Veteran musicians set out to teach tricks of the trade to the young

It starts out like this: A major, D/F sharp, G major, add 9, back to D/ sharp. Then G major, add 9 again, D/F sharp again, and then back to A major.

You might say, “what the heck is a G major add 9?” With just the guitar chords, AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” would be just another series of notes.

But played to the right beat and with the right oomph, it becomes gesture of defiance in the sneering face of “the man.”

Mac Ross can teach you what a G major, add 9 is. He also teaches oomph. He started Oklahoma Music Academy, 4303 31st St., in November 2005, joined by some former instructors from Saied Music Co., to help people love their music.

Ross, a guitarist, and his co-instructors teach more than 240 students in several rooms at their small business in midtown Tulsa.

They don’t use a 50-year-old Mel Bay chord book. Neither are classes taught by a guy between pizza delivery jobs, playing a few chords to babysit for a half-hour, Ross said.

He and his instructors know why kids want to play guitar — and it’s usually not because they want to learn “Kumbaya.”

“I think that when most kids pick up an instrument like the guitar or the drums, you know they have a real strong vision about what it is that they want to do,” Ross said. “And it isn’t something that’s real traditional.”

Ross and his instructors can teach you how to rock, how to play jazz, metal, country and blues on every instrument, from drums to guitar. They teach students from all levels and all ages while keeping it fun.

“Music is supposed to be something that you enjoy, so why shouldn’t it be fun? And if kids are having fun playing music, guess what, they’re going to practice,” Ross said.

Ross and his instructors put on a live performance workshop a few times a year, forming their students into bands so they learn how to play live and use a public address system. They also teach the students how to book shows.

Despite the emphasis on making music fun, they’re serious about what they do.

Ross has played guitar and taught music in the Tulsa area for about 20 years. He used money from teaching to pay the bills while he played in bands from Mollys Yes to Fanzine.

Ross, while in Fanzine, once recorded in London’s Abbey Road studio of Beatles fame.

Other instructors have different backgrounds.

Dustin Rhodes is an accomplished drummer and guitarist who’s played with various acts, including local metal favorite Jakob.

Gary Whitley is a noted local country guitarist, whose repertoire ranges from blues to jazz. Whitley has played with a host of Tulsa musicians, including Ronnie Dunn, the songwriting half of the superstar country duo Brooks & Dunn, the school’s Web site states.

You might say it’s a little bit like Jack Black’s film “School of Rock,” where Black, who plays a down-on-his-luck musician, fills in as a substitute teacher in a hoity-toity private school. He turns his class into a crash course on how to rock.

At Ross’ business one day last week, there were fresh-faced kids waiting in the hallway for their lessons, guitar cases lining the wall.

One of the students, 8-year-old Jacob Gregory, strums out Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” during a lesson with Rhodes, packed into a practice room with a huge drum set in the corner. He’s pretty good — not just for an 8-year-old, but for any guitar student who has been playing for only six months.

When asked why he plays guitar, Gregory said “because I thought it would be really fun.” The boy says his favorite band is KISS and he especially likes the band’s bassist, Gene Simmons.

But, “for all of this sort of ‘School of Rock’ kind of fun goofy sort of thing that we’re putting out, there’s a very serious kind of context to what we’re doing. And we believe that what we offer is a unique service because of our experiences as veteran musicians,” Ross said.

Ross teaches about 85 kids a week at his business, which is open seven days a week.

One of his pupils Wednesday was 15-year-old guitar prodigy Chris Akers, a mop-headed kid from Booker T. Washington High School who can play better than musicians twice as experienced.

Akers, his silver Les Paul across his lap, sat across from the bespectacled Ross, watching in awe as Ross showed him a graceful series of notes in quick succession, sweeping up and back down the neck of his coffee-colored Fender Stratocaster.

Ross instructs him to use the same fingerings he does, which makes it easier to hit the notes correctly on the way up as well as the way back down.

It’s Akers’ turn now, and he at first fumbles his way through the melody. Minutes later, he nearly has it down.

How he teaches depends on the student, Ross said, but the goal is the same. He wants them to enjoy playing and keep it up. He wants his students to be versatile, he said.

“That was probably one of the most important things you taught me,” Akers said.


Matt Elliott 581-8366

matt.elliott@tulsaworld.com


Web: www.okmusicacademy.com