“Every student has their own unique struggles. Patience is needed with all students.”
Brandon Wells is known around Schmitt Music Brooklyn Center as a private guitar teacher who’s interested in teaching students with special needs. In a recent meeting with him, it became apparent he’s willing to take on just about any student when he mentioned he just started teaching a recent immigrant from South Korea who doesn’t speak English.
It all started in 1997 with a six year old who wanted to learn how to play guitar. The child’s parents approached Brandon and explained that other teachers said their child was too young, so they would have to wait a few years. Brandon, eager to make guitar teaching his career, said he was happy to start the student immediately.
Brandon remembers the first lessons as a challenging experience. The student had very small hands that were unable to form some of the chord shapes. Apart from that, the student barely knew how to read, making learning to read music challenging. Two years later, Brandon accepted his first student with a physical disability, Cerebral Palsy, which affects body movement and muscle coordination. There were again some struggles with chord shapes, but Brandon realized if he was patient and adaptable, he could teach every student who has dreams of being a musician, regardless of physical or mental ability.
Brandon went on to tell many inspiring stories of students – his patience and adaptability were palpable in all of them. He taught a student on the Autism spectrum and noticed he had a remarkable ability to name notes as he heard them. He tested the student, playing one note at a time, and asking what note it was. The student was able to name them accurately. Brandon played a chord, multiple notes at once, and again asked what notes were played. The student easily identified individual notes in major and minor chords. Brandon decided to take this a step further and played a random smattering of notes at the same time. The student again instantly identified all the notes played. This was another important moment of realization for Brandon – all students have struggles, and all students have gifts. This student had perfect pitch.
A student with Down syndrome spends half of his weekly lesson working from a traditional lesson book, the other half jamming and singing Disney Songs. The student’s mother noted “Brandon gears the lessons to Jon’s capabilities and Jon really enjoys his lessons. We’re happy that he has a great time and that he has the experience of taking music lessons. We appreciate Brandon being adaptable in working with Jon.”
Another parent with a student on the Autism spectrum said, “What started out as an experiment for Max (pictured with Brandon below) because as he liked to emulate playing the guitar when watching videos has become the best 2 1/2 years of his young life. We really didn’t know what to expect, nor did we think he would stick with it. Max is kind of a “check lister” – he gets something in his head that he wants to do, checks it off, and then moves on. Not so with Brandon’s guitar lessons. Guitar lessons have been much more than we ever expected. Not only has he stuck with it for over 2 years, the experience with Brandon has been phenomenal. As talented as Brandon is at playing guitar, his ability to connect and personalize the teaching experience with Max is unbelievable. He truly takes an interest in Max beyond just learning chords – Brandon could stick with what’s easy by grabbing songs from a book but instead has actually written lessons for Max based on a couple of cartoon characters he loves to follow, or rock and roll songs he’s heard on the radio. What teachers do that? Brandon for one. Simply Awesome! Max doesn’t connect with people outside the family very often, but he has with Brandon. We feel truly blessed to have found Brandon. He is one of a kind.”
Brandon realized the potential of guitar lessons as a form of music therapy and added a small blurb to his bio indicating his willingness to take on students with special needs. He’s built a growing reputation for his ability to connect with students of all kinds around the Twin Cities.
Right now he teaches 4 students a week adapted therapy lessons at Schmitt Music Brooklyn Center. One parent of a student with Tourette syndrome said, “My daughter has trouble at school with bullies. The time she spends in that little room each week with Brandon – a space where she is not getting judged – is more important to her than he’ll ever know.”