Finding the Right Guitar Teacher

Say you find yourself playing the same things over and over again, or you’re at the beginning and you don’t know where to start. Books, magazines and YouTube are confusing, so you go to seek out someone to make sense of it all. It is time to look for a guitar teacher! Hopefully this article can give you something to consider when choosing someone who can not only show you what you want and need to know, but who can inspire you to create things you never thought you could.
Now, whether to take lessons or not isn’t what this article is about – as a teacher myself, I’ve always thought that learning anything from anyone is always a good thing, providing the information is coming from experience and actual knowledge. Certainly the world is full of guitar teachers that are only one step ahead of the student, so to speak. So when choosing a teacher, it helps to understand a few things about taking guitar lessons.

That’s not how to play Trilogy Suite, Op. 5!

First, they are nothing like traditional music lessons. We all have these thoughts about a stern piano teacher holding a metal ruler over a child’s hands while they practice scales. Truth is, piano, which is hundreds of years old, has a very accepted yet indoctrinated method of teaching. It’s very linear. One lesson builds on the last, and you usually get a book and start with Hot Cross Buns, and when you get that right you get a little smiley face on that page and then move on to Mary Had a Little Lamb. Piano also has hundreds of years of repertoire to learn, and certainly a lifetime is not long enough to learn it all. Generally speaking, piano teachers tend to teach each student to be a concert (classical) player, even if you love Dave Brubeck or Rick Wakeman. As a result, many people do’nt stick with lessons, no matter which instrument, because the goals of the teacher are not compatible with the goals of the student.
I took lessons from a few different teachers in my lifetime, starting out at age 9. What I remember about my first teacher is being in a big dance studio with two chairs in the middle, and the teacher wouldn’t sit down. She walked in circles around me. Intimidating, huh? It didn’t help that all I ever remember her saying was ‘NO!’ I never remember her playing an actual note, either. My other teachers were great players but terrible teachers, and personalities that were not suited to teaching. I can’t believe I still play guitar, much less teach it.

Laugh all you want, but Guitar Hero got lots of young people listening to guitar music again…and taking lessons.

So, when choosing a teacher for you or a child, the most important thing is to ask questions!
Some questions may include:
Is he/she a working professional? Does he/she perform regularly? Write their own songs? Release their own CDs? Performed on radio and TV? Will you get along with me or my child? Do you have one method you use, or do you tailor lessons to the unique goals? Will I learn the basics as well as learning how to improvise and write music? Are you flexible with the times and dates they have available? Are they well versed in different styles? Is reading music important to you? Ask if he/she can teach you: if you just need help with a few songs or transcribing a few solos, make sure he/she can do that, or help you to learn to transcribe.
Need help selecting gear or guitars? Ask if the prospective teacher knows about a wide range of things from amps to pickups. However, be wary if the teacher is connected to a music store. They may have a deal with the store in exchange for pushing gear. You may not get the most honest opinion. 

Don’t forget to Google the teacher’s name. Look for previous as well as upcoming performances, CD releases, YouTube videos, soundclips, and recommendations by former students that can help you make your choice. So can arrest reports (ack!) and Facebook pages with posts and pictures you might not agree with or want around your children.
Also, using technology like Skype or Facetime, the teacher can be anywhere in the world. Many touring players teach this way on their downtime, and it is a good way to gain insight to the skills needed to be a professional.
As far as finding a teacher, the best way is by personal referral and a lot of research. You can open up a phone book to find a mechanic, but I’d rather have a personal referral from someone I trust. Not everyone is a good fit right away. Teachers should encourage, push, challenge, and most of all, inspire their students to be creative and be the next generation of guitar heroes. They should be accessible for questions and if they don’t know the answer, be willing to find it. Remember, the process of taking guitar lessons is supposed to be fun.

Have you ever taken lessons? Did you have a good or bad experience? What qualifications would you ask for when selecting a good teacher? 

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  1. Can they, you know, READ MUSIC???? It’s pathetic how many guitar teachers cannot. NO, one does not always need this skill, but if you’re paying money, you should learn rudiments of standard notation.

  2. an understanding of tab and the ability to read music. and also knowledge of theory beyond just guitar. If you ever play in a band you wont be alone, youll have to understand how the guitar interacts with the other instruments and voices.

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