Free Guitars program offers one-on-one lessons around McHenry County

WOODSTOCK –  Growing up with a dad who played guitar, access to the instrument was never the issue for Josh Hoeck.

It was the structure of regular lessons that the Woodstock teen lacked. And that's exactly what Free Guitars for Future Stars has offered Brian Hoeck's son, pushing the 17-year-old to learn the instrument himself.

"Scott not only provides the instrument, he provides the encouragement," said Brian Hoeck, of FG4FS Executive Director Scott Neumann. "Scott just makes it really enjoyable."

Josh is now among the program's first graduates to continue honing those skills under an expansion of the Free Guitars program, which offers one-on-one lessons for students who complete the 8-month group lessons.

Founded five years ago, the nonprofit provides lessons – and loaner guitars – to families with limited resources to help their children learn the instrument. Kids who complete group lessons get to keep their guitars.

But the idea had always been to take the program further, providing the basis for a lifelong relationship with the guitar, Neumann said.

"The original idea was to give kids six months of group lessons, then six months of one-on-one," he said.

Each year, a percentage of the graduates – like Hoeck – have clearly taken to the instrument. Others are motivated by earning the free guitar, but show little passion toward furthering their skill. Of about 30 graduates this year, 12 or 13 fit into the former category.

Six are enrolled in the new "advanced" lessons, which eventually will be offered at music store locations in several McHenry County towns, but for now are taking place solely at Dave's Woodstock Music. The program will add between 10 or 12 advanced students this fall, taking advantage of a grant from the McHenry County Community Foundation, Neumann said.

"I love the idea of what he's doing, and what the program is doing," said Dave Schmidt, owner of Dave's Woodstock Music. "Getting music into the hands of kids who might not otherwise have the chance."

For Josh and Brian Hoeck, the lessons have opened the door to a whole new father-son bonding experience. Brian introduced rock and blues music to his son. Now, the two play guitar together at home on the weekends.

"Just jamming with family, getting shown new chords," Josh Hoeck said. "It's my favorite instrument."