Guitar Cities

Guitar lessons strike a chord with busy workers

By Brett Marlow
Assistant A&E Editor

Jim Lenger teaches guitar to busy professionals downtown on their lunch breaks and after work.
Tim Hunt / The Chronicle

Workers downtown aren’t just going out to grab a bite during lunch; they’ve got their hands on guitars.

For Scott Corley, guitar is on his menu for lunch once a week. Corley, who works at Wideload Games, a video game studio in the West Loop, wanted to learn how to play guitar, but could never find the time. After he started working in the Loop nearly a year-and-a-half ago, he thought he might be able to squeeze in guitar lessons during his lunch breaks. With a day job and two kids at home waiting on dinner and story time each night, it wasn’t impossible to take lessons in the evenings or weekends, just a bit hectic.

Five months ago, Corley found exactly what he was looking for—a guitar instructor who taught lessons to people with busy work schedules.

“This way I can sneak away and do it,” Corley said. “I do my lessons on Fridays, and it’s a nice break from work.”

Corley’s instructor is Jim Lenger, who teaches guitar lessons and runs Guitar Chicago, a professional musical instruction school at 150 N. Michigan Ave., to business professionals, lawyers, and students who have busy schedules but can find a time to come in throughout the day. He also has students like Corley, who come in on their lunch breaks and after work.

Guitar Chicago is in a downtown office building where Lenger has office space geared with a computer, a mixer and other audio equipment where his students can record some of their own compositions. The lessons are taught on electric and electric- acoustic guitars.

“Sometimes [lessons] have to be done through headphones because it is an office space,” Lenger said. “There are people walking by in suits.”

Lenger has been teaching for 15 years. He spends his time teaching guitar in the city and in Michigan throughout the week.

“What I had been seeing from teaching for a while is that I had a number of business professionals who had come to me and were interested in doing lessons during the day,” Lenger said. “So I saw that it was a good niche for me.”

Lenger started teaching lessons to professional clientele in February of 2006. He now spends three days a week teaching in Chicago, and hopes next year to hire more instructors and recruit more students. Lenger currently teaches more than 50 students.

Lessons range from half-hour to hour sessions and cost $25 per half-hour. Students can also buy four-to-six month tuition packages at a discounted rate for weekly lessons, Lenger said.

Lenger said his students range from 18 to 70 years old. He teaches college students, some from Columbia, but the majority of his clients are lawyers, who are also beginners, he said.

“[My students] are looking to leave work for a bit. Some of them take about five minutes just to sit, relax and talk. It’s a nice rest during the day,” Lenger said. “For people who don’t have the time to leave and go to the gym or do something like that, this is a nice alternative.”

Linella Gavin is a lawyer who works a block away from Guitar Chicago. For a month-and-a-half, she’s been taking lessons with Lenger.

“I always wanted to play [guitar], but I hadn’t had much success,” Gavin said. “Then I picked it up again and was looking for a way to fit it into my schedule.”

She did, and like Corley, she ventures off to Guitar Chicago during her lunch hour from work.

“I think if I tried to do lessons when I wasn’t at work in my off-time, I would never make it; it just wouldn’t happen,” Gavin said.

Other students feel the same.

Susan Pak, a commercial real estate broker who works in the Loop, said she likes the convenience of working in a building connected by a pedway to Lenger’s. Pak started taking lessons with him five months ago when her boyfriend bought her a guitar, and she wasn’t learning on her own, Pak said.

But five months later, Pak gushed about her progress.

“I’m getting really good. You would die if you heard me,” Pak said. “I don’t know if Jim would think so, but considering how bad I was when I started, the progress has been incredible. I love it.”

Pak, who goes to lessons after work one day a week, said she has learned by ear and by using what Lenger has taught her to play songs like “With or Without You” by U2, “Let It Be” by The Beatles and “Crimson & Clover” by Joan Jett and The Blackhearts.

Lenger said he hopes to expand this type of setup to other major cities in the near future. He is also working on a volume of guitar books about his teaching approach.

“It’s been fun to watch [my students’] progress,” Lenger said. “They’re growing as players. Having the guitar become a good stress reliever, they’re really picking up on [that].”

For more information on Guitar Chicago, visit


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