How hard – or easy – is it to play the guitar if you’ve never done it before?
Instead of answering, Mike David Papapavlou, aka the Guitar Guide Guru, takes an acoustic off the rack and places it in my hands.
He positions my right elbow securely over the bulky blond body and puts my left hand on the instrument’s neck, informing me that there are six strings, numbered 1 through 6, with the latter being closest to my face.
“What would you like to play?” he asks.
When I reply that I’ve always wanted to learn Beatles tunes, he starts strumming “Yesterday” then guides me through the first three chords, showing me how to make the instrument sing.
“Just run your thumb over the strings lightly,” he says. “Just like you’re brushing hair.”
I follow his instructions – it’s really difficult to keep my left index finger pressed into the steel string — and I hear music.
He says it’s “Yesterday,” but to me it sounds more like scrambled eggs.
But, hey, I’m doing it, which is the whole point.
“People ask me what makes me different from other guitar teachers,” he says. “I strive to inspire, empower and motivate my students to live the best life ever. The guitar was the first thing that I was ever good at, and I want everyone else to have the same experience.”
Mike’s fingers first picked and plucked the sacred six strings when he was 10.
Although he listened to the radio, he had shown virtually no interest in music or music making. It was his mother who suggested he take lessons.
“I heard all kinds of music because my mother is from Bolivia and my father is from Cyprus,” he says, adding that they settled in the suburbs of the capital city of Nicosia. “They met in New York City. I was familiar with Greek, Latin American and American music.”
Mike mastered the classical guitar quickly then picked up speed with an electric instrument.
By the time the family moved to Canada in his senior year of high school, Mike and the guitar were one.
A year later, the family returned to Cyprus, where Mike completed his two years of compulsory military service.
“When it was time for college, it didn’t cross my mind to do anything else but music,” he says.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in music from Newcastle University in England, Mike, who learned English from his mother and his attendance at private schools, came to New York.
“I was really into jazz,” he says, “so I knew the city was the best place for an aspiring jazz musician.”
He earned a master’s degree from the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College and embarked upon what he hoped would be a promising career. Along the way, he started teaching.
“I tried different things,” he says. “One of them was an internship with a start-up that used software to teach piano. Another was with a promoter who booked Greek acts on U.S. tours.”
What he soon realized was that whatever he ended up doing with his music, business know-how would be a plus. So he earned a digital marketing certificate from Baruch College.
“I wanted to learn to think like a businessman or an entrepreneur,” he says.
Up until recently, Mike supplemented his music-teaching money with stints as a waiter.
“I took a leap of faith and started the Guitar Guide Guru teaching business,” he says. “I went with it because I wanted to get stellar at it. Besides, it’s what I have been doing the longest.”
In addition to teaching private students, Mike is developing corporate programs for groups.
“I don’t know what it’s like not to be creative,” he says. “But through my teaching, I’ve learned that this is not the case for everyone. Whatever you do in your life, it’s all about creating opportunities, and that’s not something that comes from formal education. It comes from living your life fully.”
And learning to play the guitar, he says, can be a wonderful start.
“Even if you’re only good at one thing, it will have a ripple effect on other areas of your life,” he says. “I’m the perfect example.”
Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 15, 2019.
Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.
Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhing@gmail.com; @nancyruhling, nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com, astoriacharacters.com.
Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling