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Guitar lessons Dunedin

Matt Stuart, founder of Activate Music Academy.

Music will change your life!

Activate Music Academy is a company based in Dunedin, New Zealand. Since 2013, Activate Music Academy has taught hundreds of students a whole range of instruments at their studio in Dunedin, advised schools on music curriculum, produced submissions for the annual Play It Strange album, toured schools performing concerts, published instructional resources, and set up a variety of workshops and initiatives dedicated to giving students the opportunities needed to develop as musicians.

How we got here

Activate Music Academy founder, Matt Stuart, shares how it all began:

I have been passionate about music for as long as I can remember. I can still picture the day my Mum asked me if I wanted to learn guitar way back when I was 5 or 6. From that point I was hooked. I remember the feel of the strings, my first lessons, the satisfaction I felt when I could play a song and loved the way it sounded. I still have my very first guitar sitting in my office today, all banged up and scratched as a result of a 6-year-old trying to carry it round. I used to play it and pretend it was an electric guitar, longing for the day when I could have one of my own.

Shortly after picking up the guitar, I switched to piano, which my Mum insisted I learn for a term before continuing with guitar if I didn’t like it. I loved it, and continued to learn piano for over 11 years. I met one of my best friends at school when I was 12 and we bonded over the fact that we both learnt piano from the same teacher. I’m sure if you asked him today he’d agree that she was more like a part of our family. She has had a huge influence of both of our lives musically, and we’re all still great friends today.

Life at school

I was lucky enough to go to a high school with over 2, 000 students that excelled in performing arts. The music room was decked out with a recording studio, and it wasn’t uncommon for students to have completed their Grade 8 or above in piano, singing, electric guitar or any other number of instruments. During these years I got serious about the guitar again and completed my Grade 8 electric guitar exam when I was 17.

We spent every lunch break for years hanging out in the recording studio jamming, or packing as many people as we could (I think the record was 12) into the tiny control room, with no windows and a small electric fan, to listen to music on the studio monitors. Music brought us together, and we regularly hung out and jammed with students from every year group. It didn’t matter if you were Year 9 or Year 13, we all learned from each other, and had fun making music together. During these years, we attended the local jazz club and chamber music concerts every month (we were probably the youngest there by 30 years) and we did everything we could including school productions, Stage-challenge, Jazz Band, Chamber Music competitions, Rockquest, Play It Strange and more. I developed my composition skills and wrote two string quartets for NCEA Level 3, and composed a piece for six hands, one piano with a friend, which we performed the following year at the Chamber Music Competition. That particular project came about after we were jamming together on the same piano in a practice room one day at lunch. We then spent hours over the holidays at his piano finishing the parts and writing the whole thing out in Sibelius. I was about 14 when I learnt how to use the recording studio and I would spend hours in there writing and recording songs and developing my production skills. We’d come back after exams while the junior students were still at school and spend days at a time writing and recording. One year, I produced the soundtrack for the schools stage challenge performance; another time, I found myself live mixing a session for the music video of one of the bands that had gotten through to the finals of Rockquest. We were up for anything, and learnt so much by jumping in and giving it a go.

Teaching guitar

I started teaching guitar during my last year at high school, because I thought I could do a better job than the itinerant teacher we had at school. He was an incredible player, much better than I was, but I felt like he couldn’t teach very effectively. I found a room out the back of a local music shop and started giving lessons on Saturday mornings, making some pretty good money for a 17-year-old high school student. My business grew and by the time I’d finished high school I was teaching about 10 students a week. At the end of that year I gave all my students to a friend the year below me, and he continued to teach them after I’d gone.

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