Phil Circle

Phil C.

Chicago, IL
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Lesson Details


Levels Taught:
Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced

Songwriting is tricky. There are formulas one can use, but do they work for your specific needs? What about the dreaded writer's block? What if you've never written a song? What do you do if you can't finish a song you've started? How do you keep from getting too repetitive in your style? All of these questions and more have valid and applicable answers and exercises. I can teach the standard songwriting structure, but I do more than that. I help you find your true creative style. We'll discover your favorite and most effective uses of words and melody. You have a creative voice that is truly unique. Now let's help you use it.

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Phil teaches



Phil passed a background check that includes a SSN verification, national criminal record check, and sex offender registry search. Learn More
Phil delivers an exceptional lesson experience and ranks in the top 15% of our teachers nationwide.
Teaches students:
Ages 17 to 90

Teaching since:
January 1993

I've taught both privately and in the classroom (in schools from Pre-K to college, and through workshops), and have been a working musician and teacher for more than 25 years. I have a degree in music from Columbia College Chicago (Summa Cum Laude). My students have included everyone from absolute beginners to working professionals like myself. Many of my beginner students have also gone on to careers in music.

My approach in private instruction involves tailoring the lessons to the specific needs of each student, while making sure that he/she has the knowledge and technique to succeed in their creative endeavors. Whether it's a hobby or a potential career, I leave nothing out. You will learn the entire instrument. In cases where a student works in more than one subject, one session can typically be applied to all/both of them. I strive to help every student find their own creative voice, while building the skill sets required to work in any style of music.

As a writer, I've written for everything from music publications to LinkedIn, and have an award-winning nonfiction book that chronicles my journey as an independent musician.

As an entrepreneur, I've had several non-music businesses on the side over the years, and have weathered every twist and turn of the music industry for more than 30 years. My indie record label, founded in 1994, is breaking new ground by empowering artists to have a hand in their own business success while never compromising their art.

As a public speaker, I started speaking in church at age 9. I have spoken to audiences large and small about everything from music education and the music business, to dealing with addiction, to the teachings of engaged Buddhism.

Please feel free to contact me with the "Ask Phil a Question" button on my profile here. This can include questions about my method, or regarding days and times for lessons. What you see in my availability here is based on my schedule away from TakeLessons. I have students elsewhere and perform shows regularly. I may have additional times available and tend to have some flexibility. I teach worldwide online. Just ask.

As soon as you're ready to book lessons, you can use the Green Button after selecting your area of study, day and time. I will receive a notification that you've signed up. I will then confirm with you and send a questionnaire regarding your lesson needs within 48 hours.

Thanks for your interest.

I look forward to working with you!

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Music Instructor
Sep 2016 - Present
Flatts and Sharpe Music

I began teaching here immediately after my return to Chicago.

This is where I take younger students, since they have a lobby for parents and do 30 minute lessons. When I'm not here, I'm in my private studio. I am fully vetted by Flatts and Sharpe, as well as TakeLessons.

In addition to teaching privately one day a week at each of their two locations, I coach some of the student bands for the quarterly "Flatts and Sharpe Rock Show" at a major Chicago venue.

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Music Coach / Writing / Speaking / Entrepreneurialism
Feb 1994 - Present
Music and Guilt By Association Records

Since my first teaching jobs and release of my first self-produced recordings in 1994, I've been an advocate of doing it yourself. I fell into teaching quite naturally and this work has led me to work with students to develop their careers in music, and in some cases I've coached them outside of the arts.

Every subject you see in this profile is something I cover at this teaching and work studio in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood. Parking is easy. Public transport is nearby.

Please feel free to inquire further by using the contact button on this page. You'll hear back from me within 48 hours.

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Writer and Author
Apr 1992 - Present

Before I made the conscious choice to go into music, I wanted to be a writer. As a result, I've kept this alive through the years in my songwriting and by writing for pure enjoyment or for hire.

While at Columbia College Chicago for my music degree, I did all of my electives in the Fiction Writing Department, even choosing one of their professors as an advisor. I took every class in their mainstream course offerings up to the graduate level.

Before attending Columbia, I was contributing to various publications and have had articles appear in business, science and arts publications. In the world of theater, I've scripted comedic plays for acting students.

In 2016, published an award-winning book that chronicles my 30+ years as an independent musician. It's called "The Outback Musician's Survival Guide" and is available in print and as an e-book everywhere books are sold online.

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Singer Songwriter Guitarist / Producer
Mar 1986 - Present
Guilt By Association Records

I've been a working singer, songwriter, guitarist for 30+ years. I've released multiple albums to positive reviews, and toured nationally.

I perform regularly both in the Chicago area and regionally. My performances vary from solo acoustic to 3-piece to a full electric band.

I have appeared on local and national radio shows, and often return to many of them, even co-hosting on occasion. I regularly receive media attention for my various work.

I also produce extensively.

I have sync licensing deals with three outlets. This is when your work is placed in TV and movies.

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Music Instructor
Sep 2010 - Sep 2013
Eau Claire Music School

I was a private instructor in guitar, bass, ukulele, and voice. I also conducted a couple of workshops in songwriting. My roster included about 20 thirty minute lessons a week, at its peak.

Music Instructor
Mar 1997 - May 2005
Quinlan and Fabish Music

As a private instructor in guitar, bass and voice, I also started a summer program for student bands. Two other teachers and I would combine students of various instruments, teach them a short set of music, and put on a show, all in one to two weeks with daily rehearsals. My roster at Quinlan and Fabish included 55 thirty minute lessons a week, at its peak.

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Music Teacher
Sep 1993 - Jun 1999
Fran Center (Catholic Schools)

I was a classroom teacher of General Music for several Chicago Catholic Schools, as placed by Fran Center, and educational provider for parochial schools.

I taught from Pre-K through 8th Grade.

I also occasionally subbed for other subjects, directed the choirs, and put together classroom shows with the students.

At my busiest, I taught from 8:30am to 2:30pm Monday through Friday.

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Music Tutor and Teacher's Aide
Jun 1994 - Jun 1995
Columbia College Chicago

Beginning in my second semester as a student at Columbia College, I was asked to be a private tutor and to work in the classroom as a teacher's aide for the music program.

I was able to hone my approach to private teaching through tutoring. As a teacher's aide, I watched an experienced classroom teacher in action and gained insight into ways to engage a larger group. Both of these part time jobs also allowed me to tighten my understanding of music theory to the benefit of my own work at the time, as a student and teacher.

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Music Production Assistant
Jun 1994 - Jun 1995
Columbia College Chicago / Chicago Jazz Ensemble

While attending Columbia College Chicago, I was the production assistant for The Chicago Jazz Ensemble and personal assistant to their conductor William Russo. Russo was also a ground breaking composer and the founder/artistic director of the Contemporary American Music Program at Columbia.

This experience allowed me a great deal of insight into the real world of music, not to mention the mentoring I received from Russo and many of his contemporaries regarding the craft of music. Through this job I met and spoke with many legendary figures in jazz and blues. Naturally, I benefited from the knowledge they shared.

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Interdisciplinary Arts
Sep 1998 - Jun 1999
Columbia College Chicago
Music Composition and Performance
Feb 1994 - Jun 1997
Columbia College Chicago


Fluent / Native Proficiency


Summa Cum Laude (Honors Graduate)
Jun 1997
Columbia College Chicago

I graduated in the top of my class at Columbia College Chicago. My diploma was presented with honors.


Book Award / Nonfiction / Entertainment
Jun 2018
2018 Readers' Favorite Book Awards
Best Of 2017
Apr 2017
Best Actor In A Dramatic Role Nomination
May 2008
Chicago Actors Studio
Presidential Scholarship
Sep 1994
Columbia College Chicago


May 2009

Broadcast Music Inc. was founded in 1939 by forward-thinkers who wanted to represent songwriters in emerging genres, like jazz, blues and country, and protect the public performances of their music. Operating on a non-profit-making basis, BMI is now the largest music rights organization in the U.S. and is still nurturing new talent and new music.

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Photos & Videos

How do you approach learning guitar?
A clip from a show near Chicago. The song we're playing is "Crossroads" by Robert Johnson, as done by so many rock and blues players.
In this video, I share ideas on choosing the right kind of guitar teacher.
In my home studio in Chicago's historic Rogers Park neighborhood.

Phil Circle and his band performing the blues classic "Born Under A Bad Sign" with the legendary Ruby Harris on fiddle.
Phil Circle with members of his band performing "Bittersweet" by Big Head Todd in a 2016 Chicago performance.
From a recent performance in Chicago, the song "Altitude" by Phil Circle, recorded by a fan.
Phil Circle as lead guitarist for a Wisconsin band in 2016.

Phil Circle with his band at Martyrs' in Chicago.
+ 6 more

23 Reviews

Write a Review
Glenn F. Feb 7, 2019
Singing · In studio

1st meeting/lesson went well....Looking forward to future lessons.

Reenee H. Jan 9, 2019
Ukulele · In studio

Just my first lesson but I enjoyed it and feel like I am learning the basics well.

Mya A. Nov 14, 2018
Ukulele · In home

Very patient!

Noah Jun 25, 2018
Singing · In home

Phil is walking me through the theory and we are making progress so it’s goinf well.

Michael Jun 4, 2018
Guitar · In home

Had a great lesson, Phil is a real pro, makes Me comfortable with our pace. At My age, He’s a great choice.

Jeremiah Z. May 15, 2018
Acoustic Guitar · In studio

Phil is EXACTLY the kind of guitar teacher I was looking for. I couldn't ask for a better instructor. He knows his stuff and breaks things down so that you can understand and apply what you learn. He's also a deep soul and has a love for music that is contagious!

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Jeremiah Apr 27, 2018
Acoustic Guitar · In studio

I have been looking for a high quality guitar teacher for a while and I found it in Phil Circle. He is a professional musician and makes a living at it, so you know he is good.

He understood the skill level I was coming from and what I needed to improve. Phil gave me some exercises and scales the first meeting, and I learned more from those exercises than I did in my previous lessons with two other guitar teachers.

Phil is the real deal, he knows how to teach, and he will make you a better musician!

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Alex Mar 30, 2018
Ukulele · In home

Phil is a passionate, dedicated and talented Uke and vocal teacher. He has been working with our 8 yo boy who does not have an easy character and was able to establish a great relationship with him allowing for very productive lessons.
Phil is creative with teaching method and was able to adapt to our son's needs. I would highly recommend Phil

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Simi A. Nov 22, 2017
Singing · Online

Jennifer Nov 16, 2017
Acoustic Guitar · In home

Phil is a fantastic guitar teacher. My teenage daughter has had a few teachers over the years, but he’s the first to help her learn to read actual music, teach her to restring her guitar, and provide a true musician’s perspective that keeps her interested and excited to learn. His focus on classical as a springboard for all other music genres is refreshing. We are thrilled to have found this gem of an instructor, his love for music and guitar is infectious and inspiring.

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Ella Nov 16, 2017
Vocal Training · In studio

I started voice lessons which turned into combined voice and guitar lessons with Phil almost two months ago, and I've had an awesome experience! I came in nervous with crippling stage fright, but Phil has taught me to own it and realize that it's normal. He's a super cool dude with great stories and crazy amounts of music knowledge and experience. He is helping me find my true personal voice, which no vocal coach has ever helped me with. Although we get down to business and work, there's also sure to be laughs (and tears... but good tears, don't get me wrong here!) during every lesson. Would highly recommend!!!! Phil roxxxxx!!! 8)

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Alexandra Oct 28, 2017
Acoustic Guitar · In studio

A 5 star teacher. My daughter is very happy with this teacher.

Ingrid Jun 9, 2017
Music Performance · In studio

Preparing for a performance at my friend's wedding. His experience has been vital in prepping me to anticipate variables and how to play through mistakes etc.

CJ A. Mar 10, 2017
Vocal Training · Online

Sunny H. Jan 31, 2017
Ukulele · In home

Phil is an absolute delight! We had a great time working with Phil learning the basics of Ukulele. He prepared a great lesson for us while creating a fun atmosphere for people of different musical backgrounds. Highly recommend Phil!

Greg Jan 10, 2017
Blues Guitar · In studio

Phil is a phenomenal teacher - right from the start, he will get you on track with exercises and practice routines that keep you focused on learning to play the guitar. He will cover the areas that you must know to become proficient on the guitar, including forms, modes, chords and progressing toward learning to read music.

After struggling to teach myself to play the guitar, I realized that I had hit a wall in my self-instructed learning and I needed to find a guitar teacher. I found Phil through word of mouth - and I have made great progress under his tutelage.

If you want to learn to play the guitar, Phil is the teacher you want - if you just want to learn to play songs, well, there’s YouTube.

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Mark Jan 6, 2017
Guitar · In studio

Took vocal and guitar lessons from Phil and both helped me tremendously and gave me the skills needed to be a professional musician. Highly recommended!

Sarah Jan 4, 2017
Singing · In studio

Phil has been so great to learn from. He is very professional and I appreciate the way he gives meaningful and honest criticism when needed. It took some time, but I'm not shy about my voice anymore! Thank you, Phil!

John Jan 4, 2017
Vocal Training · In studio

Are you kidding me??
Who is still trying to figure out how great Phil Circle is at what he does?
He's well known for a reason: he's the best.

His approach to voice (with me, at least) is to address the entire body as part of your instrument. By making me aware of everything from my posture to keeping my jaw loose, he has drastically improved my range and control!!

He's an amazing guitar player & songwriter too and I often run into fellow musicians that have studied with him for those things also, but I (for now) only have experience with him for voice lessons. He has me sing through exercises with guitar that are hugely helpful- singing octaves, matching note and timbre, etc.
It's a vocal workout! But it gets results and he really makes it a ton of fun!!

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Megan Nov 6, 2016
Vocal Training · In studio

Phil has the techniques and know-how to get the best out of you vocally. He'll also work with you on music theory if asked, which helped me greatly with improving my ear. Outstanding and highly recommended teacher!!

Dave Nov 4, 2016
Guitar · In studio

At 39 I decided it was time to learn to play guitar, I had wanted to do it for years but just hadn't. So I bought an electric guitar and played around for a month or so before deciding lessons were in order.

I shopped around for someone cheap, don't do that, they are cheap for a reason. I eventually came across Phil and we hit it off well. He is very well versed in blues and rock music which I was looking for. He knows music theory and breaks it down well. He's a straight shooter and will call you out when you're lazy, but always gives kudos and encouragement when appropriate.

It's nice when your teacher has practical real world experience to back up the teaching. Phil can back up his teaching and truly loves entertaining people, he puts on a great live show.

I would certainly recommend Phil as a teacher as well as a musician. Phil is a "Rock Star"!

Years later I am still playing guitar and now bass with a band several times a week and having a blast.

Thanks Phil.

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Ed Nov 3, 2016
Vocal Training · In studio

Phil is great. I took vocal training lessons from him years ago and still use training materials we created. My voice improved a lot, it's clearer and stronger now, thanks to Phil. Add to it that I sing in different language and Phil was able to customize his lessons to accommodate it and you have a best teacher your money can buy. Speaking of money - the rates were very reasonable! You can't go wrong with Phil as a teacher!

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Jeremy Nov 3, 2016
Singing · In studio

Phil is a great teacher. He really helped give me confidence in my ability to sing. And the lessons I had with him gave me skills that I can always go back to when I need to practice or warm up. I highly recommend him.

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