply want to push their playing to extremes, there’s Berklee’s “Modern Method For Guitar”, Troy Stetina’s “Speed Mechanics For Lead Guitar” and the theory counterpart “Fretboard Mastery”. These are books you won’t ever out grow and I still study from them myself, especially when I need to get my chops into shape for performing.

For Electric Bass students, I use National Guitar Workshop’s “Electric Bass” series and “Building Bass Lines” for master class students. Students also learn what their role is in a band, the evolution of bass through the decades and the different types of bass lines.

These are the primary books that I use, but there are many others that I can utilize as the need arises. One thing I would like to make clear is that if a student is not happy or is feeling uninspired with their lesson plan, it is completely permissible to request a change of approach. I want students to engage me if they have concerns about their progress or if they have a question as to whether their lessons are taking them in the musical direction they’re wanting to go in.

They should also know that lessons are just a small part of what it means to be a guitar player. When I was taking lessons, I had confidence in my teacher that he was taking me down the right path and I practiced my lesson assignments faithfully, but it was just a small part of my overall playing as I was very self motivated. I bought song books, I watched other guitar players and learned songs by ear off of my record collection. During the summer when school was out, I would practice for 6 to 8 hours a day and I began playing in bands during my early teens.

We really enjoy hearing your students perform in Academy concerts. Why do you feel these performance opportunities are important for your students?

Performance opportunities such as Academy concerts are opportunities for a student to refine their playing skills. There’s a higher level of excellence needed than when they come and recite their lesson material for me each week. In preparation for the performance, I coach them on what to expect on concert day and how to respond. I teach them how to overcome performance anxiety, how to play through their mistakes, how to ease back on the tempo if they begin to flail and I use it as an opportunity to help them dial in their skills. I believe when a student gives a good academy performance, it builds their confidence both as a musician and in their personal growth. I think it helps in equipping them to take charge of their musical destiny and take ownership of their talent. Plus, it’s just plain fun to perform!

You can read Robert’s bio here!

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