by Tom Hess
When thinking about getting started teaching guitar, do you feel any of these things?
- You want to start teaching guitar lessons but aren’t sure exactly what to do or how to do things.
- You aren’t always sure how to teach, demonstrate or explain things in ways that all guitar students will understand and be able to learn from.
- You get nervous when thinking about what will happen if your guitar students simply won’t ‘get it’ no matter how many times you try to show them how to play or understand something on the guitar.
- You aren’t sure how to determine if you are doing a good job as a guitar teacher or not.
If you can identify with the points above, you are not alone. It is very common for almost all beginning guitar teachers to have the same concerns as you. In fact, even long time guitar teachers will run into these problems if they have not made the effort to locate someone who has already been highly successful as a guitar teacher (and can show them what they are doing wrong). In most cases, these people will teach guitar for years without ever truly making significant improvement in their guitar teaching skills. Here are 11 common guitar teaching mistakes that less experienced teachers make. If you can stay away from these, you will be well on your way to becoming a highly successful guitar teacher.
Mistake #1: Not focusing on the student’s goals for guitar.
A lot of guitar teachers make the mistake of teaching guitar lessons in a totally improvised manner when it comes to the content of each lesson. Teachers like this do not take the time to plan out what they will be teaching or why they are teaching it to their students. Often they will simply decide the day’s topic based on whatever the student brings up in the first few minutes of the lesson. This can cause many problems because such teaching approach as a whole lacks any direction, and the student’s goals as a guitar player are not likely to be achieved.
On the other hand, some guitar teachers will essentially ‘over plan’ their guitar lessons. These people will start with an idea of how they think they should teach guitar lessons, and will continue teaching that way to all of their students. This approach will fail also because it does not treat each individual guitar student as a unique person with unique needs. Not everyone learns the same way, so teaching guitar to students without being flexible with your overall guitar teaching style will not bring good results.
Mistake #2: Misunderstanding how to teach what a student ‘wants’ versus what he/she ‘needs’.
Most teachers approach guitar teaching from these perspectives separately:
- Focusing on what a guitar student WANTS.
- Focusing on what a guitar student NEEDS.
The mistake in this is that guitar teachers are stuck on one extreme, while neglecting the other. If you teach guitar using the first approach (teaching only what the student wants), you will soon find that this approach doesn’t work. Many guitar teachers understand that what a student says he ‘wants’ is not always the same as what he needs. That said, it is much better to teach a guitar student what they ‘need’ than what they ‘want’. However, in order to truly help your guitar students improve, you must balance out both approaches.
The greatest guitar teaching approach is to focus on the students’ goals, while also showing him/her that what they ‘need’ is the same as what they ‘want’. You must consistently keep track of their goals, and then show them what they must do to achieve those goals (while also explaining how these things work together). By doing this, you will help your guitar students gain motivation because they understand that they will be enjoying themselves throughout the learning process. This will help your students stay on track and reach their goals.
Mistake #3: Not helping your guitar students apply new guitar ideas.
One of the easiest ways to find out if a guitar teacher is doing a good job teaching is to look at his/her students. For the most part, you will see that people have guitar students that have learned a decent amount of ‘stuff’ on guitar. Unfortunately, after a closer look you will notice that these students do not actually know how to use any of this information to make great music on guitar. This is the result of a very common misunderstanding that guitar teachers make.
Most guitar teachers put an unnecessary amount of energy into showing their students new things to play on guitar. It is much more important that your guitar students understand the ways to apply what they know. This prevents a situation where your students, having already learned a lot about music and guitar, struggle to use their skills in actual music.
Remember, you don’t always have to teach something new to your guitar students each lesson. It is critically important to train them to actually use the things they already know.
Mistake #4: Not understanding how to work around or fix a guitar student’s playing mistakes.
If teaching guitar to students were as easy as plugging in the right answer to an equation, there would be little work for guitar teachers to do. In reality, your guitar students are ‘human’ and cannot be programmed so easily. While teaching guitar lessons, you will encounter times when your guitar students are distracted, disinterested, or are simply in the mood to play something different. In addition, some students don’t always want to play everything to perfection. The mistake that teachers make is to “let it slide” too much. In other words, they allow bad habits to build up for the sake of not being too strict. Many times this results not only in sloppy guitar playing, but could also possibly lead to injury!
On the other hand, some teachers are overly strict with their guitar students while fixing bad habits. Unfortunately, this can be a problem as well because most guitar players are not willing to take constant corrections on every little detail. As a result, such guitar teachers cause their students to feel discouraged or unmotivated since they are not getting the chance to enjoy playing and learning guitar.
The most successful guitar teachers have the ability to merge ideas together. It should be your goal to fix all of your students’ bad habits as time goes on. To do this you must prioritize the more urgent ones that need to be taken care of first. The most important problems to fix are the ones that can lead to any kind of physical injury. After this, focus on your guitar student’s picking hand (Often guitar players zone out on their picking hand in everyday playing situations, and will be oblivious to any bad habits).
Mistake #5: Not expecting your guitar students to give their best effort (or at least try).
You will have some guitar students who will give you 110% when it comes to practicing at home and putting out consistent effort to become a better guitarist. However, the majority of your guitar students will not give you nearly as much effort. The reason this happens so often with most guitar teachers is because the teacher does not set any kind of standard for effort on the student’s part. Because of this, the student does not have a clear idea of how much practice and effort is required in order to be able to play guitar how they want. The greatest guitar instructors will let their students know that they expect a certain amount of effort, and will help the student to understand why this works to benefit them. In addition, it is important not to have the same expectations for every one of your students. Remember that each student has his or her own unique needs as a guitar player.
Mistake #6: Teaching too many new ideas in each guitar lesson.
It is very common for guitar teachers to feel as if they must always be ‘teaching new things’. In reality, this causes your students to feel overwhelmed. The reason for this is that they are taking in a bunch of new material, but not actually learning how to APPLY it! So what are the main reasons that guitar teachers feel they must constantly teach new things to their students?
Reason 1 – They feel uncomfortable giving guitar instruction and focuses on demonstrating new ideas each lesson in order to compensate for their lack of teaching skills.
Reason 2 – They try to copy other local guitar instructors because they think it will help them become more successful.
Reason 3 – The teacher wants to please students who express that they are ready to ‘move on’. Truth is, even when a student says this, nine times out of ten…they are not ready!
The greatest teaching approach is one that helps your guitar students to effectively learn how to apply what you show them. The key is to train your new students to use what they learn, so that they do not become overwhelmed with excess ‘facts’ that they can’t really use.
Mistake #7: Not knowing what to do when your guitar students don’t understand after you’ve explained something several times.
Less experienced guitar teachers typically do not know how to explain new concepts to students in more than one way. These teachers will run into additional problems as well because they are more prone to using their own style of learning to teach their students. This only leads to more problems in communication.
The greatest guitar teachers seek to find out the best way to communicate with their students by understanding HOW they learn. Some students learn well by seeing you play on guitar (visual), some by listening to you play (audio), and some by picking up the guitar and playing it for themselves (kinesthetic/touch). In order to best take advantage of each of your students’ unique learning styles, learn to use clear metaphors, analogies, charts, graphs, and hands on exercises.
Over time you will make improvements in this aspect of your guitar teaching. To learn to do this more quickly, study with someone who can train you to teach guitar more effectively.
Mistake #8: Not knowing that your guitar students don’t always need you to be a ‘teacher’.
The majority of guitar teachers out there only think of themselves as teachers. This means that they are locked in a mindset of merely explaining and reviewing materials with their students (much like a school teacher). Although you are thought of by prospective students as a guitar teacher, you will need to do more than simply ‘teach’ your students.
To become a great guitar teacher, you will need to learn what the difference is between ‘teaching’ your guitar students and ‘training’ your guitar students. The reality is that the majority of people will need to be trained about as much or more than they need to be taught. What you need to do is invest more time into helping your guitar students PLAY things on guitar, rather than just teaching them new ideas or going over old ideas with review. Take your students through this one step at a time. Don’t let them know the order of the steps, or that you are even taking them through these steps. At some point they will probably tell you that they ‘already understand’ what you are teaching. However, most of the people who say this do not understand! So by teaching guitar in this manner you will save a lot of time for you and your students by training them properly from the beginning. Do this at all times.
Mistake #9: Not keeping track of how long people remain as your guitar students.
One of the biggest misunderstandings that guitar teachers have is thinking that the number of guitar students they have relates to how successful they are in their guitar teaching business. In reality, this is not a very good way to gauge your success as a guitar teacher. Which teacher do you think is having more success: A guitar teacher who has merely taught 50 students in one year (but currently only teaches 15), or a guitar teacher who has taught 50 students in a year (and has kept all 50)? After making this comparison, it should be clear that focusing to retain your guitar students is a crucial part to the success of your guitar teaching business. If you can only get your students to come back to take lessons for a couple of months at a time, you have a lot of work to do. In order to become highly successful as a guitar teacher you should have students staying with you for years at a time.
That being said, you will not keep every single guitar student for years at a time. This is because different students may have different goals that can be reached in a shorter amount of time. You must always work hard to help your students achieve their goals as quickly, and effectively as possible. However, some goals may be more vague and require more time for the student to find out what he or she really wants. In order to keep more of your students for a longer period of time, seek to understand the reasons why past students have stopped taking lessons with you. Additionally, ask your current long time guitar students why they enjoy taking lessons with you. Monitor these statistics on a consistent basis so that you can continually improve your guitar teaching methods.
Mistake #10: Not knowing a good way to judge how well you are doing as a guitar teacher.
Many new guitar teachers are unsure of whether or not they are actually any good at teaching guitar. These people typically do not have any dependable way of measuring their teaching skills or success. Here are the 3 main causes of this:
- Less experienced guitar teachers often make comparisons with themselves to other local guitar teachers (who likely aren’t very successful either). They are judging their own skills as a teacher based on the merely mediocre teaching of the other guitar instructors who surround them.
- Teaching guitar generally is not up to par with other music instruction. Now you understand why classical piano teachers will normally retain students for years, while many guitar instructors struggle to keep students for more than a few months.
Most guitar teachers never actually make the effort to find training to improve their guitar teaching skills. In general, they will ask other (amateur) teachers what to do, or will simply attempt to emulate the actions of others. If these things do not work, they will resort to giving guitar lessons to their students in a ‘hit or miss’ manner. Unfortunately, this tends to make guitar lessons like an ‘experiment’ for your guitar students. There are always times when you will be learning from your mistakes; however it is best to understand how to avoid them from the beginning.
Mistake #11: Not taking full responsibility for the quality of your guitar instruction.
When you teach guitar, your students are paying you with their money, time, and effort. It is important to work as hard as you can to reward them with the best guitar instruction possible. Fact is, most guitar teachers DO NOT put much effort at all to improve the quality of their guitar lessons, or work to help their guitar students achieve their goals faster. These types of teachers merely teach guitar to ‘get by’. Why should a guitar student ever spend their hard earned money for guitar lessons when their teacher isn’t actively working to bring them the best instruction possible? You don’t have to be an incredible guitar teacher before you ever get started teaching (of course); however, if you want to be able to provide the very best guitar teaching for your students, you will benefit immensely by getting trained, coached, and mentored to become the best guitar teacher you can be.
All of the most successful guitar teachers started off in the spot you are in right now. The vast majority of these teachers made it by finding a mentor who could show them what it takes to overcome any obstacles in their way. These types of teachers are the ones who take consistent action to help their students achieve their goals. These teachers mostly have filled schedules (and waiting lists) full of guitar students, a big name in their city, and live a great life doing what they love every day… You have the EXACT same potential to make choices that will greatly benefit you in your business! Get started right now on building your guitar teaching success with this free mini course that will help you to greatly improve your guitar teaching.
About The Author: Tom Hess is a professional electric guitar teacher and composer. He also mentors guitar teachers from around the world in his guitar teacher training program. Visit tomhess.net to get free guitar teaching tips and read more articles for guitar teachers.