So you want to be a guitar teacher

Occasionally I am asked the question by a student “What do I need to do to become a guitar teacher?” The short answer: If you believe you know enough about guitar and are confident you can communicate what you know you are at least ready to give it a go. Teaching is somewhat like performing on stage. You need to learn your material, practice until you are confident and then just step up and do it. To become a good teacher like a good guitarist takes experience. When you begin teaching especially where you are being paid you will most likely make many of the classic mistakes but that’s okay. We often learn more from our mistake than our successes especially those mistakes that are embarrassing or painful in someway. Research has shown we are best at retaining information when learnt through an emotionally charged negative experience. How often have you said to yourself after a humiliating experience ‘I will never do that again’. Still, I think we all want to avoid such experiences if possible so for those of you who want to become guitar teachers here is my advice.

Find a mentor

A mentor will make a huge difference for several reasons. Firstly you can learn from their mistakes rather than your own. By watching, listening and if possible asking questions you can learn more in one hour from a good mentor than you could from 10 hours of actual teaching. Next a mentor gives you a vision of hope. When you first start teaching it is easy to lose your confidence especially when you become frustrated because your students are showing no signs of progress or dropping out of lessons. A mentor sets a path for you to follow. Think about how you were inspired by great guitar players. You may not have known them personally but they still unwittingly mentored you. I have almost always had mentors in the areas where I hope to progress and I believe they have made all the difference. Especially with teaching. As a teacher you are looking for teachers not necessarily guitar players. Anyone who you believe to be a successful teacher will make a good mentor.

Use a method

When I began teacher some 25 years ago I would mostly make up each lesson as I went along. A typical lesson would begin with a quick revision of last week’s lesson followed by ‘So what do you want to do this week?’ I had no clear direction for my students. I just wanted to make them happy by giving them exactly what they requested. In some cases they would bring in a song but there were always those students who would just say “I dunno”. This was especially true of young children. They honestly did not know what they wanted to play. In most cases it didn’t take long for both student and I to become confused about where it was all heading. I knew I needed a guitar method. When I began to look for guitar methods all I could find were books on reading music and they were missing many important elements of learning guitar so I knew I had create something that would cover at least the essential skills. The G4 Guitar Method was basically the answer.

Keep learning

Too often teachers neglect their own learning. They stop going to a teacher because they feel they can teach themselves. Whenever I would interview a teacher my first question would be “Do you have a teacher?” and if the answer was no I would ask why not. After all they are selling the concept of lessons yet they themselves do not have a teacher. The best teachers know the value of a teacher. The know that a teacher means a lot more than just information. A teacher keeps them feeling accountable and moving forward. When we have a teacher we of course have a mentor but probably the biggest benefit of having a teacher is you now how it feels to be a student. Understanding how your students feel will dramatically improve your own teaching.

Involve parents

When I began teaching it simply did not occur to me to include parents in the process of their child learning guitar. I just assumed my young students understood what they had to do and would do it. When I failed to get results I just believed they were too young to learn guitar. It wasn’t until I witnessed the success of a piano teacher with young children that my opinion began to shift. Teaching adults and teens is very different to teaching young children. Adults and teens are old enough to understand the process and to take personal responsibility. They know learning guitar takes time and requires practice if they hope to progress. Young children on the other hand need support from parents. Practicing one skill for months can seem like a lifetime to a young child. They quickly lose interest and need parental support. When parents are involved in the process there is almost always a dramatic improvement. Parents also help to feedback what is happening at home. Young children may not always be able to articulate the way they feel or what is happening at home whereas a parent can make all the difference.

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