The balancing act of great guitar teaching

BalanceSome years ago I noticed guitar teachers generally operate from two distinct styles.

1. Consultation teaching
Most guitar teachers primarily use the consultation style. They will ask you a question like “What do you want to learn?”. The lessons will then be based around the songs, riffs or ideas you have specifically mentioned to keep you engaged and coming back each week.  In my early years of teaching this seemed like a logical way to teach. After all I am being paid by the student so they should get to decide what they want to learn right?

2. Structured teaching
Structured teaching basically opposes consultation teaching because there is a set plan. In the strictest sense the student does not get a say. It is like school or university. You might get to choose the classes but the teacher/lecturer decides the content of those classes. This also seemed quite logical once explained to me. After all the teacher should know what’s best right?

The popular choice
The consolation method is the popular choice among guitar teachers for a few reasons. Firstly it is easy. The decision making is left to the student. As a teacher I don’t need to think about what I am going to teach you each week. I just ask you and being a trained musician with an internet connection I can easily work out almost any popular song. Secondly it keeps students happy. When given the choice most students would rather learn their favourite songs. As a guitarists I understand this because I too feel the same. Who wants to practice boring old scales? Thirdly its good for business, in the short term anyway. Happy students are happy to keep paying.

The risky choice
The structured teacher is taking a risk but it is one that has the student’s long term interests at heart more so then their short term happiness. Structured teachers if strictly structured can lose a lot of students in the early months but usually end up with more success stories. A structured teacher is usually following a proven path whereas the consultation teacher is improvising and is often changing course from week to week. There are no long term goals in place and although the student enjoys the lesson over time they gradually become frustrated.

A case for structure
Structured teachers focus more on the skills of guitar playing. By focusing on skills you will ultimately be able to teach yourself songs you want to play in the way you want to play them. Think of it like language. I can teach you to recite from memory your favourite stories and that is definitely a skill but if I instead teach you to read and write you will eventually be able to teach yourself. The process literally speeds up because you are now literate.

Finding harmony
I am not suggesting that any teacher should work strictly to a structure with no improvisation at all. The best teachers can balance the two. My point is most teachers are consultation teachers with little or no structure in their teaching which ultimately results in students who have no real sense of where their lessons are heading. The ideal situation is to have a teacher with a well structured proven method who is willing to take your personal interests into consideration. They should ask questions but not be too eager to please you. Great teachers focus on the big picture and that means combining structure with your personal interests.

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