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Fingerpickin’ good

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Jim Schoenbachler, left, practices chords under the instruction of Jeff Ebnother at Tom’s Guitars in downtown Medford.
Tom’s Guitars instructor Jeff Ebnother says musical instruments can be an enjoyable hobby

After teaching music locally for close to 30 years, Jeff Ebnother knows that music can seem like “a foreign language” for many people who pick up an instrument for the first time.

And while studying music may be “slow going” at first, he hopes his students can come to appreciate the value of learning a musical instrument.

“When you think about music, you can’t eat it, drink it, breathe it,” Ebnother said. “There's something about music that is attractive to humans. It’s been that way since the beginning of time.”

He teaches children and adults in a range of instruments — electric guitar, bass, banjo and ukulele — at Tom’s Guitars, 1103 N. Riverside Ave., Medford.

Instructing his students at the local shop is a full-time gig, and Ebnother does it all from the confines of his own space — complete with posters of guitar scales and former Beatle John Lennon.

Outside of Tom’s, Ebnother oversees a studio in Ashland. Before that, he was involved with one in Medford called Musichead.

For Ebnother, who studied music and geography at Southern Oregon University, teaching has never gotten old. That’s because it allows him to play and have positive interactions with people.

“Compared to other things, it’s nurturing people, helping people learn something that is brand new to them,” Ebnother said.

Where do people get the desire to play a musical instrument? Many of Ebnother’s students had a family member or friend who already knew.

“Maybe their uncle played guitar and he would come over to the house and play, and (they) would experience that and say, ‘Wow! That is like magic. How do they do that with their fingers?’” Ebnother said.

Ebnother noted that even for music students who do not perform live — as he has — pursuing it as a hobby requires dedication.

“Like a lot of things, you get out of it what you put into it,” he said. “If you persevere (and) put time into it, the better you get, the more fun it gets.”

Ebnother recommends students spend time on their own with their instrument — rather than on the couch with a group of friends — to perfect the craft.

“To become a good musician or even study music, it’s usually done on your own; you have to have quiet practice time to do it without distraction to maintain your focus,” Ebnother said.

When any player gets closer to that musical perfection, “it is hard to put into words” the sense of accomplishment.

“You’re going like, ‘Wow! I did that myself,” Ebnother said. “I tell people playing music is like cheap therapy — your problems are not going to go away, but they seem like they’re gone.”

If a player wants to venture out and perform, even casually with others, the longtime music instructor recommends some dedication to the technical aspects of music, such as learning to read it.

“It just helps their communication skills when they’re working with other people who play music,” Ebnother said. “If someone says, ‘hey, play a B-flat chord’ … everyone’s on the same page, they’re playing, they’re having fun. That’s why some very basic musicianship, I think, is important.”

Playing with a band can be a structured activity, much like music lessons. But as far as Ebnother is concerned, there is nothing wrong with “noodling” — a popular term for musical improvisation.

“You can start with structures like scales and arpeggios, but then from there on, you’ve got to put a little of yourself into it,” Ebnother said. “Noodle with those scales and arpeggios and come up with something that sounds cool to your ear. I’m really big on that. You’ve got to let yourself go there.”

Above all else, Ebnother tells his students, “you always have to have fun playing music.”

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.