For 3 many years, Dan Smith has been making a solemn promise to Latest Yorkers. He has posted his flier — “Dan Smith Will Teach You Guitar” — 1000’s of times in the town’s bodegas, coffee shops, pizza parlors, delis and laundromats. Parodied by Jon Stewart and the guitar god John Mayer, Mr. Smith has reached local legend status alongside the likes of Cellino & Barnes, Dr. Zizmor and Keano.
There have been at the very least 60 versions of the sign, and most have included a photograph of a seemingly ageless, sinewy and smiley Mr. Smith posing along with his instrument. But spotting one within the urban wild may soon turn out to be a rarity, because Latest York’s go-to guitar teacher is doing less of his vintage variety of promotion and embracing a more 2022 approach.
Three months ago, Mr. Smith, 51, began a YouTube channel, where he has posted short instructional videos to assist aspiring guitarists navigate “Should I Stay or Should I Go” (by the Clash), “I’ll Be Your Man” (the Black Keys) and more songs. Others have had success as YouTube guitar instructors: “Marty Music” has 3.3 million followers, and “Andy Guitar” has 2.2 million. Mr. Smith, a newcomer to the world of online tutorials, had 144 followers as of this week.
While reporting this story, I took my old guitar from its case, where a family of cockroaches had taken up residence a couple of months before, and tried to play together with a few his videos, only to get frustrated. I quickly gave up, as I had again and again before when attempting to learn instruments.
My can’t-do attitude makes me precisely the form of person Dan Smith doesn’t need to teach. In actual fact, once I asked him if he would give me lessons, he said no. In other words, Dan Smith won’t teach me guitar. At one point, he even threatened to cancel an interview.
After we had re-established the standard journalist-subject relationship, I asked him why he had soured on me. “You didn’t actually need to learn tips on how to play guitar,” he said.
“I understand why I’m perceived as just an incredible promoter,” he said. “In fact, that’s how people perceive me, because, in some ways, that’s all they’ve known of me to this point.”
To crack Dan Smith the person, I would wish to look past Dan Smith the marketer.
Mr. Smith, who lives in Manhattan along with his wife, Melissa, a photographer, charges $150 for a one-hour private session. He also offers group workshops and lessons in songwriting and solo performance. He said he has supported himself by teaching guitar for the reason that mid-Nineties.
He began giving lessons at age 16 in his hometown, Newton, Mass. A couple of years later, after doing a little experimental theater, busking outside Le Centre Pompidou in Paris and putting in a while at Latest York University, he decided to pursue a profession in music and theater. He began teaching again to earn money, and it soon became a calling.
“I’m attempting to help people hook up with themselves,” he said.
He has stipulations about whom he’ll teach and the way, pedagogical rules he said he had give you after 1000’s of lessons.
Students must see him at the very least one hour per week, as an indication of their commitment. They usually shouldn’t go to him with the concept that his lessons are all about learning to select and strum or play solos like a guitar hero.
“Music is lots greater than just putting your fingers on the strings,” he said. “It’s telling a story, it’s making a mood, it’s evoking an emotion.”
Mr. Smith doesn’t teach his friends. “You would like a ways,” he said. “You would like some objectivity.”
He doesn’t tackle students under 21. “Everybody pays as they go,” he said, “because I need everybody to give it some thought each time they’ve a guitar lesson: ‘I’m paying for this. What am I bringing to the table?’ The one who’s doing it must pay for it, because that’s what makes it real for them.”
There are yet more stipulations: Mr. Smith doesn’t offer gift certificates; he doesn’t teach individuals who have signed up for lessons at another person’s behest, like singers or actors whose managers want them to learn guitar; and he doesn’t take notes for his students or permit them to take notes.
“It doesn’t work,” he said. “I’ve tested all the pieces that I do know for a fact. That’s one other thing that separates me from other teachers: I’ve done the research.”
For individuals who meet the standards, the experience may be transformative.
“It’s not nearly learning an instrument but expanding my feelings about myself, about what I’m about,” said David A. Paterson, the previous governor of Latest York, who has been studying with Mr. Smith since 2020.
Mr. Paterson, who takes a two-hour lesson each week, said that he and Mr. Smith incessantly spend half a session just talking. “I feel that’s his meditation technique,” he said. “That’s how he gets you within the mood to play.”
Mr. Paterson, who’s legally blind, added that he appreciated his teacher’s patience and an approach that goes beyond technique. “He’s a psychologist,” he said. “I’ve all the time been someone who thinks that, to make up the difference, that I actually have to rush.”
“Once you do a song,” Mr. Paterson continued, “it’s almost such as you’re shoveling snow: You simply drive through. You’ve a number of energy and you’re employed hard, but it surely’s not an mental pursuit; it’s getting the texture of things. The good musicians call it ‘Make room for Jesus.’ In other words, you play — and then you definitely just stop. That little space is as much a component because the music. I’m still fighting just stopping.”
Mr. Smith said that the time spent in conversation serves a purpose: “If a student arrives they usually are tense or distracted — everybody needs time to, in my view, clear the runway for themselves before they will really make music.”
In 2020, six months into his studies with Mr. Smith, Mr. Paterson and his teacher took the stage of Bar Nine in Manhattan, where they performed “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye.
Mr. Smith sometimes plays solo at Paddy Reilly’s Music Bar and other Manhattan clubs. His original songs include the city-centric “Sixth Avenue” and “Latest York Perpetually.” During our time together, he mentioned that he was about to perform in front of a big audience at an out of doors show in Battery Park. In the times leading as much as the gig, he texted me to ensure that I could be there. Mr. Smith’s wife echoed the gravity of the moment, telling me how excited they were for the occasion.
It was billed as “a talent show” featuring the town’s “most notable and iconic characters.” The lineup was put together by Nicholas Heller, a filmmaker and social media personality referred to as Latest York Nico. It was timed to the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of Mr. Heller’s documentary film short, “Out of Order.”
“There’s a BuzzFeed list of people who find themselves super-famous in Latest York, and Dan Smith is on it,” Mr. Heller said. “To me, he’s more vital than a worldwide celebrity.”
Along with his trusty Gibson Hummingbird guitar, Mr. Smith took the stage at dusk. He looked serious, earnest. It was clear that, unlike some others on the bill, he didn’t view his performance as a stunt, but as a likelihood to point out Latest York what he’s made from.
He began playing “Latest York Perpetually,” which he had written within the early a part of the pandemic as a tribute to the town’s resilience. In the midst of the song, one other Latest York character appeared onstage, on stilts. It was the one-name street performer Bobby, who repeatedly walks the town towering over crowds.
As Bobby loomed over the stage, Mr. Smith seemed unfazed. He has, in any case, had many years of practice in teaching others about what it means to take your time and seize the moment. And when his song was over, the group cheered not for the person from the flier but for the performer who was trying to appreciate a Latest York dream like the remaining of us.