Paul Gilbert (right) teaching—and learning from—GIT student Shawn McGovern.
WITH A SOLO TOUR IMMINENT AND MR. BIG recording a new album, Paul Gilbert has had a full calendar as of late. What’s interesting about the Hollywood-based guitar hero, though, is that it’s often when he’s most busy that he likes to return to his alma mater, Musicians Institute, to teach private lessons.
“That’s because the best way to learn about your playing is to see it reflected through the playing of someone else,” says Gilbert.
With countless industry peers and other famous guitarists eager to jam with him at a moment’s notice, why, then, does Gilbert like to sit in a room at MI with students who are typically much less experienced than him?
“It’s funny,” he says. “I recently gave a lesson to a very advanced and well-known guitarist—a guy who tours regularly with world-famous singers—but I tend to get much more from teaching beginners. That’s because if I teach a beginner, they’re obviously struggling more with whatever I might show them. Because of that, it becomes my job to deconstruct what I’m doing and give it to them in manageable chunks.
“That process is probably more enlightening to me than it is to them, because I get to really see the mechanics of what I’m doing more than I ever would have if the other person had gotten it right away. I mean, my first goal is always to enlighten the student, but the huge side benefit is that because I’m seeing those details for the first time, I suddenly start coming up with cool variations on what I’m doing, and find interesting ways to branch out from there.”
Gilbert sums up with a car metaphor: “If the engine’s running fine you never have to look at it. It’s having to open up the hood and look at it that teaches you about the engine. Then, you can hotrod it!”