For many, studying at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music is the pinnacle experience in elite musical education. But for an increasing number of children, it also can be the start.

Atanas Tzvetkov, director of the Pre-College Guitar Program at IU, knows the value of formal training.

At 11, Tzvetkov began taking guitar lessons in Bulgaria, his homeland. “When I started, I wanted to play The Beatles and The Rolling Stones,” he says. “But my teacher taught me notes. He showed me how things make sense with the guitar, how things logically connect.”

Tzvetkov’s talent with the instrument quickly became apparent, and his training grew more formal. After earning a master’s degree in music pedagogy from the Academy of Music and Dance in Bulgaria, he set his sights on continuing his training in the United States.

“It’s been a journey for me to come from the other side of the world to Bloomington,” he says. “But I don’t believe things happen by chance. When I came here eighteen years ago, I didn’t even know how big the school was. And I ended up staying here…and being with the brightest students and faculty at the best music school in the country.”

Tzvetkov holds a doctorate in guitar performance from IU, and for the past 13 years he has taught children to play guitar, which, he says, stands out as his proudest accomplishment.

The Pre-College program does not require previous guitar experience, and it is open to anyone old enough to recognize English letters. “Anyone can play guitar. As long as you have fingers, you can play,” Tzvetkov says. All students learn the fundamentals, including how to read music. From there, students guide their own learning experience depending on their effort and commitment.

“We give every student the chance to become professionals,” he says. “But we don’t push it. It is up to the students how far they want to go.”

Lessons through the program cost about $40 per hour, and each session is 30, 45, or 60 minutes. Roughly 40 children enroll in the program each semester, and many return year after year.

Tzvetkov says it’s gratifying to help students grow as musicians and well-rounded individuals. “The good thing about learning guitar is that it stays with these kids. Literally. They can take it wherever they go, and they can take it with them for the rest of their lives.”