Michael Backus | Instructor Bio

  • Michael Backus
    Monday, Tuesday
    Guitar, Ukulele, Mandolin, Rock Band Coaching

  • What is your teaching philosophy?
    Anyone can play music if they are willing to practice and excited to learn new things. Let’s have fun! Afterall, we are playing music!

    How long have you been teaching music? At YMP?
    I have taught the guitar for 18 years in Portland public schools, colleges, guitar shops, and from my studio. I have been with YMP for 5 years and it’s been a great experience!

    What is your favorite thing about teaching music?
    I enjoy connecting with students and helping them find their own voice on the instrument. Sharing something I’m passionate about is rewarding and I learn a lot from my students too.

    What do you expect of your students in classes/lessons?
    Students should be ready to practice and try their best. While making music together, students should be encouraging and supportive of their bandmates. It’s my responsibility to help create a positive environment for students to thrive and make learning possible. Young students will especially benefit from having a parent to help with practice.

    About Michael
    I started music as a teenager when a close friend showed me a few chords on his guitar. I couldn’t believe that he had learned how to play a song in a few short weeks. It was pure magic! For years I had loved listening to my father’s record collection, wearing out the vinyl grooves, but never considered making music until then. I was inspired by those sounds and he taught me that music was something I could learn too.

    Eventually, my dad gave me an old Stella guitar with rusty strings, and I tried to figure it out. My parents couldn’t afford lessons and I learned by playing along with albums or the radio and asking anyone who played guitar to show me something. I got excited with each new sound I discovered. Like a treasure hunt, I would listen to the records and try to pick out a chord or a little melody. I played every day for hours whenever I could because music was the best thing I had going on. Getting lost in an ocean of sound is both healing and meditative. Through some hard times, music took care of me and I tried to do the same.

    Following high school, I landed a job at a music store selling guitars and started studying with Duane Langston. He was a music professor and taught me a lot. Before then, I had always played by ear and Duane showed me how to read and write music and understand the theory. He was a jazz player and helped me prepare for music school auditions. Duane also mentored me as a teacher and gave me a few students. Eventually, I received a scholarship for guitar and moved to Portland, OR and have been here since. I finished up school with a degree in jazz guitar performance. Portland has a vibrant music scene and I’ve soaked up a lot from my peers, bandmates and the local music gurus including Dan Gildae, Dan Balmer, John Stowell, Brian Dickerson, and Darrell Grant.

    These days I play all kinds of music like folk, blues, rock and even a little classical and country. I’ve played music around the states and in other countries too. I never imagined music or teaching would become a career. It has been rewarding to work in the arts and I’m grateful and humbled to play with local artists and to help others learn by passing down the things I’ve picked up along the way. I continue my own education, learning more because there is always a new record to spin! It’s an endless journey and after finding the next perfect note, I still feel like a kid again.

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