Rochester Contemporary School of Music - Mel Henderson

Mel Henderson - Guitar

The leader of Grammy-nominated jazz trio Paradigm Shift, guitarist Melvin Henderson has played with legends such as Al Jarreau, Urbie Green, and pioneering soul-jazz organists Dr. Lonnie Smith and Jack McDuff. Henderson is an alumnus of the Berklee School of Music, where he studied under notable teachers Mick Goodrick and Jon Damian during the mid-1970s. In addition to a solid foundation of sight-reading, scales, and core fundamentals, Henderson's teaching program centers around the idea that the practice environment should help prepare students for performing in front of audiences. 


"No matter what skill level a student has reached," Henderson explains, "even if the student is just starting out, my aim is to get them into a frame of mind where they're in performance mode all the time. When you play in front of people, the adrenaline and nerves can get the better of you, but if you prepare for that ahead of time, you can use those nerves to sharpen your skills and reaction time." Henderson's term for this approach to learning is practice as if -- "If a student is going to be playing standing up, for example, then that's how I'll have them to practice. If they're going to be singing while playing an instrument or vice-versa, I'm going to want them to be thinking in terms of doing both at the same time."  

Students in Henderson's classes will also benefit from an immediate introduction to the writing process. "Right from the very beginning, I'm going to be asking students to write basic compositions and come up with basic arrangements," he explains. "Whether they know three chords, eight chords, or even one chord, they're going to take whatever they know and come up with a composition. Every time I see them, they're going to bring me some original music." 

Students can also expect to bring in examples of music they're familiar with in order to gain a better understanding of the building blocks of songwriting. "By helping students understand some of the working principles of how music functions, I make it possible for them to dive right in based on whatever they already know. My purpose will be to illustrate how most songs have the same mechanics. So every time we look at a set of chord changes, students will begin to realize that there's a commonality to chord changes across the board. The human ear has a tendency to prefer certain motifs and patterns and tonal relationships. We'll work at deconstructing tunes the students like so that they can develop an ability to use basic building blocks, and then we'll expand the knowledge base from there." 

In addition, Henderson is careful to foster each student's individual approach. "After my lessons," says Henderson, "my students will be able to trust themselves more. I teach that a student's own voice is important. No matter what, no musician can play like another musician, so I teach that individuality, if you combine it with solid technique and preparation, is a good thing, and that only good things come when you can learn to embrace your own instincts."