How To Get Started Teaching Guitar

by Tom Hess



When thinking about getting started teaching guitar, do you feel any of these things?
  • You want to start teaching guitar lessons but aren't sure exactly what to do or how to do things.
     
  • You aren't always sure how to teach, demonstrate or explain things in ways that all guitar students will understand and be able to learn from.
     
  • You get nervous when thinking about what will happen if your guitar students simply won't 'get it' no matter how many times you try to show them how to play or understand something on the guitar.
     
  • You aren't sure how to determine if you are doing a good job as a guitar teacher or not.
All new guitar players have these same fears when they are getting started teaching guitar. Sometimes even experienced guitar teachers have them too if they have never been trained, coached or mentored to become excellent guitar teachers. In most cases, these guitar teachers have been teaching by either using the 'trial and error' approach to teaching guitar or listening to the advice of the countless 'non expert' guitar teachers out there who love to give advice about teaching guitar even though they are often not the right people to be doing so.

Here the 11 biggest mistakes that inexperienced guitar teachers make. Learn them now so you can avoid them.

Guitar Teaching Mistake #1- Having no real plan to help students reach their specific goals. Many inexperienced guitar teachers are reactive and deal with their students on a lesson-by-lesson basis. In other words, they decide in the beginning of each lesson what to teach that student today. The problem here is the teacher is simply 'reacting' to whatever the student asks for or is struggling with right now and loses sight of the longer-term goals the student wants and needs to reach.

Other inexperienced teachers try to be more proactive (which is better than being reactive) but their mistake is planning out too much in the beginning without having enough time to see and understand what specific challenges and problems their student will have during the learning process over the next several weeks/months. They develop a 'method' too early and follow it without flexibility to the unique and real life challenges each student will endure along the way.

The best guitar teachers balance the two extremes and are far more effective in helping their students learn faster and overcome their challenges and limitations.

Guitar Teaching Mistake #2- Thinking that there are basically two things that a guitar teacher can teach each student:
  1. What the students want to learn.
  2. What the students need to learn.
The real mistake here is in how teachers deal with these two ideas. Some guitar teachers focus only on what students say they 'want' to learn. (You will find exactly zero highly successful guitar teachers in this category.) Other guitar teachers recognize that what students say they want to learn and what the teacher knows the student needs to learn are sometimes totally different things. While this is far better than being in the first group of teachers, the problem here is most of these guitar teachers fail to merge the two.

The best guitar teachers are goal-orientated teachers and invest time in showing their students that what they need to learn IS what they also want to learn. They do this mainly by revisiting the discussion with the student about his/her stated goals and then demonstrating what the student needs to learn to reach those goals (and that those things are totally congruent with their desire to do just that). This usually helps most guitar students to realize that they do in fact want to stay focused on the things that will help them reach their goals and understand that the process of doing so should be and will be enjoyable even if the work ahead to be done is challenging. Once such a conversation between student and teacher takes place, it is much easier to keep the student focused and therefore, goals are typically reached faster.

Guitar Teaching Mistake #3- You can spot a 'less than great' guitar teacher by simply looking at his / her students. What you typically find are guitar students who have learned a good deal of 'things' but still can't really play well, improvise well, write songs well, nor phrase well. The mistake that many, many (including many experienced guitar teachers) make is that they fail to invest enough time teaching their students how to 'apply' what they know.

Guitar teachers typically spend far too much time on 'teaching new things' instead of helping their students apply (use) the things they have been learning. The result is students who have learned much, but can do little well.

Don't be in a hurry to constantly teach new things (even if your students request it). It's your job to make sure they can use what they have paid you to learn.

Guitar Teaching Mistake #4- Not knowing when to deal with avoiding or breaking students' bad habits. In a perfect world, guitar students would be like computers. You would simply program them to do everything correctly the first time. The problem is we are teaching human beings who sometimes get bored, frustrated, have a short attention span, become distracted and simply just want to play something right now before making everything perfect. Some guitar teachers don't spend enough time making sure students do things the right way (or at least in ways that won't seriously hinder their ability to play in the future). Sometimes guitar students develop hand injuries or other physical problems because the teacher simply didn't know or care to avoid or resolve serious bad habits before they caused damage.

Other teachers take the exact opposite approach and are overwhelmingly strict with their students in order to prevent any chance of a student developing a bad habit. The problem with this approach is very few students have enough fortitude and desire to withstand the constant minute corrections of posture, hand position, picking motions etc. etc. before they are even able to get any enjoyment from playing guitar or the process of learning.

The best guitar teachers find balance. Although eventually all bad habits should be avoided or overcome, you should prioritize the habits to deal with first. The most critical ones are those related to health (for example to correct a hand position problem that may cause a hand injury / carpal tunnel syndrome, etc.). The next priority is the picking hand (because this is the hand that will run on auto-pilot 99.9% of the time in real life guitar playing and your student will more likely be unaware of bad habits in that hand).

Guitar Teaching Mistake #5- Failing to establish high but realistic expectations for your students. Some guitar students will always try their best and practice hard, but most won't. Instead, they will do what they did/do in school…. they'll do just enough to meet the expectations of their teachers or parents. Why do most school kids not get the best grades in school? Answer: because their parents typically don't set the expectations high enough, thus the student performs well enough to meet the lower (but acceptable) expectations that their parents set. Most guitar teachers simply don't clearly communicate high but reasonable expectations to their students often.

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The best guitar teachers frequently communicate and reinforce the expectations to their students, but they are also realistic about what can be done in certain period of time. Most importantly, they don't use a single standard for all students. Instead, they set expectations for each student as an individual.

Guitar Teaching Mistake #6- Teaching too much new stuff. Most guitar teachers feel they need to always be 'teaching something new'. Fact is, this causes far more problems than it solves for your students. As mentioned above, guitar students need to learn how to apply what they already know. So why do so many guitar teachers feel the need to constantly teach new stuff? Three reasons:
  1. They feel insecure as a guitar teacher so they deal with this by reaching for new content to cover up the fact they don't really know what they are doing.
     
  2. They copy what other guitar teachers do…you know, the other guitar teachers whom also are not highly successful.
     
  3. Some of their guitar students demand it. Problem is, these students typically say things like "I got that"… when in fact they didn't 'get it' at all!
The best guitar teachers understand that being an effective and successful guitar teacher helps their students reach their musical goals faster, better and cheaper by not constantly shoving new content down their throats. Instead, they balance teaching with training and application.

Guitar Teaching Mistake #7- Not knowing how to deal with a student who doesn't "get" something you are teaching. Most inexperienced teachers have a hard time explaining the same concept in many different ways so that it can be understood by any student. In addition, guitar teachers who struggle to teach their students often try to teach in their own learning style (as a visual or auditory learner for example).

The best guitar teachers dig deeper to determine if the student they are teaching is a visual learner, auditory learner or kinesthetic (tactile) learner, then they teach that student based on the student's learning style. Good teachers develop analogies, examples, metaphors, visual aids, hands-on-experiences and a range of other things that might be necessary to help the student to understand and retain what is begin taught.

Although experience will help you to improve in this area, a faster approach is to get coaching on teaching guitar from a master guitar teacher who can help you.

Guitar Teaching Mistake #8- Not understanding that your students do not always need to be taught. Just because your title is guitar teacher does not mean that your role should always be that of a teacher. Most guitar teachers see themselves as merely teachers - one who presents and explains new information to a student. The problem is your students don't simply need to learn new things all the time nor do they always need to review older lesson materials. They need more than that…much more.

The very best guitar teachers fully understand the differences between teaching guitar players and training them. Fact is, most guitar students need to be trained just as much (or more) as they need to be taught. Focus less on teaching new concepts or reviewing old ones and more on training your students to actually do things. Take them through the process step by step. Don't tell them the steps, don't even show them, instead, walk through the actual steps with them. Many of your students will think this is unnecessary and that they 'got it'. Truth is, most 'don't get it' and you will save a lot of time for both of you (and their money) by training them correctly the first time…every time.

Guitar Teaching Mistake #9- Not monitoring your retention rate. Some guitar teachers measure their success by counting how many students they have. The number of students you are teaching is not an accurate measurement of your success (I have several hundred guitar students, but that fact alone does not entitle me to claim that I'm a successful/good guitar teacher). There are other (more important) factors. One of those factors is your retention rate (i.e. how long you keep your students). If you are only keeping your guitar students for several months, then you have a lot of improving to do. When you have students who have studied with you over several years, then you must be doing something right.

Of course not every student needs to study for years, some have specific goals they want to achieve and good teachers can help them achieve those goals in only a matter of weeks or months. Successfully reaching goals is the holy grail of defining true success; however, sometimes it isn't as easy to measure this when those goals are very long-term and more general. Pay attention to your retention rates and then find out from those who are quitting why they left…equally as important - ask your students who have stayed with you for long periods of time why they are happy with you and your lessons together. Never take things for granted, get the info and make changes where needed.

Guitar Teaching Mistake #10- Not having any good way to evaluate yourself as a guitar teacher. Most inexperienced guitar teachers simply don't have a good way to know if they are doing a good job. The problem exists for three main reasons:
  1. The other teachers who they typically compare themselves to are only average or mediocre guitar instructors. So the standard they compare themselves to is just not high enough since the average guitar teacher is really not all that good.
     
  2. Electric guitar teaching in general lags far behind the teaching of many other instruments (now you know why the average piano teacher keeps many students coming back for years while guitar teachers keep their students on average a little less than 1 year).
     
  3. The vast majority of guitar teachers never seek any real training on how to become a guitar teacher. At best, the average guitar instructor asks other (mediocre / unqualified) guitar teachers how to do things, or they just copy what they think those other teachers do (which is also not good). At worst, guitar teachers simply begin teaching using the 'trial and error' approach. Certainly we all learn from our experiences, however, it's much better if we avoid making the next mistake below.
Guitar Teaching Mistake #11- Not taking your responsibilities as a guitar teacher seriously as you take the money and time from your students who pay to learn to play guitar well…and in a reasonable amount of time. Most guitar teachers will never do anything to seriously improve the value they provide to their students. There is often an over-confidence attitude that they (some guitar teachers) have about their teaching skills. It's the 'I'm good enough' attitude. Why should a guitar student pay money to a teacher who isn't the best available, doesn't seek out the best training or doesn't at least make a serious attempt to improve his/her guitar teaching skills?

Although you do not need to be an expert guitar teacher before you start teaching guitar, you owe it to yourself and to each of your students to get the right training, coaching and mentoring to become the guitar teacher that you could and should be. Your goal isn't to be 'the best', just to be 'your best'. As you begin teaching guitar, you should constantly strive to be your best.

The very best guitar teachers are experts, but none of them started out that way. Very few of them got there by trial and error and certainly NONE of them got there by copying what all the average guitar teachers did…nor by taking their mediocre advice. In one way or another, they likely sought training, they took their responsibilities as guitar teachers seriously and they took action consistently to improve…and guess what, they rose to the top, earn big bucks, are stars in their local community (in big demand), are fulfilled, have a great life, and never looked back. That could be you…That should be you! Get my totally free 7-day mini course on how to be an excellent guitar teacher.


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