New York City Guitar School opens new location
Eighteen years ago, Dan Emery was a performing and touring musician. Then he found out he was going to be a father.
“I played 70 shows that year,” he said. “I thought, wait a minute, I better figure out something to do so I can be a good dad.”
While contemplating his future, Emery decided to teach some guitar lessons to kids. He liked teaching music, and apparently his students enjoyed the lessons.
Emery quickly garnered a waiting list of students. He even had to hire a friend to help out.
“I had a dream that someday I would have 100 students,” he said.
In 2004, he started the New York City Guitar School in Manhattan. At the time, the school just occupied one room on a floor with a shared bathroom.
As he continued to teach, Emery noticed that without a “motivational element,” students had a hard time wanting to play guitar. So he came up with a curriculum that crossed self-help principles, similar to those of Dale Carnegie, with the “nuts and bolts” of guitar playing.
In 2009, he wrote and self-published a guitar manual called “Guitar for Absolute Beginners.”
“I even made up a mission statement,” Emery said. “I don’t want to teach guitar, I want it to be medium for people’s personal greatness.”
A decade later, New York City Guitar School has more than 3,000 students at five locations in three boroughs.
Last Tuesday, Emery joined his teachers, students, parents and Councilman Costa Constantinides for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the school’s first-ever ground-floor storefront at 31-76 37th Street in Astoria.
Emery said they’ve operated sites in basements or on the seventh floor of a building, but never at street level. He said the improved access means parents with strollers can walk in without having to climb or descend any stairs.
“This is a real step forward,” he said, “and I’m super excited about it.”
The guitar school’s main location is on West 30th Street in Manhattan. They also run a West 38th Street site, a school on East 91st Street in the Upper East Side and another in Prospect Heights.
Emery said when he was thinking about opening a new site in Queens, he took trains to every neighborhood in the borough. He would walk around and “tried to feel what it felt like.”
He constantly asked himself, “are there guitar students here?” He eventually chose Astoria.
“I love Queens, but this neighborhood in particular just felt really exciting to me,” Emery said. “I’m a farm kid from Idaho, so to walk down the street and see the entire world on one block really excited me.”
He noted that Astoria has lots of new immigrants, young families and young people searching for hobbies.
Their first Astoria location was just a few blocks from their new one. Though Emery said he liked the landlord and the location was good, it wasn’t big or visible enough “to really make an impact.”
When it came time to decide whether or not to renew their lease, Emery decided to find a bigger space on the ground floor.
“We thought we got to open it up more,” he said. “We’ve got to keep growing and moving.”
Part of that growing is understanding why guitar has staying power, especially among young people. Emery said there was a time, about eight years ago, when it seemed like guitar was “ebbing a little.”
But he noted that there’s a lot of guitar-oriented music being made today, and that young people are open to different types of music.
“The ability to self-express through the guitar is unchanged,” he said. “People love it.”
One of those people is Astoria resident Michael Manzi, who has been studying at the New York City Guitar School for the past eight years.
Manzi said he first learned about the school from his dad, who wanted to play guitar and began taking lessons. Soon, Manzi was joining him.
What he found was an inclusive learning environment with teachers and students who have stuck around for a long time.
“I felt like I was really improving each time I went,” he said. “That just really kept me going.”
Manzi said the only way he used to notice the previous Astoria location was from a flag hanging out of the window. The new space, he noted, has a big sign and doors that look inviting.
“It seems a lot more open,” he said.
Another longtime student is Gigi Giobbi from Windsor Terrace, who has been a student for nine years. Giobbi used to live in Manhattan, so the guitar school was conveniently just a block away from her home.
Over the past nine years, Giobbi has found a welcoming and patient community.
“Once you get involved with them, you don’t really want to leave,” she said. “Everyone here is super dedicated. They all love guitar and music in general so much.”
Giobbi even met her band through New York City Guitar School. After playing for three years together, the band now has gigs and is writing its own songs.
“They’ve just been a really big part of my life,” she said.