How To Teach Guitar Students To Practice

by Tom Hess


As a guitar teacher, have you ever had some (or perhaps “many”) students who never seem to progress in guitar lessons with you no matter what you try to do to teach them? If you are honest with yourself, you can probably think of many such examples, and you wouldn’t be the only guitar teacher who ever had this problem.

The reality is that most guitar students can’t really play guitar well and many will never learn to do so, even when taking guitar lessons with most “average” teachers. Although there are many reasons why this may happen, you (as a guitar teacher) have the power to prevent such an outcome by doing one important thing: teaching guitar students HOW to practice.

No matter how well you teach other things in your guitar lessons, until and unless your students know how to practice guitar correctly, most of them will be unable to achieve serious improvement in their playing even after months and years of taking guitar lessons with you. This is why it is your ‘moral obligation’ to make sure you know how to effectively teach guitar students to practice.

In addition to helping more people to finally learn to play guitar the way they want, being able to deliver superior results to your guitar students will set you apart from other guitar teachers and will make your business grow much faster.

Before I tell you the best ways of teaching YOUR guitar students to practice, it would be very helpful for you to test your own guitar teaching skills in this area. Take this short test to find out how much you already know about teaching your students to practice guitar.

Top 3 Reasons Why Most Guitar Students Have No Idea How To Practice

Reason 1: Most guitar teachers focus 99% of the lesson time on “teaching new things” and 1% (or less) of time is spent on teaching students how to practice guitar. This happens because guitar teachers often think that their role in lessons is to teach their students “new information” about music and guitar playing and feel that they would be “wasting” lesson time if they focused specifically on teaching their guitar students to practice. Because of this, the 1% of guitar lesson time that is set aside for teaching guitar students how to practice is usually dealt with as something “extra” or “optional”.

Reason 2: Guitar teachers who do try to teach their students how to practice guitar make the mistake of quickly 'telling them what to do', taking for granted that their guitar students will remember what was said and actually DO practice as instructed. Here is an example: when teaching sweep picking, a common mistake guitar students make is allowing notes to ring together when playing arpeggios. A common (well-intentioned) guitar teacher will tell his students to “be careful to avoid the notes ringing together while practicing these arpeggios at home”, and might even go as far as to show the student (once or twice) how to do it correctly. However, if that is the extent of how you teach your guitar students to practice, you will likely find the following problems in your student’s playing when they return next week for their next guitar lesson:

1. Most of your students will have forgotten that you even mentioned the issue of “notes ringing together when playing arpeggios” to them (this happens A LOT more often than you think).
2. The few students who do remember you talking about this issue didn’t remember how you told them to practice it.
3. From the students who thought they understood how to practice to solve this problem, most did not in fact ‘get it’ and spent the entire week practicing in a way that they ‘thought’ was correct, but in reality was filled with flaws.

As a result of all of this, you now have to ‘start over’ with teaching your guitar students how to practice the topic that they were supposed to have learned a week ago. Such an approach fails to get results because:

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1. Not enough time is ever spent on the topic of practicing guitar for students to really ‘get it’.
2. Your guitar students may think they understand how to practice what you tell them at the time of the lesson, but once they get home, they do it wrong or forget what it was you told them to focus on.
3. You (the guitar teacher) never make sure that your students REALLY understand your instructions because you NEVER get to see your own students 'practicing'. When you do hear them ‘play’ guitar, you are only seeing the ‘results’ of the practicing they did at home, but not the process they used to arrive at that result.

Reason 3: The advice that is given by the few guitar teachers who do try to teach their students how to practice is typically 'general' advice on how to practice 'everything' (or at least 'most things') on guitar. In contrast, the best guitar teachers teach their students a variety of guitar practice strategies that are focused on reaching very specific guitar practice goals. This enables such students to improve their guitar playing much more easily than it does those students who only ever knew one, two or three general ways to practice “all” guitar lesson items.

The Solutions

Now that you understand all the reasons why it is critical to actually teach your guitar students HOW to practice guitar and you have seen how the traditional guitar teaching methods often fail to do this, here are a few things you can do to avoid making the common guitar teaching mistakes described above.

Solution 1. Invest no less than 1/3 of the guitar lesson time that you use for teaching something new to show your guitar students how to practice that item. A mere 30-60 seconds of general talk about 'how to practice something new' will not be enough.

Solution 2. Don't simply ‘tell’ your guitar students how to practice something and expect them to not only remember it but also to do it correctly at home. You need to really ‘show’ them AND have them DO it in front of you. Some guitar teachers feel uncomfortable with the idea that their guitar students are 'paying to practice' in their lesson instead of 'learning something new'. If you feel the same, then consider this: ultimately, the most important thing your guitar students need from you is the “result” of improving their guitar playing. Knowing 'how to practice guitar' is the most important aspect of getting that result, because once your students leave your lesson studio, they will be on their own. If they practice incorrectly (which many do), then what they paid for at their guitar lesson the week before will be at least partly (if not entirely) wasted time and money. This results in slow (or no) progress, frustration, boredom and having to spend more time and money to learn it all AGAIN next week. Therefore, it should be your top priority to ensure that your guitar students practice correctly at home so that they can actually benefit from everything you are teaching them in your guitar lessons.

Solution 3. Don't allow your guitar students to rush you through the process of teaching them how to practice during their guitar lesson. Often times your students may become bored and will say to you things such as "I got it, let's do something else now". Do NOT let them influence you to skip this critical part of their guitar lesson. 99% of the time, your students really do NOT “got it" and if you take them through the process, you will both quickly discover that they really "DON’T got it". Additionally, always remind your guitar students that their playing will improve much faster once they understand how to practice guitar with a high degree of effectiveness.

Solution 4. Don't take anything for granted. Remember that for you (the guitar teacher) everything is easy and that you know how to practice guitar. You know what to listen for when YOU practice or when listening to your guitar students practicing, but your students typically do not know how to do this (although some might ‘think’ that they do). Tell them exactly what to listen for and what to pay attention to with the specific item they will be practicing AND write it down (or make sure that your students write these instructions down).

Solution 5. If your guitar students struggle to play something correctly in their next lesson, do not ask them to 'play it again for you' so that you can evaluate what is wrong with their 'playing'. This is exactly what ‘average’ guitar teachers do. Great guitar teachers ask their students to SHOW (not tell) them how they ‘practiced’ last week's lesson because THIS will reveal the real cause of the student's problem. Then instead of simply telling (in words) the students what they need to do to improve, a great guitar teacher will teach the student how to identify 'what to listen for’ while practicing, so that the student learns how to fix such problems on their own. In this way you will help your guitar students to grow as musicians much more quickly.

Armed with the knowledge in this article, the next steps you should take right now are:
1. Test your current skills as a guitar teacher in this free assessment about teaching guitar students how to practice.
2. Make sure to communicate with your guitar students about WHY it is critical for them to learn how to practice guitar with a high degree of effectiveness and how you will help them to achieve this result.
3. Begin to implement the advice in this article as you teach all your current and future guitar students.

As you implement the steps above, you will find ALL of your students starting to improve MUCH faster than they ever have before and you will also notice your own reputation as a superior guitar teacher begin to spread like wildfire all over your area!


Learn more about effectively teaching guitar to get better results for your students.

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