Walking into Warren Lessons at Drome Sound, one would expect it to be a place to simply learn a few chords or pick up a bit of music theory.
But that’s only a fraction of what actually goes on during a lesson or their popular band camps.
“I don’t like to see people shuffled around by life,” said Don Warren, who runs the company with his son, Mike.
Many know Warren for his electric guitars, which he’s gained national recognition for. Over the last few years, he’s focused on creating custom guitars for various clients. He’s also created a teaching pick with grooves that help new students learn a bit faster and helps experienced players cut down on hand fatigue. But most recently he’s put most of his energy into teaching, which seems to be where his true passion is.
It’s a passion he has his father to thank for.
“I grew up in a house with 13 foster children . . . my dad was an amazing counselor,” Warren said, “He met people where they were.”
It’s how he and his son, who he brought into the business full time in 2016, approach teaching.
“I’ve done a lot of growing over the years and Don has been a huge [part of that],” said Savanna McGrath. The Mohonasen high school junior said that she had a rough childhood and music often felt like the only way she could escape.
When she wanted to learn guitar, her caseworker brought her to Drome Sound in Schenectady, where the Warrens teach.
“I had superiority issues . . . I used to glare at people when I was a kid,” McGrath said. During the first few minutes of the lesson, Warren put her at ease.
“He didn’t treat me like a kid,” McGrath said, “There was no condescending tone.”
Over the past few years, she’s built up serious singing and guitar skills, giving her the confidence to try out for “The Voice.”
She called Warren the night before the audition for a pep talk and a bit of guidance. He also left her a voicemail shortly before she went into the audition, which she replayed over and over before heading into the audition.
Although she didn’t make it onto the show, it was something she would never have even considered before meeting Warren.
But McGrath said that the teen camps that Warren and his son run have really helped her to grow both musically and emotionally. The camps take place over the course of a weekend and a group of teens who take lessons with Warren
Lessons get together to play as a rock band. In the beginning, they typically don’t know one another and hardly know how to jam together. But that changes quickly and after nearly every camp, students say it feels natural to sing and perform together. Now that McGrath has become a strong player,
Warren has been looking to her to help the younger students.
“Don looks to me to be a mentor to people,” McGrath said, “I’ve never thought I would be like that. It was shell-shocking in a way.”
McGrath isn’t the only one experiencing it.
Shannen Carroll, a Schenectady High School sophomore, said that Warren has helped her get over stage fright, push herself musically and channel her emotions through music.
“He’s not only a music teacher but a therapist,” Carroll said.
She started dealing with anxiety and depression in middle school and music helped her to cope, but now it’s taken on a new meaning.
“I’m very determined,” Carroll said, “Don has motivated me to keep up with music [even] when school [gets busy].”
Beyond lessons, the camp has given her a new community, a community of other teens who are just as determined as she is and who just might be going through similar issues.
“We were just doing one or two teen camps per year, but the parents asked if we could do more,” Mike said.
It’s not just teens either.
There are plenty of young professionals and retired students who have just always wanted to learn to play guitar, sing or songwrite.
“I had one student who just wanted to learn to play ‘Brown-eyed Girl,’ ” Warren said. After a few lessons, the student was playing it without issue. Others take lessons to just catch a break from high-stress jobs and focus on something more creative.
But they often get a lot more than a few lessons.
Chris Turner, a Capital Region native, has been taking guitar lessons with Warren for several years now. He started because it was something he’d always wanted to try (and it was a skill that many in his life told him he’d never be able to learn).
He plays nearly every day and it’s become therapeutic in a way. As have the camps.
They offer both a challenge and a community. It’s a challenge to show what Turner and other students have been working on, but during every camp, a sort of community is built.
They often keep it up outside of lessons and camps too. One student, Dan Burnham, said he met two guitarists at a camp and now they play together frequently, going over to one another’s houses for jam sessions.
The Colonie High School senior got started singing with the band camp about three years ago.
“In a matter of months, I had performed songs on bass guitar, drums, and both electric and acoustic guitar. That’s part of what I love about Don and the camps. There’s always something new to learn be it on your own instrument or on a completely new one,” Burnham said.
Mike makes sure that the lessons are goal oriented. If a student wants to learn how to songwrite, or learn more about music theory, or even learn how to record a song, he can take them into the recording studio. That way they’re actually learning the things they’re most interested in.
While learning instruments he never thought he’d have a chance to play has been great, Burnham said that the lessons have had an incredible impact on his life.
“Music has given me an outlet for emotions when I really needed it. I feel since learning the guitar it's almost like I’m able to communicate better with music than I can words. And that’s a really cool thing to feel,” Burnham said.
For more information about Warren Lessons visit warrenlessons.com.