Guitar Teacher Interview 015 – Kyle Ohlenkamp


One of the driving principles behind Start Teaching Guitar is that we can all learn from each other. This “Guitar Teacher Interview” series is a chance for us to hear from other guitar teachers around the world and hopefully get some ideas for our own teaching businesses.

This interview is with Kyle Ohlenkamp, from Minnetonka, Minnesota in the USA. To find out more about Kyle and his teaching business, visit his website at


Guitar Teacher Interview

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where do you live? What’s your background?

I live In Delano, Minnesota but I teach out of Minnetonka, which is a larger suburb of Minneapolis with a thriving arts and music supporting community.

I first started with piano lessons and I really did not like them. I couldn’t stand the melodies we were playing…even by age eight I was already into Kiss; not some “Snake Dance” tune on piano that every kid taking lessons had to play. It was all out of a book and every kid got the same book and even then I KNEW somehow there was a better way. I found it one day when I was about 13 and we were at a store where they had a magazine with a guitar on it. I talked my mom into buying it and it said it could teach you how to play the songs in it and one of them was by Journey.

Now, I did not know much at all and instead of a guitar I ended up with a bass because my mom didn’t know the difference. So, I started out by trying to learn the bass Line for “Stone In Love” by Journey! If I would have known how hard that bass line was (even now) to play I would have probably given up, but I didn’t know that it couldn’t be done so I did it! Now, I had a beginning and most of my learning during the next 3 years came from every guitar magazine I could subscribe to.

I then had a chance to go to Berklee when I was 16 and wow did that open my eyes! I was probably never going to be a professional level player, I realized, but that was alright. I enjoyed music and teaching as much as performing and that has made it possible for me to still have great energy to do this at age 41. After high school I put my dreams on hold and went to college and then got a job at a corporation. For the next 15 years, this is what I did. I hated it. I eventually, got to a point where I looked at my life and said: Is this what I would want for my kids? Of course not. I would want them to be happy in their job and contribute at a high level and that is not possible when you dread what you do every day.

As fate would have it I lost my job at about this time. I don’t know how I did it, but I went into a local music store and asked if I could teach lessons there a couple days a week. They said “maybe” but didn’t seem too thrilled about the idea. I should say that I knew one of the guys that worked there because from time to time I would still jam with local bands. He vouched for me with them and they said, “Alright…if you can get your own students you can have the space in the back to teach them lessons”. They did not have a formal teaching program in place.

Well, it took about 6 months for me to get 3 students and I was getting discouraged. Then, I thought, why not put all the kids I am teaching together into a group and see if they want to learn songs that way. I had another guy from the store play drums.

It went pretty well, so I started gaining the confidence of the owner and he saw that I really cared about the students getting to be excited about learning and finding out from them what it was they really wanted to do. It was less about playing guitar than it was the feeling of being part of something and having fun.

That seemed to spark something in me and renewed my desire to try harder. I set aside 40 hours a week to work on my business. The owner took notice and began to give me tips on how to grow my business.

Then, we moved to a bigger location with a big stage, and sound and lights and an ideal setting to bring bands, student groups and also teach lessons.

So, here it is a year and a half later and I’m still learning. We have done 6 Music Clubs and nearly all of the students still are here and keep signing up.

Tell us about your guitar teaching business. Are you doing it part-time or full-time? How many students are you currently teaching?

I have been teaching full-time now for a year and a half. I have had about 40 students during that time and we are gaining momentum as I didn’t even have a website until a few weeks ago. Now, I have a Facebook page and I am learning more and more about social media.

This next session in April is our biggest yet and will include 5 Music Clubs with 4 students each that run 8 weeks. We are planning to teach 20 private lessons and are also holding a Battle of The Bands during this time period. So I have my hands full because I have to run all aspects of the Music Club side of things.

All of my students are different in their motivation for taking lessons. Some start because their parent want them to. Some because they have an interest in an instrument and are not sure if they want to learn more, but maybe, so they come in and some that are REALLY into it.

I thought all of the students would be the later kind when I began but I have found they are only about 30% based on the 40-50 students that I have taught so far.

I try to offer classes that are diverse. Private lessons in many instruments and if I don’t know how to play it, I contact someone through the stores vital contact list that does, as they have been around for 7 years and know most musicians in the area.

I also have tried to branch out and offer groups lessons at local churches and schools, although we have not done one yet…we are very close to getting final approval.

We are also moving into a technology course that offers audio and video training and software experience.

The next round of classes in April includes a class called “Making The Video” and I have also found that theater people can benefit from using our stage to rehearse so I have rented the space out to them and that works as well.

Oh, also the top students I offer an internship to student/teach after they have done several sessions and that has gone great!

It is so important to keep offering progressive opportunities to create, because otherwise, after 6 lessons most students get bored as there is no motivation to practice for most because they are not going to try to be rock stars.

I look at private lessons as a gateway to offering them more opportunities and I let them know that. I also make it a policy to give 5 times as much as a customer would expect. I learned that from a businessman I respect. For example, I will offer a free lesson to someone who is doing really well or 10% off some gear and I will pay the difference myself.

People notice what your motivation is and they respond, I think. “Give way more than I take” is my motto always.

One other thing is that I will not turn a student down based on financial status. No matter what….if they have the desire to really learn. I find a way to make it happen. Often times they can pay a little. Some times, someone steps in and contributes from the local community for them and sometimes I just teach for free because it is the right thing to do, and besides, it is not for free because I am getting something more than money can buy by doing this!

What’s been the biggest key to success in your teaching business so far?

The number one thing is the ability to keep an open mind and continue to think like a beginner. That opens many doors. I am honest with everyone and if I make a mistake I make up for it right away.

Persistence and the willingness to keep going and keep getting better no matter what. This is what allows me to still be doing this going on 2 years at age 41. Most people would have said to themselves they are too old, no one will take lessons, it is not a legit career path at my age, there are million reasons why I should not teach guitar for a living, but I know this is what I was meant to do and that is the ONLY reason I need to keep going every day.

Every student that comes to me is a chance to make a difference. The lessons I really teach are about life and not giving up and finding a way. They just look like music lessons from the outside.

What’s been your most effective way of attracting new students?

For me it is by getting out there and promoting what I do by example. I engage in conversations and contribute in places where people that are interested in learning music gather.

On the internet is probably 50% of the way I pick up new business. Facebook allows people to get to know and trust you through their friends that know and trust you. So, I start with the network of people I already have and I look out from there.

I have a three-tiered approach to marketing and a check-list I use every day so that my marketing is effective. I know the things that work are the things that take time and generally are the ones I want to avoid. The ones that are easy like blind ads and such are the ones that do not work at all for me and yet are so easy to do!

What’s been your most effective way of keeping your existing students from quitting?

By soliciting feedback from them and from their parents, when appropriate. By changing if things are not working. Giving them options and letting them pick what they prefer. Really getting to know the student and trying to go in the direction that is best for them and not what I want to teach but what they want to learn. That is the key and it is different for every single student to some degree.

I always keep in touch with a departing student, if they agree that is alright, and have seen some come back after a break.

What helps to keep you motivated to continue when things don’t seem to be going as well as you would like?

The fact that I have a routine based on proven marketing strategies and the fact that I surround myself with successful people that have a positive attitude and are a resource for getting over hills.

When I am having a rough patch I look at what I can change or do better. Then, I go do it. Less thinking, more action during these times. Keep moving in a positive direction and you cannot fail because to me failure is no longer an option. Display this attitude and people that have no interest in music even want to be around and take lessons from you.

What advice would you have for someone who would like to get started teaching guitar lessons for the first time?

Very simple:


If they are really serious I would add:


Can you share one tip that has worked for you to help your students get better results on the guitar?

By finding out how they learn best. Through their ears, their eyes, do a search on learning methods and choose the top 2 that fit for that student.

Then, I add in rewards and I try to make them intrinsic…meaning that it’s not something I can buy them, but I really let them know and their families know or maybe I post to their Facebook (if I know they are OK with that) about a milestone they have reached. When this is done from the heart it has an amazing effect. Yes, of course I celebrate with a pizza, too!


Well, that’s it for today’s Guitar Teacher Interview. If you’d like to be considered for a future interview, enter your name and email address below to join the Start Teaching Guitar community. I send out occasional interview requests to this mailing list.

If you have any questions, comments or feedback please leave a reply below!


Guitar Teacher Interview 015 – Kyle Ohlenkamp was last modified: April 28th, 2014 by Donnie Schexnayder