Find the Right Guitar Teacher – 12 Tips
An article by Doug Marks
Regardless of how you choose to improve your skills, learning to play guitar takes time. Choosing the right guitar teacher can turbo-charge your progress.
Your first lesson
You just arrived for your first guitar lesson with a new instructor. After a brief introduction he says, “So, what are you interested in learning today?” Tell him that there’s a large spider on the wall behind him. As he turns to find the spider, grab your guitar and sneak out of the room. Okay, it’s not that bad, but it is a serious indication that there isn’t a step-by-step program involved. There may be a lack of discipline, and progress may be a long slow grind to reach your goals. The instructor should have decided in advance what you’re going to learn today.
From the instructor’s point of view
Thirty-seven years ago, I was a private instructor and I remember the experience like it was yesterday. Student after student came through the door wanting to learn either Sweet Home Alabama or I want to Rock and Roll All Night. I still have nightmares about the experience to this day. I’m being cynical. Actually, a lot of my students were fun to teach, and the overall experience was enjoyable. Still, the repetitive, boring aspect of teaching motivated me to record my lessons on audio cassettes and advertise them in guitar magazines. I went from zero to hero in less than a year.
12 Tips to Choose the Right Guitar Teacher
- Ask a friend – When you are impressed by a local guitarist, express your admiration then ask, “How did you learn to play guitar?” Then, ask for local instructor recommendations. If they explain that they’re an instructor, proceed with caution and consider my next point.
- Great players aren’t necessarily great instructors – Just because someone is a talented guitarist doesn’t mean that they’re a good teacher. Take an introductory lesson and use your judgement.
- First decide, “What do you want to learn?” – If you want to play like your guitar heroes, an instructor’s academic credentials are less important than street cred. I’ve taught millions of people to play guitar, yet my credentials are from living the life. Instead of going to college I chose the stage. My knowledge of music theory is from a need to know perspective. John Lennon: “To this day, I have no idea what [Aeolian cadences] are. They sound like exotic birds.” On the other hand, much can be learned from an academically trained instructor if that type of knowledge is what you’re seeking.
- What is your program? – Before booking a lesson ask the instructor about their method of instruction. Do they have a step-by-step program? If they say no, ask, “What is your program?” Many instructors teach songs and nothing but songs. You definitely want to learn songs, that’s why you chose to play guitar, but you need more than that. You must learn proper playing technique and understand theory basics to sound like a real player.
- Experience counts – Experience counts and so does enthusiasm. A winning combination for a guitar teacher is experience along with enthusiasm and a love of playing. If you find this, you’ve probably found your instructor.
- Guitar Lessons should be personalized because fit matters – You should feel comfortable playing in front of the instructor. If you’re so intimidated by their presence that you can’t perform, that’s not good.
- Beginners get off to a fast start – My private guitar lesson ad read; “First Lesson Free.” Even beginners came out of that first lesson playing a song. I gave everybody a reason to come back next week. A fast start will keep you motivated.
- Don’t hesitate to audition several instructors – It doesn’t need to be awkward. Just explain that you’re here for a single lesson and you want to check out a couple of other instructors to find the best fit. This will definitely keep the instructor on her toes. Count on getting the best initial lesson that they have to offer.
- What does Yelp have to say? – Even if you didn’t find the instructor on Yelp, be sure to mention that you give great reviews. (lol) Once again, you’re going to get the best the instructor has to offer.
- A word of caution – Instructors typically want to give you a good lesson but not so good that you don’t need to sign up again next month. With this knowledge you can be sure to get the maximum from lessons. If things seem to be progressing slowly, explain this to the teacher.
- A good instructor should take notes on your progress – This is really a message to instructors, because the average instructor has no idea what was accomplished last week. Hey instructors, it’s not that hard to take notes. How else will you know what has been accomplished and what needs to be reviewed? If you find an instructor that actually does takes notes, that’s excellent. That’s a huge bonus.
- And now a word from our sponsor – These suggestions wouldn’t be complete without one final word. It sounds self-serving… and it is. It’s still good advice. Some students live in small towns with very few instructional choices. Your only choice might fail many of these tips. That’s okay. You can make the most of your lessons by taking control. You can do this by simultaneously studying a proven, step-by-step program. Like, ahem, mine. Show your instructor what you’re working on and have them monitor progress. Trust me, you can think that you have an understanding of a fundamental technique but not even be close. A professional can get you back on track quickly.