Teaching Guitar: How To Fix Bad Habits And Solve Problems Your Guitar Students Have
By Tom Hess
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- Inspiring and motivating your students – Teaching guitar well is often more about inspiring your guitar students than teaching a new scale, chord or song.
- Teaching your guitar students new things to play / practice – Most guitar teachers understand this basic concept, but don’t know how much new content is too little or too much for each guitar student.
- Helping your guitar students solve their guitar playing / musical challenges – The best way to improve your guitar teaching is to understand exactly how to help any student overcome any problem.
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(That is, helping their students solve their guitar playing problems.)
This skill often determines whether your guitar students stay with you for years or quit studying with you and look for a better teacher.
Teaching your guitar students to solve problems and bad habits starts with getting clear on the process.
Remember that symptoms of problems and causes of problems are often totally different things. A misdiagnosed problem can make things worse than doing nothing at all.
Your guitar students need you to look past the symptoms of their problems and identify their true causes. This video shows how identifying the true cause of a guitar technique challenge makes solving it a lot easier:
Don’t rely on trial and error to solve your guitar students’ challenges (as most teachers do). It’s your job to know which solutions work best and to help your students implement them. You must constantly improve your guitar teaching abilities, just like professionals in other industries constantly train to improve their knowledge and skills.
Improve your guitar teaching skills by:
- Getting guitar teacher training. There is a difference between copying what other guitar teachers do and actually learning the best ways to teach guitar.
- Surrounding yourself with truly successful guitar teachers (those who have a lot of great students and earn a lot of money from teaching). Ask them for their advice on your specific guitar teaching challenges. This saves you and your students a lot of time and frustration.
This video shows an effective guitar teaching process that helps your students improve quickly:
Improving your guitar teaching skills is completely different from improving your own musical skills. Guitar teaching skills are about training other people to develop (and improve) musical abilities. These skills require you to understand human psychology, be an effective communicator and have the right guitar teaching strategies that deliver results.
Tip: Avoid most public guitar teaching forums. Guitar teachers who hang out there are far from successful and are not qualified to give you advice. Seek out forums filled with guitar teachers who are proven experts.
Your guitar students need to understand the causes of their musical frustrations and your solutions to each one. Laying out a logical path for them to follow makes your students more likely to implement what you tell them to do.
Most guitar teachers do not fully explain the cause of their students’ problems and don’t lay out a logical solution in front of them. They move directly into implementing the solution. This often fails, because:
- Your students need to believe that your proposed solution(s) will in fact solve their guitar playing problem(s).
- Your students must understand how your solution eliminates their problem(s) and improves their guitar playing.
Without this understanding, your guitar students won’t be motivated to practice at home and will lack the skills needed to practice correctly.
Understanding the logical steps of your solution is not enough. Your guitar students must also feel:
- The pain of their musical limitations created by their current problem(s).
- The amazing feelings of overcoming their challenges and playing guitar better than ever (after they implement your solution).
This dual approach via logic and emotion is a powerful way to inspire your guitar students to implement your solution.
These feelings are motivators for massive action. You make your students feel these feelings by future-pacing them emotionally. They become much more excited to do what you tell them to do and keep doing it until the result is achieved.
This video shows what it means to future-pace your guitar students emotionally and make them motivated to follow your instructions:
Don’t simply tell your guitar students what to do – walk them through the process of getting it DONE. The teaching part can usually be done quickly. Training takes the most time. Think of yourself as a sports trainer vs. a school teacher as you train your guitar students to implement your solution to their problem(s).
Tip: Create special training classes for your students where you train them to practice guitar correctly. This ensures your students become awesome guitarists quickly and helps you earn more money teaching guitar.
Don't rely on your guitar students to practice correctly on their own at home. Only the most ambitious and strong-minded students practice guitar correctly on their own. The rest require a lot of supervision from you.
Monitor your students’ motivation level and help them keep it high. Remind your students of the benefits they get from implementing your solution. This sustains their enthusiasm all the way through the process.
A mediocre guitar teacher who keeps his students motivated always get bigger results than a great technical teacher who cannot keep students focused on the big picture. The big picture is the outcome your students want. Focusing on the outcome is key to your guitar students’ long-term progress.
Note: Your guitar students typically have multiple problems in their playing. Examples include: inconsistent articulation, weak sense of timing, excess body tension, inefficient hand movement, excess string noise, etc. These problems often have multiple causes. You must decide on the best order for dealing with the cause of your students’ problems. (More on this below.)
Many guitar teachers try to use linear logic to help students break bad habits and overcome challenges. This approach would work well when dealing with machines, but fails when applied to (most) people.
This video explains why linear logic often fails when teaching guitar and shows a much better approach to use:
The order in which you teach guitar playing topics has a huge impact on the minds of your students. It makes all the difference between your students staying with you for years and them quitting out of frustration.
Congratulate your students for reaching their goal. This makes them feel proud about their achievement and more motivated to continue doing what you tell them to do.
Avoid overwhelming your guitar students with too many things to do, fix and think about all at once.
Focus on one problem at a time, even if your student has dozens of bad habits that need to be fixed. Solving too many problems at once does more harm than good for most guitar students. It’s easy to make most students feel bad about their guitar playing and their musical potential. This kills their will and motivation to do the work needed to improve.
Note: some guitar students are much more strong-minded than others. You must gauge how much frustration each guitar student is able to tolerate and tailor your teaching accordingly. Ignoring your guitar students’ mental state often leads to them quitting lessons and giving up guitar playing completely (in extreme cases).
Question: “But Tom Hess, how can I allow my guitar students to continue playing and practicing guitar incorrectly? Isn’t it wrong to allow students to continue practicing guitar when I see them do a lot of things wrong?”
Answer: Yes and No. Of course you need to solve all of your students’ problems and bad habits…but you must stay focused on the big picture. The big picture is about strengthening your students’ mindset and building their confidence in their musical potential. This foundation helps them persevere all the way through the process of reaching their musical goals.
You build your students’ mental foundation by focusing on easiest-to-fix guitar playing problems first. This gives them immediate victories and builds their trust in you. Put off dealing with harder problems until later, when your students are ready and motivated to approach them.
Bigger problems become much easier to fix after you’ve addressed many of the little problems first. Your guitar students have better guitar technique, better guitar practice habits and stronger mindsets that make bigger challenges faster to overcome.
Warning: Do not make every guitar lesson all about solving problems. You must balance solving problems and undoing bad habits with forward progress in your students’ musical skills. Most guitar students don’t realize that solving problems is moving their playing forward (even after you explain it to them). Give your guitar students other things to do and practice that are fulfilling and keep them inspired.
This guitar teaching guide helps you keep your guitar students motivated to study with you for years.
About Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He trains guitar teachers from all over the world how to earn 6-figures per year teaching guitar, while working less than 40 hours per week.Become a better guitar teacher by learning how to effectively teach beginner guitar.