An article by Rob Hylton of guitar teacher’s resources website dealing with one of the most commonly asked questions relating to starting up as a guitar teacher.
There are some great guitar players out there and it can be a little daunting to make the decision that you are going to set yourself up as a guitar teacher? After all, who are you to make out that you’re so great that people should look to you for advice and guidance? The reality is that the best technical and theoretical musicians do not necessarily make for the best teachers. Teaching is not about your own playing but about making another person’s playing better and to do that you need more than just chops.
Are You Skilled Enough?
Guitar teaching is about guitar learning, pure and simple. It is not about how well the teacher can play (although obviously a teacher who knows nothing and can do nothing will have nothing to teach).
Before you start to teach for money it is important to sit down and spend a little bit of time appraising just where you (and your attributes, attitudes and capabilities) fit into the scheme of things
Forget Ego (which will encourage you to claim to be competent in areas that you are not really comfortable and confident in).
Disregard Insecurity and false modesty (which could equally dictate that you underestimate your own capabilities and potential).
Once you have formed an honest opinion with relation to your own situation then it is time to turn your attention to identifying the type of student that you can best help.
The key to being an effective guitar teacher is to attract (and hold onto?) the right students. People who want to know what it is that you can teach them. It really is that simple.
Who Are Your Customers?
Setting out to be a guitar teacher who attracts the right customers is all really a question of common sense and of pitching your guitar skills to the right section of the market. You need to attract the customers who you are capable of helping and who you would enjoy teaching.
If you can’t play jazz (and explain what you are playing and why to someone who has little or no understanding of it) then just don’t teach it.
On the other hand if Jazz Guitar is the only thing that floats your boat and you have dedicated your recent life to pushing its boundaries then maybe you should specialise in it?
If you decide to play to your strengths as a musician and concentrate on the areas where the skills that you have as a player are in good shape then you can have a satisfying and rewarding career.
The vast majority of people who seek guitar lessons are novice players with little or no experience of guitar playing but with a real will to improve.
They are looking for someone who will help them to start off on the right guitar-playing path.
Teaching a musical instrument depends on more than just being able to get around it. An effective guitar or bass teacher is one who creates a situation in which the student can take advantage of the opportunity to improve.
Planning The Start Of A Guitar Teaching Business
A good intermediate standard player with a reasonably sound grasp of music theory can be ideally placed to take on the job of teaching beginners (the single largest group of students out there by far). In fact it can be argued that such a player has the advantage over a more “advanced” musician because he or she is likely to have a clearer and more recent memory of being at the stage that the student is at.
Given that you have the skills and desire to be a teacher then all that’s really required after that is the right attitude and a plan.
The attitude we can’t really help you with. If you have great difficulty in communicating with people on a one to one basis then no matter how skilled you are as a musician then maybe teaching guitar isn’t the job for you?
If, on the other hand you find it reasonably easy to get along (and interact) with most people then you could be on the verge of starting a rewarding new chapter in your guitar playing life?
At this point May as well come clean. I am involved with a guitar teacher’s resources website.
We produce downloadable materials (pre-prepared printable student handouts etc) for guitar teachers around the world and I would love to say that as a guitar teacher you need this stuff but unfortunately (for us) it isn’t true.
To be a good (or better than good) guitar teacher you don’t need our stuff. Guitar teachers have been getting on fine without teachwombat for decades.
What every guitar teacher does require however is a plan. You should make sure that you are prepared for a lesson and as any experienced teacher knows… Preparation is vital. Something else experienced teachers know is that lessons can stressful when you find that you’re “winging it” too much of the time.
In order to minimise stress and maximise effectiveness you could maybe think about having access to the following materials
1. Chord Handouts 2. Commonly Used Scale Sheets 3. Blank Chord Grids 4. Blank Guitar Necks 5. A set of “fallback” lessons (with pre-prepared sheets etc) that you can give if a student needs a little more time to practice the stuff covered in the previous session
First Guitar Lessons – What Should I Teach?
A big and scary subject but if you look at the situation from the point of view of someone who wishes to master the guitar (rather than that of someone like us who wants to use our musical skills to ward off a day job?) then deciding what to teach beginners can become pretty simple.
They want to be able to make noises that they like and can recognise as quickly as possible. Students want to play songs (or fragments of songs) that they know. If they can turn up at their next lesson making noises that they like that they couldn’t make before then they’re generally pretty happy.
Our job as guitar teachers is to help them to get to that point by presenting them with a series of challenges appropriate to the stage that they are at.
Learning to play the guitar (or any other instrument for that matter) can be divided into three main areas.
1. Theoretical Knowledge 2. Technical Ability 3. Development of Repertoire
Theoretical Knowledge Very important but being as it would seem pretty pointless to know the theory behind all of the music that you can’t yet play this can wait until some capability on the instrument has been achieved.
Technical Ability This is involved with the development of motor skills and involves the student in making and refining particular physical movements with relation to the instrument.
Development of Repertoire This is involved with the development of motor skills and involves the student in making and refining particular physical movements with relation to the instrument.
The more astute reader might have noticed that two of the above definitions are the same and the real eggheads might of worked out that if there were a system of combining them we could “kill two birds with one stone”.
Why not teach them simple songs (or fragments of songs) that combine the acquisition of a technical ability with the development of a repertoire of music that will make them feel good about themselves and their development as musicians?
All we need to do now is to identify the right chords and to come up with a variety of songs that feature those chords?
Get them off to a Flying Start
The CAGED SYSTEM of Open Guitar Chords
There is a method of learning guitar called the “Caged System” which when fully developed can be used to master the entire neck of the instrument but which at it’s simplest sets out a bunch of open chords generally regarded as being the best ones for a novice to learn.
These chords are C A Am G E Em D and Dm (hence CAGED-Get it?).
Looked at another way this system could be called the (much less memorable -I admit) “whatever you do don’t try to get them to play an F chord system”
When teaching it is just as important to be aware of the things that a guitar student should not be wasting their time, effort and enthusiasm on as it is to provide them with material to study and the F chord is a case in point.
To ask someone who has little or no experience of holding down a single string to suddenly start to clamp down two strings with a single finger is really pretty cruel and you can easily end up with a situation where a perfectly well motivated and potentially capable student becomes convinced that they will never be able to play guitar.
It is unfortunate that a lot of printed guitar tuition material starts from the perspective of music theory and it’s relation to the keys on a piano or the notes on a musical stave.
Because the key of C has no #s or b’s it is the easiest to understand but its important chords (or rather the F chord which is an important chord in the key) is all but impossible for an inexperienced player to form. Being aware of the danger of introducing the F chord (and others like it) too early is important to anyone teaching guitar. There is nothing guaranteed to dampen the enthusiasm of a novice than presenting them with a (simple looking) challenge that they find way too difficult for them.
If you want to remember what it was like to be a total beginner on the guitar just flip it around. If you are right handed just fret (rather than strum) with your left hand and strum (rather than fret) with your left. Spend a few minutes trying to play some of your favourite simple music. It is a great way to develop an understanding of where your customer is at
If you would like a free handout of the first chords to teach then (oh no here comes the plug again!) just go to teachwombat.com where you can download and print a PDF called “First Guitar Chords” illustrating all of the chords that you can use to get you started. You don’t have to buy anything from us. Use it with our blessing in your teaching (or even use it to find out if you really want to teach?)
The first couple of months of a novice guitarist’s career could (and probably should?) be largely taken up with becoming firstly aware of, and then familiar with the eight chords that make up the caged system.
The chords give you access to quite literally hundreds of thousands (and possibly even millions – I never got around to counting them!) of songs (or bits of songs) and they can be used to form the building blocks of a more than sound technical and theoretical approach to teaching and learning the guitar
Use the above material alongside a gradual introduction to single string patterns and scales and you can end up with the beginnings of a well-rounded musician and the start of a successful new business into the bargain?
© 2009 Rob Hylton. All Rights Reserved