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25 Jan 10 Earl Bailey – Guitarist and Innovative Educator

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By John South

Evenings in Plano are generally fairly quiet, not that Plano is the small, sleepy bedroom community it used to be.  But on most evenings, outside one particular house, one can hear the distinctive low frequencies of guitars and the thumping of a drum machine that signal that you have reached the studio of a music teacher. 

This is not the studio of just any teacher though.  As you enter the studio, you hear two of the students playing a chord progression in G major; another is improvising over the progression.  In front of the small class, sits the teacher.  He alternates from helping the students stay in time with the drum track, providing his own improvisation, and assisting one the students who doesn’t have a chord properly shaped.  All watch as his large hands float across the fretboard.

Earl BaileyEarl Bailey has taught many students from his studio–many who were learning to play their first instrument, others who were accomplished musicians with other instruments, and some with college degrees in music.  He starts each student with the same fretboard chart – where he shows them the five easy areas to memorize.  If a vacancy occurs in a class, the new student starts with the same blank fretboard chart with the more experienced students assisting in initial education.

How did Earl Bailey become a music teacher?

Bailey, originally from Oklahoma City, fell in love with rock guitar when he saw Def Leppard on MTV in 1981.  He spent four years perfecting the air guitar, even after his mother bought a guitar from a pawn shop sometime in 1982 or 1983.  He never learned to play that guitar, as its warped neck and the lack of an amp never allowed him to determine if it actually worked. 

Bailey says, “I didn’t realize until years later that it was that guitar that gave me hope that one day I’d have a real guitar. The first guitar I bought was an Aria Pro II Les Paul copy in 1984. I paid for it by mowing lawns and with my allowance. But, my official start date was September of 1985 when I got my first amp, a Crate 110. A friend showed me how to play “Rock You Like A Hurricane” from the Scorpions.  I took it from there.”

Bailey bought books and tapes, and learned whatever anybody would teach him.  The key to his early success was the fact that he played every day for several hours at a sitting. He even competed in guitar contests after only playing for six to nine months – no wins but he gained great experience.

Bailey continues, “I took two lessons in my third year. That is where I learned the major scale and some basic arpeggios. I played in some garage bands in high school like CYRUS and CAPTAIN BLOOD. I played in some talent shows but the garage bands were just that…garage bands. After high school I played in a reggae band called DUB FACTOR.”

In 1991, Bailey moved to Texas to attend the Art Institute of Dallas for its music and video business program.  Bailey says, “Around this time I was doing a lot of recording of my own music, going to school 20 hours a week, playing in a metal band called X-MAN, studying kung-fu, doing tournaments, and discovering who I was as a person and a musician. My solo project was called SHAOLIN. “

In 1994, Bailey released a local consignment album called “Year of the Dog.”  Six years later, he compiled another album under a project simply called “EARL”. The album that resulted from this effort was titled “Harder Than It Seems.” 

 “I met my teacher Philippe Willem in 1998. I studied with him for 3 years alltogether. That is where I learned how music really works, “ Bailey tells us. “He encouraged me to teach, telling me that by teaching I would always continue to learn. That is the main reason why I teach to this day! I will always be a student.”

What has 11 years of teaching and 25 years of guitar playing taught Bailey?

“The problem today is that there is too much information,” Bailey says, “It’s hard to know where to begin. “  He quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson, “’There are many methods, but few principles. The one who can grasp principles can successfully select their own methods. ‘  That is how I teach.”

There are many guitar methods on the market today.  Some go into extreme detail showing you one scale after another.  But, they don’t teach you the principles behind the scales.  That is where Bailey focuses his students – learn the principles, then practice what you have learned, and experiment to find your own voice. 

What do his students think about Bailey’s teaching method?

Jerry Fitzpatrick is an architect that has been studying with Bailey.  “Earl Bailey is a unique talent, aside from his mastery of music theory and guitar.  Earl has the ability to teach.  Sounds easy, but not so!  Earl is one of the few who can immediately “dial-in” on a student’s level of experience and understanding, tailoring his response, while the student feels supported and encouraged.  Watching him relate to students of all levels (and ages) is amazing.  Everyone leaves feeling confident that their individual goal as a musician is entirely possible.  You leave,  knowing “I can do this.”  Amazing teacher, kind person, talented musician!  You can’t find better and you are blessed to study under him.”

What is the next phase in teaching for Bailey?

This year represents a new direction in teaching the guitar for Bailey.  He is bringing his method of teaching out to people who can’t join him in the studio.  The first phase is to provide a set of backing tracks against which students can practice improvising.  He illustrates his concept of learning scale principles by keeping all of the tracks in G major (Em).  The tracks allow you to practice all seven degrees of G major as well as the three pentatonic options.  Each of the tracks provides a different feel for the music, but allows a player to fully express their feeling in the music.   

The backing tracks are available from iTunes ( 

The backing tracks are only the first phase of this project.  Bailey is recording a video to work in conjunction with the backing tracks.  The video will be on the market shortly, but the backing tracks are available now.  They are valuable for budding, as well as accomplished guitarists. 

The Bailey guitar method cuts through the confusion that most other guitar methods provide as the meat of their lessons.  However, whether sitting in class or using the video and backing tracks, in the end, it’s up to the student to have the desire and fortitude to learn how to play.  Bailey sums it up, “For those who want to learn to express themselves honestly through the guitar, there is a better way.  I know not everyone wants to be enlightened. But music is a beautiful language that allows us to communicate with each other without saying a word. “

You can learn more about Earl Bailey by checking out his website ( or by going to his Facebook page (

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Reader's Comments

  1. |

    Earl is exceptional not only in his guitar playing but in his teaching as well. After maybe three months of taking lessons with him I was impressing my friends with my ability to pick up and learn songs in addition to improvising over all kinds of progressions and songs. He begins with basic technique – holding the pick, hand placement, fingering etc. – and quickly moves to teaching scales and relating them to songs of his own and well known songs as well. Honestly, he is an absolutely wonderful teacher and is a blast to learn with. If anything, lessons are a blast and he has a great sense of humor. I took lessons with him for nearly four years and now that I am in college, I really miss the days of weekly lessons. Earl is not only my teacher, but my friend as well.

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