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Visitors to the former Sawyer Tannery building on Coombs Street on a recent afternoon would have heard a French horn player warming up with scales and arpeggios. He is Bill Caballero, principal horn of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, just arrived to begin his series of video lessons for horn players of all levels of experience, from beginner to expert. It will take him six days to record the series of lessons in the studio of ArtistWorks, a company co-founded in Napa in 2008 by former AOL executive David Butler and his wife, Patricia. 

While Caballero continues his preparation, Patricia Butler explained the idea behind the online school. 

“When David retired from AOL, he picked up his guitar again and tried a few DVD instructional videos to brush up on his skills. None were satisfactory so he looked up his former teacher who now lives in Philadelphia, and flew there for a lesson. Since regular flights would be impractical, he devised the concept of having his teacher video the lessons from which he could learn, and then recording himself performing the required pieces and exercises which the teacher could then critique. And so VideoExchange was born.”

ArtistWorks’ patent-pending video technology enables musicians around the world to receive personalized video feedback in online lessons. In addition, they offer a new looping tool on all video lessons, giving students a chance to isolate and loop segments until they grasp the material. 

“We firmly believe that a passion for playing music is fueled by an interactive environment where artist instructors can individually address student needs, as well as allow students to interact with each other,” David Butler said

Caballero  demonstrates his segment “Basic Understandings,” including breathing method, air stream, buzzing lips, stopped horn, tuning the horn and working with a drone.

He’s one of  the list of artist-instructors already signed up by ArtistWorks that includes  jazz and fusion drummer Billy Cobham, and drummer and producer Thomas Lang. Other features include ArtistWorks Academy of Bluegrass, Howard Levy Harmonica School, Martin Taylor Guitar Academy, Andreas Oberg Guitar Universe and Peery Piano Online.

Patricia Butler said baby-boomers are her predominant clients: they have a little more time now their kids have grown. In addition, the lessons are more than instructional; they foster a close relationship between the artist and the student.” 

To achieve this, the VideoExchange program includes a chat room, where students can compare notes after watching the latest lesson from their teacher. They can also look at each others’ video uploads, and share in the teacher’s critique of each performance. Also available are downloadable music theory worksheets, common to all the sites on artistworks.com.

All levels of learning are respected, from beginners to those advanced players who take the lessons in order to keep up their own skills. 

“Even the most proficient players may upload a video of themselves performing a difficult piece immaculately, and in that case the teacher will recommend a more challenging piece for the student to work on and submit at a later date,” Patricia Butler said.

In the studio, Caballero goes on to demonstrate practice habits, including chromatic warm-ups, major and minor scales and arpeggios, trills, vibrato, and sight-reading. 

The studio has six cameras. Three of the cameras are now trained on Caballero, showing his embouchure, his left fingers and his right hand. 

ArtistWorks is debuting a new website, videoexchangelearning.com. Soon, the Butlers will add voice coach Jeannie Deva from Los Angeles, and lessons non musical  topics including golf, public speaking, comedy, acting, English as a second language and art — “anything that needs to be taught visually,” the couple said.


CORRECTION: This story has been changed since its original posting to reflect the business' correct website and city of origin.

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