STG 036: How To Be a GREAT Guitar Teacher

The Start Teaching Guitar PodcastIn this episode we’re digging into all the different qualities and skills that make a guitar teacher GREAT! One of the best ways to grow your teaching business for the long-term is to improve the QUALITY of the services you provide, and we’re going to talk about exactly how ANY guitar teacher (new or established) can teach BETTER LESSONS and give BETTER RESULTS.

I’ll explain some of the reasons WHY people need guitar teachers in the first place, and I’ll give you some great information about WHAT a great guitar teacher looks like (including some examples of some not-so-great teachers, too). Finally, I’ll wrap up this episode with some tips on how to IMPROVE your teaching skills in an easy, practical way.

PLUS, for STG All-Access members ONLY, I’ll give you 2 BONUS ways to become a better guitar teacher!

To call in with a question, a comment or to leave feedback for the show, call the Listener Feedback Hotline at (719) 428-5480 and leave a message! I just might include your recorded message in a future episode.

Items Mentioned In This Episode:

Free Video Tutorial – How To Build Your Own Guitar Teaching Website In 30 Minutes Or Less
Link – Bluehost Website Hosting
Book – “Guitar Zero” by Gary Marcus
Podcast – Episode 29: How To Be a Musical Troubleshooter
Article – Practicing Stinks, Part 1
Article – Practicing Stinks, Part 2

Podcast Transcript

All right, in this episode, I’m going to tell you about the various things that make a guitar teacher good, and effective, and great. So, there are a lot of guitar teachers out there in the world. Some of us are better than others, right? Some of us have more skills with teaching and different aspects of it, and we can get better results from our students than others. So, what I tried to do in this episode is go back and look and figure out what is it that makes a great guitar teacher great. You know, if we could figure that out, then we could be more like that and try to improve those areas of our teaching so that we can get those kinds of results for our students too.

You know, even if we’re already doing pretty good, if things are going good in your business, it never hurts to kind of sharpen up the blade a little bit and improve. So, that’s what we’re going to talk about in this episode. It should be really good and interesting.

Now, I’ve been reading this great book lately by a guy named Gary Marcus, and the name of the book is Guitar Zero. You definitely want to check it out. You know, parts of it can be a little bit scientific and a little bit wordy, but if you read the book overall, it’s great. It’s a great book for guitar teachers to read to understand exactly what you’re doing and how it’s affecting your students, and that kind of thing. Now, I’ve just got to give credit where credit is due. Paul Andrews, one of the members of the STG community, turned me on to this book, and I just want to say thanks for that, Paul, because it’s been really good.

But Gary Marcus is a scientist who never played a note on the guitar in his life until his late 30s. I think, in the book, he says he was about 38 or something when he picked up the guitar. But he decided to start learning guitar and to document the process along the way, kind of from a scientific standpoint of what happens in your brain when you learn how to play, and different things like that. And his book, Guitar Zero, really unpacks the science behind learning the guitar and it explains all of that stuff in a really cool way, so I highly recommend that you check the book out. I’ll put a link, like I said, to, where you can get a copy of it if you want to.

But a lot of the ideas for this podcast came from chapter six in Guitar Zero. And I guess what inspired me to kind of do this episode: I spoke to a friend of mine the other day that I used to play in a band with, used to play music with, and he asked me what I’d been up to and I mentioned my work with guitar teachers, the things that I do through this podcast and through, and we started talking about teaching. And he told me that he tried teaching some lessons for a while and he really didn’t like it. He didn’t stick with it and did not have the best experience teaching. He’s a great player. Phenomenal player, but didn’t do that well trying to teach to make some extra money.

And he mentioned one particular ten-year-old kid that gave him trouble in his lessons. And this kid, I don’t know if he had ADD or something, but he wouldn’t pay attention. He wouldn’t stay focused during the lessons, and just kind of gave this friend of mine a hard time as a teacher. I guess he got real frustrated and decided that teaching just wasn’t for him. He kind of dismissed the whole idea of teaching based on this experience, and I think he had some other students that were better, but basically, from the conversation, I gathered that he had some bad assumptions to back this up. You know, so he was thinking a few things that I kind of have a disagreement with.

The first thing was he was automatically thinking, “Since I can play, I should be able to automatically teach too.” Now, we know that that’s not the case, right? And I think he found that out the hard way. But going into this, he was just thinking, “Wow, I’m a good guitar player, so I should be able to teach people just fine. You know, other guitar players are teaching, so I should be able to do it too. Since I can play, I should automatically be able to teach.” Well, that’s wrong. It’s a totally different set of skills.

The second false assumption that he had there in his thinking was: “It doesn’t matter who I teacher. A student is a student is a student is a student.” A lot of you might have that false assumption too. You know, that you can just attract and teach any student who walks in the door. Well, you’re going to be more effective teaching some people than you are other people, and you’ll be a lot happier as a guitar teacher if you only attract and teach the kinds of people that are a good fit for you. You know, maybe this ten-year-old kid with attention deficit disorder wasn’t a good fit for my friend, but he just kind of took everyone who came down the pipe, so I could see how that would be frustrating too, but that was a misconception.

And then the third thing I think he had wrong was the idea that since the teaching didn’t go well, I must not be cut out for it. Well, I mean you could say that about anything in your life. Just because you try something and it doesn’t work out the way you expect, that doesn’t mean you’re not cut out for it. It means you probably just need to learn a little bit more about that thing. You might’ve just been making a few simple mistakes that, if you corrected them, you could do really well. So, what I explained to my friend, I tried to explain to him, was I told him that there’s a different set of skills required to be a good guitar teacher. Those skills don’t magically appear just because you know how to play the guitar.

They have to be learned, just like anything else. And just because you don’t approach something the right way initially, you know, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. You totally can most of the time. You know, all that means is you just didn’t do it right. You tried it, but you just didn’t try to do it the right way. If you learn how to do it the right way, you can be successful, and then you could take advantage of a great opportunity like building a teaching business that could take care of you and your family for a long time. So, I just thought it was interesting. I kind of learned a lot from that brief conversation with my friend, and just notice those errors in his thinking. You know?

And that kind of made me think as well. All right, okay, so what kind of things could I talk about in the podcast that would help people that are thinking the same things, so that they can become better guitar teachers? What are the big deal breakers that make someone a good teacher or a bad teacher? So, I’m going to kind of dissect that a little bit in this episode, and we’re going to get into what those skills are and how to develop them if you want to succeed and become a great guitar teacher.

Why Do People Need Guitar Teachers?

So, let’s kick this off with a really good question I think about that kind of lays a good foundation here. Why do people need guitar teachers at all? What do we do for them that makes them want to pay us money for our lessons, for our knowledge and expertise? Why do people need guitar teachers? Well, let’s look at that for a second.

1) Because We Know Things THEY DON’T!

The biggest reason why people need guitar teachers is because we know the things that they don’t. That’s the whole point. If learning guitar by yourself was easy and effective, then wouldn’t everybody be doing it? None of us, as guitar teachers, would have any students or any business if you could just learn it on your own, but it doesn’t work that way. The truth is it’s not easy to learn how to play the guitar and it isn’t effective to try to learn it by yourself, and that’s why good guitar teachers are in such high demand.

So, you have the knowledge that your students are looking for. They’re looking for someone to help them learn how to play and reach their goals on the guitar. You have that knowledge and you have those skills, and you know how to give them that information in the best way to help them learn more effectively. So, you could sum all of that up by saying you are an expert on the guitar. Now, when I say those words, some of you are going to instantly start objecting to that and you’re going to say, “Oh, I’m not an expert. You know, there are all these people that can play so much better than me, and there’s all these people that can teach so much better than me.” Well, I just want to give you a little bit of correction around that because you are an expert and you need to believe that you’re an expert.

I talked about mindset a couple episodes back, and it’s still true. If you don’t believe that you’re an expert, then no one else is going to believe that you’re an expert either and they won’t treat you like an expert, and they won’t value your time and they won’t value the knowledge and skills and information that you offer and teach as an expert if you don’t view yourself that way first. So, I just want to say that you are an expert at the guitar. And even if you’re not an advanced-level player, even if you’re not a virtuoso-level player, you still have expertise in certain areas of the guitar that you can share with other people, and that, my friend, makes you an expert.

So, I want you to say that out loud right now, because I know some of you don’t believe this. Say it with me. I am an expert. Say it again. I am an expert. One more time for good measure. I am an expert. Now, I want you to keep telling yourself that until you believe it, because it’s true. Okay, you know things that they don’t and that’s what makes you a good guitar teacher and someone that can help your students, someone that they can seek out. Okay, I kind of got off on a little rabbit trail there.

2) Teachers Serve As Good Motivators

So, the next reason why people need guitar teachers is because teachers serve as good motivators. One of the main reasons why people seek out a teacher for whatever it is that they want to learn, whether it’s music or pottery or macramé, or anything that you could think of that somebody wants to learn, yoga, they seek out a teacher because most people don’t have the discipline and the motivation to do it all by themselves. I mean you could go online and look at YouTube videos about playing the guitar. That doesn’t mean that you’re going to become a guitar player. It just means you have a little bit of better understanding of how to play something, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do it yourself.

Why? Because it takes discipline and practice, and a lot of hard work to learn how to do that, and most people don’t have the motivation to do something like that on their own, to stick with it. See, almost all of us need some guidance and some direction when we’re trying to learn something new. No matter what it is, it’s awkward at first. It can be frustrating at first. You know, you start out really excited and gung-ho about it, and then a week or two later, you start to fizzle out when your enthusiasm starts to go away. And even if you know what to do, which that’s the first thing I talked about; is what we know what to do. That’s why they come to us. But even if you know what to do, it’s really hard to keep wanting to do it every single day.

I mean think about the last time you started a new diet or a new exercise routine that you didn’t end up sticking with. You know, you figured it out. You know, you knew what to do, but how long did you stay motivated to do it? That’s what happens with people that want to learn how to play the guitar. They don’t have the willpower and the motivation. You know, nobody out there is superman. You know? So, this is one of the biggest values that you bring to the table for your student. You are like a coach for them. I mean I guess that’s the best way I can describe it. You’re almost like a personal trainer or a coach for your guitar students if you do it right, and you help them keep going when things get hard, when their motivation starts to wane, when it’s not as fun and as exciting maybe as it was when they first got started studying guitar with you.

So, you can help them keep on going when all of those things start to kick in and frustration starts to build, and then you can help them deal with those feelings of frustration, those feelings of overwhelm that are invariably going to come to almost every student, and you can help them deal with those feelings. You can help them to anticipate those feelings and know that they’re coming so that when it happens, they don’t feel like they’ve failed and they just want to quit. And you can help them remember why they wanted to play the guitar in the first place. You know, it’s kind of like you’re talking them down off of the ledge when they feel like giving up and quitting. Maybe they’re acting like they’re going to jump out the window and quit learning the guitar. Well, you, as a coach, can encourage them and talk them down and help them remember why they wanted to play in the first place.

So, what you do is you give them a bright vision for the future and a vision of what their lives can look like if they don’t give up and if they stick with it. And man, I just want to tell you that is priceless. I mean whatever it is that I’m trying to learn, I’ll pay money all day long if I can have someone that can believe in me like that, and help me stay motivated and help me to deal with these crazy emotions that are making me want to quit or are driving me nuts, and help me to keep making progress. I mean you really can’t put a price tag on something like that. You actually start making a significant impact in someone’s life whenever you can help them in that way.

And that’s what teachers are for. They’re good motivators, and this is a big reason why people take guitar lessons in the first place. You know, a lot of times they just need somebody to encourage them and to believe in them. And as a teacher, you’re a position where you can do exactly that, if you approach it the right way. So that’s another reason why people need guitar teachers.

3) Teachers Provide Incentive

Here’s another one. Teachers provide incentive. Incentive is similar to motivation, in my mind. It’s a little less obvious though. You know, with incentive, you kind of build in incentives into your program so that they’re just a part of the way that you teach. For example, if your students know that there’s a recital coming in two months, I talk about that stuff sometimes. You know, two months from now, they’re going to have to get up in front of people and play. Well, they might be a little more inclined to practice so that they’re actually prepared for that. That’s just one example. There’s probably hundreds you could think of.

Also, you see this one a lot. Students are a lot more likely to actually work on something if they know that they’re going to have to play it for you in their next lesson, kind of the same idea. You have built in incentive. You give them an assignment; say, “Okay, next week you’re going to have to play this for me.” They’re actually going to probably practice it just so that they won’t disappoint you nine times out of ten. So, the way that you build in incentive is you just organize your program with these kinds of things built in, and then they tend to just work like magic for you and they help your students be more motivated to practice.

So, whatever behavior you want them to do, you just give them incentive to do it, and I’ll talk some more about how to do that in a bit. But you know, students can’t really get these kinds of incentives by trying to learn on their own. I mean this is another bit of value that you bring to the table as a guitar teacher if you build it into your program because you can’t really give yourself incentives like that. It’s a lot easier if you have someone else doing it for you, so that’s another reason why people need teachers.

4) Teachers Provide Structure

And I’ve got a couple more here. Teachers provide structure. Structure is very important. And most people, pretty much everybody, need at least a little bit of structure in their lives, just so that they can stay sane and feel good about what they’re doing. You know, they need a system to follow, a regular routine so that they can just keep moving forward. And I mean you can look at your own life, and you probably have areas of your life that are really structured because you know that if it’s not structured, then those things aren’t going to get done. You know, especially if you have medical problems or something like that. You’re on medication or you have to do exercises or you’re on some kind of medical diet. Then you’ve got to make sure that that structure is in place so that you don’t forget to take your meds or so that you don’t mess up and eat the wrong thing, you know, just as an example.

So, we all need those kinds of areas of structure in our lives, and guitar students are no different. This big, overwhelming task of learning how to play the guitar, you know, is like trying to eat an elephant. You’ve got to eat it one bite at a time, and you’ve got to have a plan in place of how you’re going to tackle this big project. So, that structure is where you come in because a teacher provides structure. A teacher tells somebody the next steps that they’re going to have to take and puts everything in context and helps them feel like they’re making progress.

So, most people would have no idea how to structure their guitar practice sessions, for example, if a teacher didn’t help them. I remember when I first started learning how to play guitar, the teacher would show me some stuff. This was the second time around, when I was like 18 or whatever, taking private lessons. He would show me some things, and then I would go home and try to practice it. I’d play with it, mess around, and come back and have mixed results and stuff like that. And this guy was a really good teacher. I really connected with him as a teacher, but he didn’t really teach me very well how to practice. That would’ve been a big help for me, you know, back then, because just like when I was a beginning guitar player, the same is true without students.

They need to know what to practice, so you obviously give them assignments. But they need to know how to practice those things to make sure they’re doing it right. They need to know how long to practice those things, because you can load up a student with all kinds of exercises and things to practice and play, and they could just spend hours and hours doing that, and that’s time that people don’t have. So, how do you fit the most effective exercises that are going to give them the biggest bang for the buck, give them the best results in the fastest possible time, and fit all of that within 30 minutes a day or an hour a day, depending on how motivated they are?

And also, they need to know why they’re practicing a certain thing and how that’s going to help them reach their goals on the guitar. That’s going to help them stay motivated to do it. You can’t just say just do this and trust me. You know, it’ll help you. Just take my word for it. You know, it really helps if I know why I’m doing something. So that I’ll make sure that I do it with the right level of effort to get what I want to get out of it, you know? But most people don’t know how to do that. Practicing is a perfect example of the need for structure, and this structure that you provide can be priceless and it can mean the difference between success or failure on the guitar for your students. You know?

Now, some people are more structure-oriented than others. I mean you don’t want to kill somebody and put them in a cage with all these structures and routines and stuff that you expect them to do. You kind of have to play it out on a case-by-case basis, but a lot of times people just need some good structure. They need to know what to do for those 30 minutes and why they’re doing it, and you know, it helps them out quite a bit. So, as a teacher, you can provide that, and that’s another reason why people need guitar teachers, because they need that structure particularly in their practice times.

5) Teachers Are Musical Troubleshooters

And then the last reason people need guitar teachers is because teachers are our musical troubleshooters. We’re troubleshooters. This is the other big area where you bring value to the table. You know, the first one was in the area of motivation and now this is the other area where you can really bring a lot of value to your students, and that’s pinpointing their errors and targeting their weaknesses to help them get stronger. Most new guitar players are going to struggle with a lot of things at first. I mean there are a lot of things that drive beginning guitar players crazy.

Hand and finger strength, right? That’s always a challenge when you first get started. Building calluses is a challenge. Hand-eye coordination is a challenge for some people. Muscle memory is a challenge at first. Finger placement on the fretboard with your picking hand and technique is a challenge. And then syncing up your left and your right hand so that you’re picking and fretting the notes at the same time and playing them cleanly. Etc. I mean I could go on and on and on about all the little micro skills that all come together to help someone become a good guitar player.

And a beginning guitar player and even someone that’s been around a little bit longer, depending on what they’re trying to learn, will struggle with more than one of these things at the same time. Any one of those things could be broken and, because they haven’t really done this before, the student might not even be aware of it. They’ll get frustrated because, you know, it’s just not working. It’s not clicking for them. It’s not flowing the way it should be, and the solution could be something really simple, but they can’t see it because they don’t even know what the problem is. That’s where, as a teacher, you have that eagle eye perspective.

You have the vantage point. You can see things from the outside, from a different perspective, and you can isolate exactly what’s causing their problems and then help them to fix that. And a lot of times, that really simple change or that really simple skill that they learn, that micro skill that was causing them trouble before, once they master that, then everything else starts to flow. So that’s another huge area of benefit that you bring to your students, because we can’t do that by ourselves. I mean even if you sit in front of the mirror and look at your fingers, if you don’t know what a mistake looks like, if you don’t know what the problem could be, you’re never going to be able to figure out the solution. So, when we’re learning something new, especially something like guitar, we need that outside perspective to show us what our mistakes and our errors are and what our weaknesses are. And then if you focus on improving your weaknesses, then everything else is better and easier too.

So, those are some reasons why people need a guitar teacher, what we can bring to the table, and those are each areas that we can improve ourselves in so that we can be great guitar teachers. But let’s talk a little bit more now about what makes a guitar teacher great. Okay, and I’m going to give you a little information from Gary Marcus’s book here.

What Makes A Guitar Teacher Great?

The science of education is also called pedagogy. Now, that’s a crazy word that we don’t use all the time, but pedagogy really means how music lessons work, how people learn music, how music is taught. And the whole concept of pedagogy hasn’t really been studied very much from a scientific perspective. Gary Marcus, in Guitar Zero, gives the statistic that over 40 percent of affluent American parents send their kids to some kind of music lessons, but even though that’s the case, we really don’t know all that much about what makes music lessons work good and be effective. This is my opinion. For most people, it’s a coin toss.

If the teacher that they pick isn’t a good teacher, you know, you’ve got a 50-50 chance of getting either a good teacher of a bad teacher. And most people, if they just try to make the best decision they can to pick someone and, if the choice isn’t good, they’ll just quit and go try someone else. But that’s why this Guitar Zero book, by Gary Marcus, is so cool, because somebody finally studied what it means to learn the guitar and documented this process for themselves, and then they shared what they found with the world. That’s what Gary did in this book.

So, one thing he points out in the book, and this is something that kind of stung a little bit whenever I read it, but he says that most music teachers haven’t had very much training as a teacher, and that’s the truth. I talk about that a lot. But you know, he says that anybody who knows how to play the guitar can put up a Craigslist ad and start teaching; start getting some students and teaching. And the problem is that many of us are musicians who had other aspirations, right? We wanted to be famous. We wanted to be rock stars or whatever, and that just never really worked out the way we wanted it to, and now we’re trying to find a way to make money with our guitar and make a living. So, that’s where a lot of guitar teachers come from, so they’re just frustrated performing guitarists who are trying to find ways to make money.

And you know, you have to have a license to be a hairdresser. You have to have a license to be a doctor. You have to have a license to serve food in public and things like that, but you don’t need a license to be a guitar teacher. No license is required. There are no standards. You know, nothing like that to guarantee to a consumer, to a potential student, that certain things are going to be in place. So, because of that, new students don’t really know how to pick the best guitar teacher. They don’t know what to look for, and they have a good chance of ending up with somebody who doesn’t know how to teach. You remember the drum that I keep beating over and over again. Just because you can play doesn’t mean you can teach. It’s a different set of skills.

And that’s why improving your own teaching skills can give you a big advantage, because so many of the guitar teachers out there are just frustrated performers that are only in it to see how much money they can make, and they really don’t care how well their students learn and they don’t really care about building a long-term business. That’s what sets you ahead of all of those people. And it’s easy to rise above the pack if you’re just somebody who cares and you’re working on your skills. You know? There are a lot of disgruntled guitar students out there that are studying with those kinds of teachers right now that if they knew that there was someone that can help them do a lot better, they would leave and come and sign up with that person.

A Great Teacher Has Patience

So, that could be you. And just by listening to this podcast, honestly you’re way ahead of most of the other guitar teachers out there that are clueless. So, I just wanted to throw that in there because it’s true and it’s encouraging. So, another thing that Gary mentions in the book. He also mentions the two most important traits a guitar teacher should have, and they’re going to be common sense, but the first one is patience. If you don’t have patience, then you don’t have any business being a guitar teacher because it’s a test of your patience at times and you’re going to rely on that skill. So, if you can work on being more patient with your students and just in your life in general, you’ll be a lot more happy as a guitar teacher.

A Great Teacher Can Diagnose Problems

And then the second most important trait that a guitar teacher should have, according to Gary Marcus, is the ability to diagnose problems, and that comes back to the troubleshooting that I mentioned a little bit earlier. And as an example of this, Gary talks about a music teacher he had when he was a kid. He actually took lessons on the recorder, so you know, the little flute-like instrument that a lot of kids start with in grade school. And he had this teacher and she didn’t have the patience to work with him through the challenges that he was having with understanding rhythm. Rhythm is confusing for some people when they first get started learning music.

And Gary says that he couldn’t grasp the basic concept that some notes are longer than others and that there was a system to organize notes. So, his teacher kept trying to force him to play Mary Had a Little Lamb, and he would play the right notes. He would play the melody of Mary Had a Little Lamb, but he played all of them with the same rhythmic value. So, I didn’t hear that obviously, but you know, you can envision what he was doing. You can imagine it. He’s playing Mary Had a Little Lamb with all eighth notes instead of holding some notes out longer than others. His mind just couldn’t grasp the fact that some notes were long, some notes were short, rests, and things like that.

So, instead of backing off with the song and working with that basic concept of rhythm and trying to do some exercises with them to, in a fun way, make him understand okay, this note is short. This note is long. You know, it’s kind of like Morse code or something like that. Instead of that, she just kept forcing him on with this song until he felt like a failure, he got discouraged, and he quit. Okay, so not a very good example of a music teacher right there. If she would have, number one, recognized the real problem and, number two, been patient with her student, then he might’ve caught on and he might’ve done really well with the recorder and his musical destiny might’ve been a little bit different. But hey, then he wouldn’t have written this really cool book later on in life, when he decided to finally learn the guitar.

But those are the two things, in his opinion, that make a good guitar teacher great. Number one is patience. Number two is the ability to diagnose problems. So, I’m going to add a few things to that.

A Great Teacher Understands Each Student’s Particular Needs

I think a great guitar teacher understand each student’s particular needs as well; that you realize that students are not one-size-fits-all. You know? As a guitar student, everyone wants to learn different things. Some people are going to want to learn different genres and styles of music. Different songs, different artists within those genres are going to appeal to some students more than others. And then some of them are going to want to learn completely different skills, completely different concepts, and completely different techniques on the guitar. So, number one, everyone wants to learn different things pretty much, and then everyone has strengths and weaknesses that they bring to the table that are going to be challenges and benefits for them when they pick up a guitar for the first time.

You know, everybody has different mental faculties. We all have different IQ levels and different attention spans, and different levels of energy and interests, and things like that. So, every student is going to be a little bit different in that regard. We all have different physical limitations, right? Some of us have longer fingers than others. Some of us have larger hands than others. Some of us have different issues physically that we take to playing the guitar that need to be sometimes accounted for and compensated for. And then some people just have special needs, like my friend mentioned that he thought the ten-year-old kid at the beginning of the episode maybe had ADD. Well, you’ve got to approach teaching a kid with ADD a lot differently than a normal kid or an adult.

You know, you’ve got to treat kids and adults differently. You’ve got to treat teenagers and kids and adults all differently, depending on their level of maturity, their attention span, what they want to learn, what their idea is of progress and fun and success and results on the guitar. You know? So, people are different. And as a guitar teacher, if you want to be great, you really need to tune in what you do to that student’s particular needs. So, basically it’s about adapting your curriculum to your student’s specific needs. That’s what you’re doing. You’re taking the things that you know and the things that you do, and you’re adapting it to help this person get what they want based on their specific needs.

A Great Teacher Understands MOTIVATION

That’s one of the marks of a great guitar teacher. Another one is I already mentioned motivation, but a great guitar teacher, a great teacher in anything, understands motivation. It’s not enough just to diagnose the problem that a student is having. That’s important. That’s a key piece. You have to know what the problem is so that you can fix it, but it’s not enough just to diagnose the problem. You have to also propose a treatment for the problem that’s both fun and rewarding, and Gary talks about that in the book too. And he uses the principle of proximal development to expand on that so that you’re making things not too easy for people, but also not too hard. You know, so he talks about that in the book. You can check it out for more information about that.

But understanding motivation. Not just being able to pinpoint the problem, but giving them a fun and rewarding solution to the problem is important. And then he talks a little bit. I just wanted to throw this in there too because it’s cool. He talks about the differences in different guitar teachers that he researched for the book. So, he talked to several different teachers and stuff, and talked to friends who’ve had teachers and got their experiences, and he said the differences in the various guitar teachers were mind-boggling, just in the level of maturity and the level of skill and professionalism, and all of that stuff.

There was a wide spectrum of approaches to learning the guitar and a wide spectrum of capacities for teaching the guitar. And according to Gary Marcus, the worst one he heard about was – he described him as an uber-macho guitar teacher who said that capos were for sissies. I had to laugh when I read that because I can see how, on the outside, somebody might think that, if they don’t use capos. Capos are for sissies. But everybody who knows anything about the guitar knows that a capo is useful for a bunch of different things. You know, not just for cheating on keys, right? I mean that’s what an outside observer might think. “Oh, he’s just using a capo so he doesn’t have to learn new chord forms and shapes. He could just use the same chords to play songs in different keys.”

Well, there’s more to it than that. I mean you can use a capo for a lot of stuff. You can use it for two-handed tapping in a different key. You can use it to just get a different tonal quality on your guitar. You can use a cut capo to get different tunings out of the guitar without having to retune all the time. I mean there are all these different uses for it. It’s not just to cheat on keys. It’s not just to avoid having to play bar chords, all right? That’s apparently what this teacher thought, and he was absolutely wrong.

So, he gave another example. That’s one side of the coin. He gave an example of a good teacher and he says the best guitar teacher that he ran into was a lady in Brooklyn. I’m not going to name her or anything. You can go find out more about it in the book, but she taught using the Suzuki Method and she primarily taught children, and this teacher really tried hard to make everything fun and interesting for the kids who studied with her. And he mentioned four things that made her great, and these are things that we can learn from too.

First, he says that she had eyes like a hawk. And that simply means, as her students started doing something wrong, she noticed it right away, so she could pinpoint the areas of weakness and mistakes with these eagle eyes. As soon as they made a mistake, she would notice it. Okay, the second thing she did that made her great was she had a really positive attitude. So, no matter what one of those kids did, bad or wrong or whatever, her words were always positive. Her words were always affirming, even if they weren’t doing what she wanted to see them do. And this helps instill what psychologists call a growth mindset in your students. If you can always positive, always be affirming, it opens up their minds a little bit more and puts them in a place where they can actually grow and make progress, and it makes the students feel like they can accomplish anything they put their hands to if they work hard enough and practice. So, that’s important and that’s one of the things she did consistently that made her great.

The next thing was maintaining attention. According to the book, this teacher was an expert in child psychology, apparently, because she knew exactly what would keep the attention of the kids that she taught and she did those things all throughout the lessons. And then the last thing that made her a great teacher was she had the right perspective on parents. Now, part of this is because she teaches using the Suzuki Method, which I’ll do a podcast episode on some different teaching methods in the future. I’m really not an expert on any of them, but I know enough about them to kind of give some background info. But the Suzuki Method heavily relies on parents being involved. So, the parents are really the guitar teachers just as much as you are in the Suzuki Method.

And so, this teacher knew that life outside the teaching studio was far more important than inside the studio. You know, to really learn the guitar, we all know this, most of the work has to be done at home, outside of the lessons. And that’s why she got parents heavily involved, so that they could actually be the guitar teacher while the students are at home and they’re not just left to try to figure it out on their own. So, the parents also, in a situation like this, need to be taught the same teaching methods that you work with, because if the kids don’t have fun practicing, if they’re not doing what they need to do at home, then it’s all going to fall apart. So, she really had the right perspective on parents and getting them involved. Those were the four things that made her great in Gary’s opinion.

So, to kind of wrap the podcast up now, I’m going to give you some specific tips on how you can become a great guitar teacher, or at least become a better one than you are right now.

So, the first thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to improve your troubleshooting skills. Now, lucky for you, I did a whole podcast episode. Episode 29 of the Start Teaching Guitar Podcast is all about how to be a musical troubleshooter. I’ll link to that in the show notes and you can check that out for more information, but it goes in-depth. It teaches you how to be a troubleshooter with your students, how to use a step-by-step process for figuring out the root cause of a student’s playing problems, how to prescribe the right solution to those problems, and then how to be more proactive with your students because you know how to do this. It’s really good.

And if you do it, this’ll help them make progress a lot faster on the guitar. It’ll help you have much better retention rates too, which means more money as a teacher. So, it’s an important skill. It’s one of those things that you can learn that helps you in multiple levels of our business. So, improve your troubleshooting skills if you want to be a great guitar teacher. In Episode 29, I’ll give you some more info about how to do that.

The next thing you need to do is something that I alluded to a little bit, and that is learn how to make practicing more effective for your students. Practicing is like the hardest thing, I think, for guitar students to do. I mean every once in a while you get a student that’s really passionate about it and they have some real good aptitude on the guitar and they don’t have any problems practicing an hour or two hours a day, or whatever, but for most people that’s a challenge. That’s a big time commitment, and a lot of them, it takes more resources and ability than they really have to give to the process.

So, if you can figure out how to make practicing easier, more effective, a better experience, and more pleasurable for your students, then you’re going to really see a lot more success with them than you would otherwise. We all know that practicing effectively on their own is the only way that your students are going to improve on the guitar. And if they have a parent that can practice with them, that’s even better, but you’ve got to give them the skills. You’ve got to equip them to be able to practice effectively on their own or they’re not going to make it.

So, basically, as a teacher, you need to be a master at teaching your students how to practice. Why? Well, like I just said, if you fail here, the whole game is over. They have to be able to practice effectively. So, what I did was, a while back, I wrote two really practical articles on practicing that you should read to get more information about this. It’s a two-part article called Practicing Stinks, and I put a lot of information in here that I’ve learned over the years about practicing, and so go ahead and check those out. I’ll link to them in the show notes, and read those. Learn this information yourself first. And then teach it to your students. And you can print copies of these articles to give to them if you want, you can link to them on your website, you can post them to your social media accounts, or you can even forward them in an email to your students. I don’t care. You can use these articles to help them if you think it would be something good.

Just don’t leave your students to fend for themselves in their practice sessions. Don’t leave them to do this all alone. They really need your help. And the better you can equip them to practice effectively, the better teacher you’re going to be.

So, now I have two more special surprise ways that you can become a better guitar teacher, but I’m going to save those for STG All-Access members. So, if you want to hear the next two ways, and they’re actually really good – I’m not going to tell you what they are, but they’re great, good information – then go to and get your own STG All-Access membership today.

Thank You For Listening!

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STG 036: How To Be a GREAT Guitar Teacher was last modified: June 10th, 2014 by Donnie Schexnayder