Why Guitar Is the Perfect Hobby for Homeschoolers

Why Guitar Is the Perfect Hobby for Homeschoolers

Learn what makes guitar (or any musical instrument) the perfect homeschool hobby and extracurricular activity in this episode with John Futch. John has been teaching music for over twenty years, currently via First Frets, an online guitar and ukulele program that takes students from beginner to advanced, one step at a time. If you have a musically inclined child, this episode will inspire you to imagine the possibilities playing guitar can open for your family.

Listen to this podcast episode

Podcast Transcript

Janna Koch (00:36):

Welcome to Homeschool Your Way. I'm your host Janna Koch, and BookShark's community manager. In today's episode, I am joined by John Futch. He is the creator of First Frets. We're going to be talking about how you can foster your children's hobbies and possibly turn them into careers in the future. John's got a great story on how that is a work in progress for him, so we're going to bring him on in. John, thanks so much for being here.

John Futch (01:00):

Thank you for having me. I'm glad to be here.

Janna Koch (01:04):

There are so many things that we are going to talk about in this very short time, so I'm going to try to be very concise in my questions because the information I believe you have for our listeners is something that may be a little outside of the box. So we're talking to homeschool parents and how you can homeschool your way, and I think we get really caught up in the must haves or must do. We think about math, reading, writing, those things, and we kind of forget about following our children's interests, their hobbies, giving them options to do things outside of traditional academics. So why don't you just tell a little bit about yourself to our audience and how you are connected to the homeschool world?

John Futch (01:51):

Yes, sounds good. Well, thank you. Yeah, so I actually grew up being homeschooled. I lived in Seattle, Washington for the early part of my life, and I was homeschooled through third grade and then went to public school and then kind of came full circle. Now, fast forward years later, I'm now the father of a nine year old and a six year old and we are doing a co-op with our kids now. And it was interesting, they started with public school and then when COVID hit, everything was online, of course, all day. It's all day online. So we saw that schedule, it was like, "We're not really comfortable with that." So we explored the co-op thing and that actually was a really natural process for us, and a natural next step for us, because so many of our friends and family were already doing that. The guy that I started this music lesson company with, he was homeschooling his kids, so it seemed like just a very natural next step for us.


So we started doing that with our kids and we've loved it and haven't looked back ever since. So it was kind of like a... And now I feel like I get to kind of experience what my mom and dad did when they were homeschooling me those early years, way back when. Things were a lot different back then, I'm sure, in the homeschooling community regarding what's available and resources and all that stuff. So we feel really blessed going this time around having so much available. But in the big picture, in one minute or less, that's kind of how we ended up where we are now.

Janna Koch (03:37):

So I'm interested to know, because I think that we homeschooled around the same time, way back when, were you considered the weird kid?

John Futch (03:46):

I don't even know if I was aware enough to recognize that. And I'm not sure if... We did go to... It was through third grade and then I moved to Lexington, Kentucky in 1989, at the... Yeah, 1989. And started going to middle school there. Late elementary school and then middle school in Kentucky. And so I don't know. I don't know if I had enough self-awareness in those early-early years to know whether or not I was considered weird or odd or strange. Everything felt normal to me.

Janna Koch (04:27):

Ignorance is bliss, isn't it?

John Futch (04:28):

Yes, yes. It certainly made life simpler and easier. It was pretty carefree in those days.

Janna Koch (04:34):

So John, let's talk about your hobby that has led to this career for you. When did you start playing guitar?

John Futch (04:42):

I started probably when I... I actually started kind of late, relative to a lot of kids these days. I started, I think, when I was 13. My dad played music, my dad played guitar, and he had an acoustic guitar around the house that he was always doodling on in the evenings. And so I picked it up and really took an interest around 13 or 14 in the guitar itself. Now, years before that, I was listening to music, of course, all my life. And even before I had an interest in guitar, around 13 and 14 years old, I started picking up dad's acoustic guitar and playing that around the house. And he taught me... He wasn't a great musician, but he knew enough to get around. So he taught me my first few chords and I just took it from there. I really, really liked it. And so I started playing a lot when I was around 14, and when I turned 15, dad made me my first electric guitar.


So dad himself was a woodworker. He did that, that was kind of his hobby. He built furniture and clocks and... He had never built instruments though, and so he was going to try his hand up making a guitar. So he asked me, at 15 years old, if I'd like something like that. And I said, "That'd be amazing." And I didn't have an electric guitar at the time, and so he made me basically a replica of a Fender Strat. And that was on my 15th birthday.


And so I just kept playing and playing, and probably played too much in high school, and didn't do my studies as well as I should. Definitely played too much in college because that was rough as well. But, on the flip side, it turned into something I never really anticipated or thought possible. So those are my early days with music and with guitar. It really started with dad, seeing him playing around the house, and then I took to it and then just, I loved it. You didn't have to convince me to play. You didn't... Nobody was... It was a passion, pretty natural passion really early on.

Janna Koch (07:02):

So did you have any formal instruction when you were learning this instrument?

John Futch (07:08):

The only formal instruction was... Well, even that, not formal. I took lessons from Ben Lacy here in Kentucky. We had a friend Todd, he said, "Hey, you should come to my house and sit in on a guitar lesson with me. I take lessons from a guy named Ben Lacy and I think you'd really like it." And so as a young 17 year old hothead or whatever, I was like, "Sure, I'll see what he is got. I'll check it out." So I go over to Ben's house and I'm immediately humbled. He was just... There's no words to describe his playing. It was a completely different universe than the one I was on. And so, at that point, I immediately said, "Hey, teach me all." Well Ben, he was endorsed by, and still is endorsed by, Elixir Strings and Brian Moore Guitars and does these clinics all around the nation and goes to these Namm shows. He's at All Star Guitar Night in Nashville. So he's like, yeah, he's on that top tier of guitar players.


So I immediately started taking lessons from him and I learned so much in that season. I learned a lot. That was kind of the pinnacle for me. And since then I've done rank... I bought tons of books along the way, put up posters of scales and modes for the guitar on my wall and just studied those. And last year, here's a fun fact, we might... This window's closing, but this is a little tip for whoever might be interested. In 2020, obviously everything shut down, including gigs that professional musicians usually are doing throughout the year. So what this means is that you have a host of top notch, top shelf musicians who aren't gigging and actually started giving online lessons just like one-on-one private Zoom lessons.


So I took that opportunity and took a private Zoom lesson with Scott Henderson who, in the jazz fusion guitar world, is a who's who. He's really made his mark on that scene. And anyway, so I was pinching myself that whole time, through that whole session, like, "Am I actually watching Scott Henderson? Am I actually... This is crazy." But anyway, so that window is still there for some instrumentalists, but it might be closing as more and more gigs start happening and everything gets back online. But yeah, that was... So far, that's been kind of the two highlights of learning from others was Ben and even this more recent experience with Scott Henderson. Pretty wild.

Janna Koch (09:53):

So you are 17, 18, you're finishing up high school, you're loving guitar, but you're doing your studies, let's say minimally. And you get ready to go to college. So are you studying music? Do you feel like... Are your parents supporting you? Like, "Boy, we are excited, we have a musician in the family."

John Futch (10:15):

Yeah, I think they weren't sure what to think. And I think wasn't even at that time... With regard to music, it's hard to see it becoming a lucrative career because it's either you win the lottery by somehow being in a band that gets well known and can generate meaningful income or there's nothing. That was kind of the only two ways I was thinking about it. So I enjoyed playing guitar, but even at high school, 17, 18, going into college, for me, it was never a realistic option in terms of I'm going to somehow do this for a living. That just wasn't... There'd be short little seasons where I would entertain that thought, like "What would this look like? How could I... Do I need to find a band?" And I was in a couple bands that were just, they were fun, but clearly they weren't meant to go farther than just being a fun thing we do together every now and then.


Because even that is... It's a long shot. The piano player gets a job or something, or the bass player has a kid, or somebody else moves away. And so that wasn't realistic either. So going into college, it was a passion, but it wasn't like, "I'm going to do this. This is going to be my income and this is going to be my future." So, yeah. And I did some part-time stuff around college, I started teaching lessons. I just printed out flyers and put them around the campus just kind of like a little side hustle at the time. But even through college and doing the lessons, I don't think I ever seriously entertained the idea of that being a career.

Janna Koch (12:12):

So what did you study in school?

John Futch (12:15):

In school, I studied biology. I was actually a biology major and I minored in philosophy. I started out as a mechanical engineering major and a philosophy minor, but I hated all the math.And engineering … I didn't like. And I discovered along the way in college that there's certain courses you can procrastinate, and I was a pretty good writer. I liked writing and I was decent at it. So all my philosophy classes I did really well in, even if I didn't study. I could just crank out a paper the night before and usually got an A on it and it was all good to go. Well, I tried that same approach to my chemistry classes or my math classes and it does not work. So I switched to biology and, even there, I barely scraped through. I got a bachelor's in biology. But gosh, those chemistry courses, they are relentless and unforgiving if you are not studying every day, which I did not. So anyway.

Janna Koch (13:21):

I'm sure it's what every English college professor wants to hear, and every philosophy professor, that the night before, pen to paper, and they gave you an A. So if we have any children listening to this podcast...

John Futch (13:34):

Yes. And then we can-

Janna Koch (13:35):

...don't procrastinate with your papers.

John Futch (13:37):

We can X that part out.

Janna Koch (13:40):

So fast forward, let's focus on 2020. Because you had mentioned that a lot of things... I mean, we all know a lot of things had changed. But we are going to introduce to our audience your company, which is First Frets. And go ahead and just explain what that is and what that was birthed out of.

John Futch (13:58):

Yes. So at that time, we started that in 2017, and for the prior 10-plus years, I was already teaching in-person lessons. And I was married in 2008, we start... My wife teaches voice and piano, so we kind of start our own teaching studio where I'm teaching drums and guitar and she's teaching voice and piano. So we were teaching 30 to 40 students every week out of our home. And we had been doing that for a while, and at that point, I'd actually been teaching guitar probably since 2001 with the flyers on campus, just a few lessons here and there. So that was really my world through 2017.


In 2017, my friend says, "Hey, why don't we just take everything that you do with your in-person students, the types of lessons, the flow, the techniques, the theory, whatever you do for your in-person students, let's do that. I'll film it. We'll kind of edit the videos so they're nice and tidy and we'll put that online. That way students have more options if they can't do face-to-face lessons." And as soon as he pitched that, I was like, "That'd be so good" because, through the years, there had also been plenty of my students who were loving lessons, were doing well with them, but something changed either in their schedule or in their budget where they just couldn't come to lessons every week. Or they could, but it'd have to be on a different day and I didn't happen to have an opening on the time that they needed. So I never had an option B. It was just like, "Well, I guess I'll see you later. I don't know what to say. Best of luck in life." And that was kind of frustrating.


So my friend said, "Hey, let's do this thing. Just everything that you do in person, we'll film it, we'll put it online." So we start filming in 2017, filmed and edit. I'm writing lesson plans, writing courses, making sure the logic of it makes sense and the progression of it makes sense and that it will work for any age group. And then we start filming, editing the videos, just hundreds of hours and hundreds of lessons, actually. So we start getting that out there in 2018. There's a great response, but it was still minimal. We didn't really know exactly how to get the word out as best we could. And we tried a couple homeschool conventions and had a lot of success at those. 2019, we did a few more homeschool conventions, a lot of success in those.


And we were going to go all in 2020. It was like, "Man, this is really, really good." We're getting really great feedback. People seem to love it. And the homeschool conventions that connect us to the people that want these lessons and really would appreciate them, and so it seemed like the perfect fit. And of course everything gets shut down in 2020. I have various panic attacks or something. "Nobody's going to want to do lessons anymore. After 2020, what's going to happen?" But I also thought, "Well, maybe this would be a boon to us because everybody's more familiar with how online learning works now." So I didn't know what was going to happen with that. Didn't know how to take 2020 and how to interpret what that meant for us.


But as things have come back online, it's like we just picked up right where we started. And did a lot of homeschool conventions last year, met so many people and it's been cool. This year, actually, this year and last year, we're starting to see more and more students at these conventions that had been taking lessons from a prior... Had signed up in a prior year. And they'll come up to us at the booth and say, "Hey, you're my guitar teacher," and get to meet them and they'll talk about where they're at on the guitar and all that stuff. So that's actually been really rewarding, seeing testimonies on that side of things.

Janna Koch (18:10):

I think that something that I know lacked when I homeschooled, and then for years coming to a bigger world, homeschool itself has exploded. Even before 2020, it definitely was growing leaps and bounds. Different people were homeschooling for different reasons. It kind of started to trend. You weren't the weird kids anymore, even if you didn't know it, right? So was this need for extracurriculars, it was a way for people to say, "Hey, I know I'm getting the basics of education, but I don't want my children to have to miss out on these other opportunities just because they homeschool." So how have you guys felt like you've fit that niche for people?

John Futch (18:55):

Yes, it's really cool because it kind of hits on a lot of the things that we were talking about before. Especially with the music stuff, it's like a really good sport where you can... There are iterations of the sport that work with one person or work with two people or up to five. I'm just thinking basketball. I love playing basketball, just shooting hoops by myself in the backyard. Or you have a friend over play one-on-one or two-on-two, et cetera, et cetera. And music is very much like that. So from my perspective, it's a perfect hobby. It's a perfect extracurricular because you don't have to have somebody there doing it with you for it to make sense. But it can also make sense if you do have somebody there with you and you can incorporate, as we were talking earlier about other members of the family and doing that with them, or having your own band and stuff like that.


So in that regard, it just seems like, oh, it's awesome. And if you have the right setup, like for me for a guitar and ukulele, I keep my guitar on the stand and the ukulele out and on the stand. It's such an easy thing to get into and get out of. So you don't have to have... It's not like boating as a hobby, or fishing as a hobby, or countless other hobbies where it's like an event and you have to carve out two-plus hours for it to make sense. It's not like that. You can easily slip in and out as time allows. And so it's a perfect... I just see it as a hobby that accommodates so many different types of lifestyles and schedules. And for that reason, it's just been great. Again, we've gotten so much good feedback from it so far, with all age ranges too. I think our youngest now is six years old and our oldest, going through the lessons, they're in their 70s. So it's a full range of students.


Janna Koch (21:07):

I do love that you're never too old to learn something new. We don't have to... As parents even, it's so great. I've signed my daughter up and I'm really excited because my dad was a musician and he played guitar and it was something I never picked up, but I was excited that she was interested in it. And then I'm like, "Oh, that looks like fun. Maybe I should pick up the guitar." And you don't have to go anywhere, and it's super convenient, and it can be done at any time of the day or night.

John Futch (21:37):

Yes. Yeah, it's so great. And we actually were just... When we started this, we just had one tier. It was just like, you could sign up for an individual plan. But the more people we talked to, and the more we were thinking through it, it was like we should do a family plan because we're talking to a lot of families that it wasn't just one person wanting to learn an instrument. The mom was wanting to learn with the child or the dad was wanting to learn also. And so we put the family plan package together as well so you could have those times when you're actually playing with your kid. And it's such a cool experience. And again, it brings me back again to my early days of playing guitar, watching dad play guitar, and that being kind of something we shared together. But yes, it's super cool that way that parents can enjoy the journey and they can help their kids stay motivated. And even vice versa, when you're learning together, there's something about that that just enhances the experience in so many ways.

Janna Koch (23:40):

I think another thing that may be a hindrance to some people and their children when they think about music and music lessons. I know this happened in our house. Our daughter started taking piano and the piano teacher offered a recital and she was a hundred percent out. She had no desire to perform in front of people. And it's not that she wasn't any good. She has a beautiful ability with music and singing, but it was a deal breaker for her. So I said, "It's okay. I'd rather you learn to play piano and love it. And if that part of it's going to stress you out, you don't need to do that part." And I know my friend whose daughter was also taking the piano lesson, she was like, "You're not going to make her go to the recital? I'm like, "Why would I make her do something?"


I mean, I know it's kind of a catch 22. A kid needs to do things that stretch them. But, for me, I just wanted her to love music, I want her to have that love. And she didn't want to do the performance. And a hobby doesn't necessarily have to be for perfection and performance. It is really about you enjoying something regardless of how anybody else appreciates it.

John Futch (24:48):

Yes, that's so true. I've told people before, "You could put me on the space station, just give me my guitar and a book and I'll be great." I don't have to impress people or make money with it or perform it. It's so rewarding. I love just playing on my own and just writing instrumental pieces and instrumental songs on the acoustic, I love playing that. I'll play all the time. And especially these days, there's no time to be in a band, for me, right now. Just that's not the season of life I'm in. And so there's no rehearsal, no gigs or anything like that. But I still, if I have windows of time, I'll just go in and play my guitar. Not because I'm working up for a performance, but I just love it. I just love playing it.

Janna Koch (25:41):

Yeah. And I think that is really the heart of homeschool too. We're trying to educate our children in a way where they love to learn. And so I feel like this is just a natural part of that. Do something for the sake of loving it, not because you have to get a good grade, not because you have to pass something. Not because you have to perform for anybody. But I feel like our society is so lacking in passion, the idea of loving something for the sake of it and in an active way. We can love to sit down and watch Netflix. Don't get me wrong, I binge watch my documentaries like nobody's business. But there is something about creating and being involved in something that brings you joy just for the sake of joy.

John Futch (26:26):

Yes. And I found if it's a hobby too that has... The introductory period is kind of rough or something like that, for a lot of instrumentalists, when you first start playing an instrument, you're uncoordinated, you don't know what's going on, and there's a desire there to want to get really good, really fast in order to enjoy it. But I found to maintain a passion for it, pace is actually really key. Not expecting too much out of yourself too soon, and not setting unrealistic expectations, but just enjoying the pace, enjoying the pace at which not only your mind starts to understand how to hear music and how music works, but also the pace of your fingers and your hands as they develop. And that relieves some of the pressure to try to meet some hypothetical goal that you really don't have to meet and allows you to actually enjoy all of it from start to finish without unnecessary burdens.

Janna Koch (27:34):

And for those who may say, "There's not enough time in the day for me to add one more activity to my child's schedule, or even my own schedule," I think we could talk a whole nother podcast about what music actually does for your brain and how it helps with creativity and problem solving and mathematical skills. I mean, so many things that I see as our society is getting away from the arts, we're also dropping in test scores with some of those other subjects because we're not stretching the brain in the way that... When we were kids, almost everybody took a lesson of some type.

John Futch (28:11):

Yes. And yes, every year I feel like I see another report, another study, of how music enhances some other seemingly unrelated part of your life. Whether it is like focus, just a general ability to focus. Even social skills. I've seen reports where it increases... Because learning languages... Music is a type of language and so many versions of, or settings for music, you are playing with other people, that it actually increases social skills as well. I've seen papers where it relates to your ability, an aptitude for mathematics.


And actually, as kind of a reminder of those lessons that I took with Ben Lacy, I remember him saying a curious thing to me at one point. He said, "I was always good at math and I think that's what makes me good at music." And I never really even cared to go into that further with him at the time. It was like "Whatever." But it is, it's crazy how related it is and how beneficial it is for so many other things in life. It's pretty wild.


There's a book called, This Is Your Brain on Music. It won a couple awards, but it's a scientist-slash, I think he was a producer, a music producer for a while. Just uniquely qualified to talk about what our brain does when it's listening to music or playing music. And so anyway, for anybody who might be interested, it is a fascinating study. Just kind of digging into all the things that music does for us and within us as we're playing it or listening to it. It's pretty remarkable.

Janna Koch (30:05):

Well, speaking of remarkable, you have great experience personally being homeschooled, in the homeschool world with your children, being surrounded by homeschool families. What homeschool hack can you share with our listeners?

John Futch (30:20):

Yes. I've kind of mentioned one. The first is pace is key. I feel like I'm appreciating that principle more and more as I get older. Recognize where you're at in life and what your family can handle and make peace with whatever pace works for you for a given hobby, a given potential career, a given set of studies. Find a good pace and longevity won't be an issue. For my particular field, with music and music instruction, almost nobody quits music for lack of love of music. We're all born with an innate love of music. We might not all be musicians, but everybody loves listening to some kind of music.


And even when someone quits lessons so often, I would say eight times out of 10, my experience has been it's because they tried to do too much too soon or just had a pace that it just wasn't sustainable. They could do it for a couple weeks, but they were just expecting too much out of themselves, and so kind of got disappointed, not at the real result, but at their expected result or desire, or just a worry that weren't where they should be. So making peace with the pace of life for that setting, or that instrument, or whatever it is, is so helpful.


And the second thing, I would say, is just to keep your eyes open for unexpected opportunities. And in particular, I was thinking about this in regards to the extracurriculars and the things we see as hobbies. I've thought about this a lot over the years with regard to music. Because every guitarist, their perfect world, their fantasy come true is to be able to play guitar on tour in front of fawning fans and you're just raking in the money. Doing what you love on stage. And again, that's kind of like you might hit the lottery, but you probably won't hit the lottery. And that happens to so few people.


But what has surprised me is that I'm still... I'm now making a living, still playing guitar, and it kind of looks a shade different than those kind of earlier, naive goals and dreams. And so that would be another recommendation is to keep your eyes open for unexpected doors to open, or unexpected windows, that might be just tangentially related to your field of interest. So you might not be able to be... If you're an author and you like writing, you might not be able to become a New York Times bestseller the rest of your life and just write bestselling, million selling hits every time. But you might be able to be a copy editor and sustain a living that way, or content creator, sustain a living that way.


Or if you want to be an actor or something like that, or you like film, you might not be able to be on the big screen like acting, but there's so many other fields related to it. Maybe you're writing screenplays or a stage designer or set designer. It's so many things like that, that are unrelated, that can actually be really fulfilling. And even in the area of interests, it's not like, "Oh, this opened a window to something completely unrelated." No, it's related enough so it scratches that itch, but it's actually sustainable and you can actually make a living out of it and it's unexpected. So that would be something too. To keep your eyes open for unexpected things that are related to it.

Janna Koch (34:15):

Now that is what every homeschool parent wants to hear. That although their child may want to be a Broadway performer, there are still ways to make money, and have a livable wage, and be a contributing member of society with your passion.

John Futch (34:32):

That's right. Yeah. And again, rewinding back to high school. In my head there were two options. Either I'm going to play on a stage and be a rock star or music is not going to have anything to do with my income or something like that. Lo and behold, I'm teaching music now. It's pretty crazy. And so I get to play all the time and I get to share what I know about music, and the guitar, and the ukulele, and it's pretty wild. But yeah, very fulfilling.

Janna Koch (35:05):

Well, John, tell our listeners how they can find out more about what you offer.

John Futch (35:10):

Yes. So the main website is firstfrets.com. That's first with an F and frets like the frets on the guitar, firstfrets.com. We have everything there. We have individual plans, family plans. There's also a live chat box that goes to me. And so the other thing I guess I should mention that I enjoy about what we've created is that I'm actually the only teacher. And there's a live chat box that's always there on the screen if you need extra help or want further clarification on something along the way. And you won't be reaching a random person who's paid to do that, you'll actually be reaching me. So that's a way I can stay connected to students there. But it's all there, firstfrets.com, and I think we're actually running a Fall promo as well, so you can get a discount on the individual or family plans. We also have a Facebook handle by that same name, First Frets, and Instagram as well, so they can check out those if they want there.

Janna Koch (36:12):

Well great. I hope that the families that are listening take a look at to what you guys have created and what you have to offer. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today. Appreciate your time and what you are contributing to the homeschool community by offering something that we just didn't have accessible before.

John Futch (36:31):

Yeah. Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. I've enjoyed it.

Janna Koch (36:34):

Thank you guys. Until next time, bye-bye.