Hi, I’m Joe Walker. I grew up near Seattle and started playing guitar in the late ’90s at age 14, obsessing over alternative rock and blues in my high school years. I taught my first lessons around that time and couldn’t believe how much fun it was. I knew then that teaching music would be a part of my life for years to come.
In the mid-2000s, I earned a BS in Computer Science at Harvey Mudd College in California and co-founded the indie rock band Blue Judy. We performed all around Los Angeles and had our music played on TV shows like 90210 and One Tree Hill. I dropped everything in 2007 to spend a year practicing guitar 12-16 hours a day. (Seriously. It was intense. All documented at From the Woodshed.) When the year was up, I moved to San Diego, joined the award-winning Led Zeppelin tribute band Dazed and Confused, and earned a Master of Music in Jazz Studies at SDSU.
In 2011, I moved back to Seattle and started Deft Digits. Now I split my time between stay-at-home-dad duties with two wild boys, maintaining a full roster of fantastic students, practicing like a madman, and occasionally performing.
What Sets Deft Digits Apart?
- Teaching music is my primary passion. I’m not just a guitarist who teaches on the side; this is my main gig. Professionally, I consider myself a teacher first, a musician second, and a guitarist third.
- I want to teach you your favorite music. I encourage all my students to maintain a list of songs they want to learn and/or other musical goals. Every week or two, we look at the list, discuss what’s new and what to tackle next.
- Lessons are structured but flexible. I like the way Eisenhower put it: “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” I make sure the path ahead is crystal clear, for the next lesson and for the long term. But if you mention a song you’re really excited about learning, and it would make sense to start it right now, I’m happy to take a wild left turn and dive down that rabbit hole for an entire lesson.
- I take notes on every lesson, so I remember what we did, what went well, and what needs work. I plan the next lesson in advance, and I plot a custom curriculum for the next several weeks or months based on your individual goals. I really care about your progress and enjoyment; you’ll never find me just going through the motions.
- I never run late. I use little reminders on my phone to stay on schedule. You won’t find me losing track of time and allowing the lesson before yours to run overtime.
- I love teaching kids! My primary goal with my young students is to make music fun. We play together often, sometimes just exploring the funny noises we can make on our instruments. I create little games like Guitaropoly, a custom board game that guides the player through a review of all the songs and exercises they’ve worked on in the past.
- I love teaching teen and adult beginners too! As we grow, our lives get more and more complex, so I’m sensitive to each student’s level of commitment to music. Whether music is your whole life or it’s last after a long line of responsibilities and other hobbies, I’ll work to help you achieve your own goals, as ambitious or modest as they may be.
- I ensure that all of my students learn to read standard music notation (sheet music), not just tablature. Most non-professional guitarists never learn to read music, but I’ve developed my own curriculum that makes the process painless while the majority of lesson and practice time are still spent playing the music you love.
- Note Races are little quizzes that I’ve programmed for naming the notes on the staff. There are eight levels of difficulty, and each lesson begins with a timed Note Race. There’s a leader board posted in the lesson room where every student gets a code name and is ranked by level and speed.
- Mystery Songs are well-known, easy-to-play melodies that teach you how to play sheet music on the guitar. Anything from “Yankee Doodle” to “Crazy Train” to the Star Wars theme is fair game. The catch is, they’re not labeled. Through careful practice, you have to play each tune from the written music well enough to recognize it.
- I use a variety of computer tools during lessons to listen to music, slow it down, change the pitch, loop certain sections that need work, record backing tracks, etc. I code some of my own tools, like a Custom Flash Cards app and a Beginner’s Song Browser, both free on the Deft Digits website.
- I excel at supplementing other musical pursuits, such as middle school or high school jazz programs, preparing to perform at a wedding, recording an album, forming a band, or writing a musical.
For Serious Students
- Jazz: I’ll walk you through the wide variety of chords you’ll need, how to read lead sheets, how to comp in small and large ensembles, how to play melodies in a convincing jazz style, how to transcribe, and of course how to improvise a great solo.
- Blues: Stevie Ray Vaughan is my all-time #1. Electric blues is my specialty: riffs and rhythm parts, your favorite solos note-for-note, improvising.
- Rock: Learn all the classic rock guitar anthems, rhythm and lead parts: Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Queen, Hendrix, AC/DC, and more Zeppelin. If you’re into more modern sounds like Nirvana, U2, Weezer, Foo Fighters, Black Keys, Muse, then I’ve got you covered there too. Ditto for the virtuoso stuff like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Al Di Meola, Paul Gilbert, John Petrucci, Eric Johnson, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Morse, Guthrie Govan.
- Folk: Learn how to strum chords and sing at the same time!
- Fingerpicking: Learn to apply Travis Picking and other fingerstyle techniques on “Dust in the Wind”, “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”, “Never Going Back Again”, “Blackbird”, “Tears in Heaven”, “Leader of the Band”, and many more!
- Bluegrass: Alternate picking techniques, rhythm and lead studies.
- Gypsy Jazz: Learn the peculiar but highly effective gypsy picking technique, chords, accompaniment styles, licks, and soloing.
- Music Theory: Any instrument! Learn music theory from the ground up or fill the gaps in your knowledge. We’ll apply it to all the music you’re learning to play, so it actually sticks.
- Improvisation: Any instrument! Whether you want to improvise leads in jazz, blues, rock, bluegrass, country, or any other style, you’ll find many of the core concepts are the same while the vocabulary and phrasing are different. At this level, we’re thinking of music more as a language than a set of techniques, so we can be on completely different instruments and still connect at the same level.
- Songwriting: Any instrument! Learn the rules that most songs follow and how to break them.
Anatomy of a Lesson
A lesson at Deft Digits lasts 40 minutes. Here’s an estimate of how it breaks down. (I’m not a taskmaster though. Portions of every lesson stretch and contract to cover what’s most important.)
- 0-5 min: Every lesson starts with a Question of the Week, a short discussion-starter that I ask all my students in a given week. I post responses on the Deft Digits Facebook Page, so you can see my other students’ favorite Disney songs, summer goals, or favorite band names.
- 5-15 min: Review your latest progress on Mystery Songs, introducing a new level if you’re ready.
- 20-30 min: The remainder of the lesson is devoted to learning songs that you’ve chosen. If you’re not sure what songs you want to play, I’m happy to help you choose.
- Some students have one more ongoing project to check up on. It could be learning your first chords, working through an instructional book, or an epic major scale exercise, but it’s always meant to empower you to play the music you love.
Let’s Do This!
If you’re ready to sign up for guitar lessons for yourself or your child, or you have some questions I could answer, you can get in touch with me right here: