Wilton native Bob Riccio has been teaching guitar locally for the last 18 years, although he had a very inauspicious start himself with the instrument.
“I went to Our Lady of Fatima School. In third grade I had a teacher, Janet MacLean, who was the chorale director and she started a boys’ choir. Which was hilarious–there was a bunch of us, 30 kids in 3rd grade to 8th grade, dressed up in these white robes with little crosses and our arms folded up. She pointed at three of us and said, ‘You, you and you are going to play guitar in the next concert.’ I was one of them. She taught us how to play Michael Row the Boat Ashore. Needless to say we used the guitars as paddles,” Riccio laughs.
He also recalls forming a neighborhood band when he was in 6th grade, called the Seismographic Soundwave Band, and having some very…unique experiences.
“We would play lunchtime at Miller School. One time we played a high school party–as 6th graders! We knew Hendrix, The Kinks, some of the more popular tunes. Looking back, I’m sure we weren’t that great, but no one else was doing it at the time. I remember my parents carrying my amplifier into this high school house party. We also used to play church spaghetti dinners. It was fun, and a great social tool,” he recounts.
In all seriousness, it’s actually not surprising that Riccio wound up pursuing music professionally. He says music was something that was very important to his family when he was growing up.
“When I was a little kid I remember marching around the living room to the sound of a military marching band, and big band singers were always on the phonograph or on TV. Some of my great uncles were folk musicians. When I was growing up it was really important, culturally, the value of it. The business of music today is more business than it is entertainment done by real musicians. Technology has changed it. Now there are shortcuts.”
He discovered his innate ability to play and understand music, but Riccio still wished he had the kind of teacher as a child who inspired him. The feeling has definitely resonated in the way he teaches. He does incorporate a traditional method book because he feels it’s very important to learn how to read music, especially if they want to advance and play various different styles of guitar. But he tries something else to hook his students early.
“Some of those teachers early on, I was disillusioned by the guitar lessons. I try to get the kids to play popular music that they like right away, as much as possible. That really sparks an interest and it’s amazing the things I learn from them, the different styles of music. I have a newfound respect for some of the newer artists out there,” Riccio says.
He also says that he accommodates the way each student learns. “I change the way that I teach for each student’s personality. I know for myself that I didn’t necessarily learn the way everyone else did, that there were other ways I had to think to get the most out of a class. So when I teach, I think about that. Not every kid gets the message delivered the same way each time. And I always ask them to explain what I’ve explained to them, to see if they get it, and if there’s another way of thinking about it, I try to look into that.”
He teaches not only acoustic and electric guitar but also bass guitar, piano and music theory for students who plan to pursue music in college and beyond. He has a very loyal following of students who study with him for years. Part of his appeal is his easy-going manner, and the subtle way he gets them to learn the technique and method.
“When I first started teaching kids wanted to be van Halen or a ‘hair band’ superstar. They just wanted to do the riffs everyone else was doing. But through the years I’ve tried to push them away from that and get them to learn more about musical theory, because that will give them the independence and skills that, if they want to pursue learning hot licks or riffs, they can do that,” Riccio says.
He encourages his students to stay involved in the music programs in middle school and high school.
“It’s a valuable experience and I try to push them toward any kind of performance, whether it be middle school or high school bands, the Middlebrook talent show–I’ll get together with some of my students and they’ll coax some of their friends who play instruments, and I’ll start a little ensemble for those kids, and they’ll play together. It’s incredible for them,” he says.
That’s something he believes strongly, that not only is studying and performing about the instrument, but it’s also about building confidence, whether it’s in music or something else down the road in which they’re interested.
“It’s about building confidence and character and having fun too, at the same time,” Riccio says.
Riccio has found his own guitar fun outside of lessons; in addition to teaching, he’s played in almost every setting you can imagine: Broadway theater orchestras, ethnic music, corporate special events, The Plaza Hotel, Radio City Music Hall, Giants Stadium, department stores and more. He also writes and arranges music from his home studio.
But the majority of his time is devoted to teaching, and he says it’s emotional to see how his students are inspired, whether they’re beginners or auditioning for college music programs.
“Whether it’s getting the beginner to have the confidence that they can do this and it’s not that challenging, to when they’re building the confidence to step onstage, or to fulfill a dream to play at that advanced level, it pretty much tugs at the heart. Most of those kids started in 4th or 5th grade, and now some of them are playing professionally or going to school to study,” Riccio says.
Even though he’s the master to his students, he still considers himself a student of sorts. “It’s a lifelong journey. I’ll never accomplish what I want on this instrument. I’m never happy. There’s always something I can improve. I practice, I practice more now than I ever have.”
To inquire about lessons with Bob Riccio, call 203.858.6058 or contact him via email. He teaches Monday through Friday, 2-7 p.m.