7 Things That Guarantee Failure For Guitar Teachers - Why Most Will Fail To Make A Living Teaching Guitar
by Tom Hess
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Fact: most people who decide to teach guitar will not become successful and will never manage to help lots of people to learn guitar well.
Here are some staggering facts about the realities of working as a guitar teacher and teaching guitar:
- The majority of guitar teachers earn less than $35,000 per year and struggle to make a living teaching guitar
- Most guitar teachers have few (or no) truly great guitar students
- Guitar teachers commonly report feeling burned out, frustrated and pessimistic about their potential to thrive in this business
In contrast to the above, the top 1% of guitar teachers:
- Teach guitar part-time, earning ‘at least’ $100,000 per year
- Help their guitar students achieve outstanding results in their guitar playing (faster than anybody else in the area typically can)
- Have a lot of motivation, time and resources to invest into growing their business further in order to add lots of value to their guitar students
- Work less than 40 hours per week (typically much less)
These statistics (about how lucrative it can be to teach guitar for a living) are shocking to most people. But they describe accurately how most teachers fall far short of their potential to make a living teaching guitar.
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I know these facts to be true because I mentor a large number of guitar teachers every month to make a living teaching guitar And I help them not only teach guitar, but dominate their local guitar teaching markets.
The worst part is that the things that cause many guitar teachers to fail to make a living teaching guitar often have NOTHING to do with how well they teach guitar, how talented they are or how much they care about their guitar students.
In most cases, guitar teachers fail to make a living teaching guitar by following many of the so-called ‘common sense’ and ‘conventional wisdom’ ideas in their guitar teaching businesses. These approaches might seem sound and logical on the surface until you dig deeper and realize how they are absolutely destroying your chances to successfully teach guitar for a living and at the same are actually hurting those guitar students in the process.Here Are The Top Causes Of Failure For Guitar Teachers:
The instinctive approach to attracting new guitar students (especially in areas with a lot of competition) is to set your guitar lesson rates very low and make it cheaper for guitar students to study with you. The assumption here is that being the cheapest guitar teacher in town will make you stand out from your ‘more expensive’ guitar teacher competitors. Here are a few reasons why doing this makes it hard to teach guitar for a living:
- Your low price will communicate to guitar students that you are either inexperienced or aren’t good at guitar teaching. Fact is, MANY guitar students specifically look for ‘higher-priced’ guitar teachers because they assume that higher price correlates with greater results. So you will drive away many of the serious guitar students who DO have money to pay you for lessons and would make excellent guitar students. All of THOSE guitar students will never even consider you as their guitar teacher when you charge less (or even the same) money than everybody else. This makes it hard to teach guitar for a living.
- Your willingness to charge low rates from the start will communicate to prospective guitar students that ALL guitar teachers and guitar lessons are ‘the same’, with ‘price’ being the only variable that sets one guitar teacher apart from the others (which is COMPLETELY false of course, but many prospective guitar students don’t know that). As a result, it will be almost impossible for you to justify raising your guitar lesson rates later on (making it harder still to teach guitar for a living). This will ensure that you will forever remain ‘underpaid’ as a guitar teacher, due to the perception you have planted into the minds of your guitar students.
- Your guitar students (those who seek you out specifically because you are the cheapest teacher in the area) will take their guitar lessons with you a whole lot less seriously, will practice less and ultimately will get little/no results in their guitar playing. It’s been proven over and over again that the less one pays for something, the less they value it. The reverse is also true: when you charge more for your lessons, your guitar students will take you (and your guitar lessons) MUCH more seriously, will practice more and will get BIGGER results faster. (Plus, when you make more money from each student it becomes easier to teach guitar for living.)
These problems compound into a downward spiral that will doom any chances of you ever being able to teach guitar for a living.
To prevent this mistake from destroying your guitar teaching business, set your lesson rates ‘at least’ at the average going rate in your area even when you first start guitar teaching. Then work hard to BUILD MASSIVE VALUE for your guitar students so that you can teach them to become great musicians much better and faster than anybody else can, thus easily justifying charging much higher rates than your competition. I’ll show you how to become the best guitar teacher in your area in my guitar teacher training program.
The obvious tactic for guitar teachers trying to build a business is to go out and search for new guitar students. While you ‘do’ of course need to have effective ways to attract new clients, using this as the ‘only’ approach for expanding your guitar teaching business will lead to the following problems:
- You will work A LOT more hours than necessary on your marketing efforts, since the new guitar students you acquire will typically only be enough to replace those who have ‘quit’ lessons with you in the meantime. This means that you will be working like crazy only to keep your business at the same level.
- Even if you are highly successful at getting more new guitar students than you lose current ones, your business growth will be FAR slower than it would be if you focused ‘simultaneously’ on all the other elements of your guitar teaching promotion, such as: keeping your existing guitar students longer, getting more guitar students through word of mouth (referrals) and becoming more effective at ‘converting’ prospective guitar students into actual guitar students (among other factors).
The failure rate of this extremely inefficient marketing method is very high (and can make it impossible to stay in business during periods of economic downturns and recessions).
The way to avoid the problems above is to focus on EVERY area of your guitar teaching business consistently. When you do this, your promotional efforts will become exponentially more effective and you will be able to grow your business with far LESS time and effort than you ever thought possible.
Many guitar teachers assume that it is your ‘students’ job to know what they want you to teach them from lesson to lesson. This belief is completely FALSE. If your guitar students knew exactly what to learn/practice in order to reach their musical goals, they would have already reached them (without you). Fact is, the vast majority of guitar students have no idea at all what they ‘should’ be practicing to improve their musical skills and that is WHY they come to you for lessons. It is YOUR responsibility as the expert guitar teacher to find out the general ‘long term goals’ your guitar students want to achieve and then design a lesson strategy that will make that happen. This means that once your guitar students communicate to you their long term goals, YOU need to be in charge of creating the strategy of what to teach them from lesson to lesson. To be successful at this, you must also communicate to your guitar students WHY what you are teaching them is in their best musical interest to learn.
If you approach your guitar teaching expecting your guitar students to dictate to you what/how to teach them from lesson to lesson, your guitar students will NEVER learn to play guitar ‘really well’. At best, they will end up with ‘pieces’ of musical knowledge in their heads and fingers, but will never feel like real musicians. This will cause many of your guitar students to feel frustrated and quit lessons with you.
Furthermore, inability to deliver massive results for your guitar students always reflects very badly on your reputation and is the reason why most guitar teachers struggle to stay in business and fail to make a living with guitar teaching.
If you are new to teaching guitar, it is natural to look at what other guitar teachers do and adapt the same approaches that are commonly used to grow your business. However, as you have read in the beginning of this article, the VAST majority of guitar teachers are NOT successful at all. Therefore, copying what the ‘average’ guitar teacher does is a certain recipe for YOU to fail as well (or at best, to become mediocre… who wants to be ‘mediocre’?).
What you need instead is to surround yourself with a network of guitar teachers who ARE very successful and learn from their experience about what it takes to successfully make a living with guitar teaching. That being said, realize that no smart and successful competitor in your area will share their secrets with you. So your ‘success network’ must be made up from guitar teachers who DON’T live in the same geographical location as you.
The guitar teachers who learn to teach guitar from me get access to exactly such a network of the most successful guitar teachers (from all across the world) whom I have mentored to earn 6 figures per year and beyond by teaching music.
New guitar teachers are very afraid to say ‘no’ to their guitar students (when it is necessary) and enforce their lesson policies because they fear driving guitar students away. In the short term this may help you to keep a few students longer, but if you never learn to create effective lesson policies that you truly believe in and enforce them, your business WILL fail for the following reasons:
- You will only attract (and retain) the kinds of guitar students who will waste your time by not practicing, not paying on time, constantly asking to reschedule lessons and not taking your guitar lessons seriously.
- Because of the problem above, you will NOT have any room (or energy) left in your guitar teaching schedule to teach GOOD guitar students who practice regularly, pay on time and are extremely motivated to reach their musical goals.
- You will spend WAY more time accommodating yourself to the whims of every student you teach than you will actually spend ‘teaching’ them to become better musicians. As a result, your guitar students will make little or no progress, you will make a whole lot less money, you WILL become burned out and will end up as part of the ‘failed guitar teacher statistic’ I quoted at the top of this article.
You can solve this problem in a few simple steps. First, realize that YOU know what is in your guitar students’ best long term ‘guitar playing interest’ (more than your guitar students do). Next, structure your lesson policy and expectations of your students to be based around those principles. Communicate your expectations to your guitar students and explain why following them is in THEIR best interest. Then refuse to teach those guitar students (yes – actually FIRE them) who repeatedly try to get you to change your policy.
Guitar teachers often believe that teaching at a music store/school (as opposed to private guitar teaching) helps them make a living with guitar teaching, because:
- The store/school will do all the work of finding guitar students for you
- Teaching guitar at a music store (or school) makes you look more professional than teaching privately
Both of the above statements are FALSE many times over. Here are the reasons why teaching guitar out of music stores is an almost certain guarantee to fail:
- Contrary to what you may be told, music stores have no direct incentive to get guitar students specifically for YOU (certainly not as much as ‘you’ yourself do). So that perceived ‘advantage’ of teaching out of music stores is really of no benefit to you at all. Ultimately it is up to you to take responsibility for getting guitar students for yourself.
- In addition to the problem above, you actually LOSE money directly by working at music stores, because you have to pay the store owner a significant percentage of your income from guitar teaching. This makes it even harder to become financially successful with guitar teaching in this way.
- To compound the above problems even more, most music stores will not allow you to teach in truly effective (and highly innovative) guitar teaching formats that will help your students learn and progress faster (and will only limit you to teaching private lessons). If you are limited in the formats you can teach guitar, it will be much harder to help your guitar students successfully reach their goals.
- Since you won’t be able to deliver superior results to your guitar students, it will be almost impossible to build a reputation as a truly great guitar teacher and grow your business to its full potential.
For these reasons (plus others), the most successful guitar teachers NEVER work out of music stores and instead run their own guitar teaching businesses (or start THEIR OWN music schools). If you want to be successful at teaching guitar, you need to do the same - run your guitar teaching like a business and learn effective ways to succeed in all areas of it.
You may think that the easiest way to get more guitar students is to appeal to as broad range of musicians as possible. Therefore a lot of guitar teachers market themselves as guitar teachers in ‘all styles’ or claim to teach many styles well.
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In reality, promoting yourself as a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ guitar teacher will attract a lot of guitar students who aren’t very serious about learning guitar and aren’t sure about what musical styles they want to play. These (non-serious) guitar students typically practice less (and make less progress), quit lessons very quickly and will be (on average) much more likely to challenge your guitar lesson policies every chance they get.
In contrast, the BEST guitar students (meaning the most motivated, the most committed and the most loyal) would never choose to study with such a teacher, because they will look for ‘expert’ guitar teachers who specializes in what they want to learn.
Filling your guitar teaching schedule with ‘non-serious’ students will virtually guarantee burnout, frustration and LOTS of time spent on dealing with cancellations, late payments and other administrative problems in your guitar teaching. Although these issues are only ‘indirectly’ related to the issue of not selecting a guitar teaching niche, they are ‘directly CAUSED’ by it and will directly prevent you from making a good living with guitar teaching.
Of course you shouldn’t box yourself into such a narrow niche that there aren't enough guitar students in your area who are interested in that music. However, you will be FAR more successful if you promote yourself as the expert ‘rock’ guitar teacher OR the expert 'jazz' teacher, OR the top ‘classical’ teacher (as examples) vs. trying to appeal to ‘all styles’ at once.
Above all, you must understand that making a living teaching guitar doesn’t simply mean to ‘have a lot of guitar students’. You must fill your guitar teaching schedule with the RIGHT guitar students (such as those who fit the ‘best guitar student’ description above). These guitar students will always make the fastest progress, will stay studying with you for YEARS and will help to grow your reputation as the dominating guitar teacher in your area.
While this article is not a ‘full’ list of reasons why most guitar teachers fail to succeed, these points will help you see how relying on conventional/common sense ideas is often extremely dangerous for your guitar teaching business.
The best defense against the problems listed above is to get guitar teacher training and learn how to prevent these (and all other) causes of failure for guitar teachers. After becoming aware of the problems that hold back your success, take the right actions to fix them and watch your guitar teaching business take off like never before!
About Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.Get started teaching guitar as a profession and earn a 6-figure annual income.
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