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STG 040: 10 Characteristics of a Perfect Guitar Student

The Start Teaching Guitar PodcastIn this episode we’re going to turn things around and focus on what makes a guitar STUDENT good and successful. This is valuable information you can use to ATTRACT the perfect students for your teaching business, TRAIN the students you already have to make them more ideal and APPRECIATE the students you have that really are great.

I’ll get into 10 specific qualities that help a guitar student to excel and do really well with a guitar teacher, and for STG All-Access members, I’ll give you some specific tips on how to FOSTER these qualities in your existing students AND how to ATTRACT better students in the future. The teaching relationship really is a partnership, and the better both partners are at what they do, the more successful EVERYONE will be!

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:

Link – The Blue Hope Project

Podcast Transcript

This episode is going to be a little bit different. We typically focus on the podcast here about some aspect of being a guitar teacher, but today we’re going to kind of switch things around and we’re going to focus on the other chair in your teaching studio, the one that you look at whenever you sit down and teach lessons, the student. The student’s chair. That’s what we’re going to talk about today.

So, honestly you already know this, but a relationship between a guitar teacher and a student is really a 50-50 type of thing. You have your role to play as the teacher, and that’s providing instruction, troubleshooting problem with the student’s playing, motivating them, encouraging them, giving them incentive, and all of those other kinds of things. Those are all parts of being a good teacher. We talk about that stuff all the time. But the truth is your students have their role to play in the relationship too. And it’s kind of like being a good patient when you see a doctor. I’ve been having some medical challenges lately that you may or may not have heard about, but through kind of this whole process that I’ve been going through, I’ve learned a lot about my responsibility as a patient.

So, that means that I have to take ownership for my own health and wellbeing in recovery. I can’t let my doctors make all the decisions for me, right? I have to take responsibility for my own success. And the same is true with guitar lessons, so there’s a whole set of skills that go along with being a good patient and there’s a whole set of skills that go along with being a good guitar student too. So, you should always focus on being the best “doctor” you can be, right, but the ultimate success of this thing is going to be up to the patient, the student.

And there’s really no such thing as a perfect student, but there are a bunch of qualities that can make a student a lot better, and I’m going to share ten of them with you in this episode today, so it’s going to be some good stuff. You’re probably going to want to take some notes here.

But let’s talk about, first, why having good students matters in the first place. I mean if you’ve been doing this for a while, you already know the answer to this question, but if you’re new to teaching guitar, you might be thinking: “Man, I would be happy just to get any students. I don’t care who they are. I don’t care what they’re like. I just want as many students as I can get. Students equal money.” You know, but let me tell you why you want to make sure that you get the best quality students that you possibly can.

First reason is teaching students with all the right characteristics makes your job as a teacher so much easier. You know, it doesn’t take long when you’re teaching guitar lessons for you to realize, you know, for that kind of honeymoon phase to wear off and it’s like: “Okay, I’m going to change my perspective a little bit. I don’t want any and every student that walks in the door to study with me.” You’re going to realize that some of them are going to be a good fit. Some of them are going to be a bad fit. And if a student is a good fit for you and for what you do, then everything you do with them is going to be easier. It’s going to be more enjoyable for you and for them. It’s going to be more effective.

But if a student is a bad fit, then nothing that you do with them is going to be enjoyable. You’re going to dread every time they send you an email, every time they call you and you see their number on your cellphone. Every time they show up for a lesson, you’re going to be like: “Oh my gosh, I have to teach this person again,” and you don’t want it to be that way, right? You only live once. Life is too short to hate what you do for a living. So, teaching better quality students helps to make all of this stuff more worthwhile for you, so that’s an important reason why you want to teach the best quality students that you can.

And the other reason is the better the student, the better results they’re going to get. You know, I mentioned before this is a 50-50 partnership between you and your students. A partnership is an important way to look at this because you’ve got to realize that one partner can’t drag the other one to success. You can’t drag a student, as the teacher. You could be the best teacher, but you can’t drag a bad student into being a successful guitar teacher. You can’t make up for all of their deficiencies with your skills as a teacher.

And the same thing is true on the other side too. A good student can’t drag a bad teacher across the finish line and be to success either. A good student in the situation with a bad teacher is typically going to leave and go find somebody better. So, it’s a two-sided thing. It’s a two-way street. It’s both. Both, you and your students, have to be pulling on the same rope at the same time to get where you both want to be. So, this is true in every relationship, not just in the guitar teacher-guitar student relationship. It’s true in a marriage. You both have to be pulling on the same rope at the same time to be successful. Same thing in a business partnership. Same thing in any other educational endeavor, whether it would be a teacher in a college setting or in high school or elementary school, or teaching anything else.

It’s a two-way street. You each have your part to do. And the students who become truly exceptional guitarists are the ones who are invested in their own development. That means they own it. They don’t come every week, just waiting for you to tell them what to do. They know where they want to go, they know what kind of guitar player they want to be, and they’re doing whatever they can do to make that happen. So, I’m going to get into all of that in just a second, but those are some reasons why this is important and why you really need to pay attention to the quality of the students that you teach.

So, now let’s talk about the ten characteristics. Let’s jump right into those, and I have actually probably 11 of them. I have a prerequisite for you, and this is obvious. This is kind of dumb, but I just want to mention it. The basic prerequisite to be a good guitar student – basic prerequisites are that you need to have two hands, ten fingers, one brain, and a pulse. It’s going to be hard to play guitar if you don’t have all those things. So, you basically have to have a good, healthy person that has all of their digits and stuff, especially on the left hand to do it, and then good hand-eye coordination, good motor skills. Basic things that we bring to the table as human beings need to be in place for someone to be successful and be a good student, but I’m going to give you ten specific things that not every student has.

Okay, so these are all things that you want to look for in an ideal student or things that you want to try to foster and encourage in your existing students to make them better.

1) The Perfect Student Has A Good Work Ethic

So, the first one is a good work ethic. Hard work is so important, and you want students that are going to work hard, that are going to practice every day, that are going to complete the assignments that you give them and not just cram them in the night before their lesson. You know, you want someone that’s going to put maximum effort into each assignment that you give them, ideally, because hard work can easily overcome a lack of natural talent, no matter what it is that you’re trying to pursue. Very few of your guitar students, just like very few of us, are endowed with an amazing amount of natural talent so that we’re the next Eddie Van Halen or Steve Vai, or something like that.

But if you work hard and you do your job as a student, you can overcome a lack of natural talent and still be highly successful and be able to play and perform at a very, very, extremely high level just by the amount of work that you put into it. It’ll pay off. It might not be as easy for you as someone with a bunch of natural talent, but working hard, you can overcome that limitation. And your hardest working students are almost always going to be your most successful students with the guitar because that attitude, that work ethic carries over into other areas of their lives too that is required to be successful honestly.

So, you want students that have good work ethic with regard to practice. You want people that have good practice skills. A student with good practice skills understands how and what to practice, and then they actually go and do it. You could teach them a lot regarding practice so that they are actually more successful with it, but you want someone that understands that and how important it is. All you have to do is do the math. Six hours a week outside the studio, practicing obviously has a much bigger impact than only one hour inside the studio, sitting there with you. So, it’s important, and self-discipline is important too.

You know, lots of students have natural talent, but don’t have the self-discipline to actually go and do something with it. And to me, that’s one of the big tragedies with music instruction. Whenever you get a student that has really good aptitude on the guitar, tons of natural talent, and you know that they could probably be one of the great ones if they really worked hard, but they don’t have the self-discipline to even bother learning how to do stuff, even when they have this huge advantage. So, self-discipline is important. It can also help overcome a lack of natural talent too. So, that’s number one. You want students that have good work ethic.

2) The Perfect Student Asks Questions

Number two: a good student asks questions. Asking questions is really important. You know, it’s hard to teach someone effectively if they’re not giving you any feedback about what’s going on. A good student is going to ask questions when they don’t understand something. If they don’t ask questions, there’s really no way for you to know whether they understand what you’re teaching them or not. I mean you can ask them every single time, “Do you understand this? Do you understand this? Do you understand what I’m saying? Does this make sense? Am I explaining this well,” and you know, a lot of times they’ll just nod their head or whatever. They won’t be honest.

But if you find a student that will ask you questions every time they don’t understand something, they’ll give you feedback about what’s working for them and what isn’t, and they communicate with you and they’re engaged – man, they’re engaged in this process of learning the guitar -, then that’s a good student. No questions from them means that you have to assume that they understand, and that’s a dangerous thing to assume, because when you assume, you make a, you know, out of you and me. So, yeah, that’s an old joke there. You may or may not have heard that one before. I’m not going to repeat it here in its entirety, but a good student is going to ask you questions a lot, and a less good student is just going to keep quiet and then try to figure it out on their own later, and that’s usually because of fear.

They’re either afraid that you’re going to reject them or something if they aren’t getting it as fast as they think you want them to. You know, they have this whole mental head game thing going on, or maybe they’re just intimidated by you. That’s a real problem with a lot of guitar students and their teachers. They’re just intimidated by this person who can play so much better than them and who’s kind of an authority role, but the sad thing is that these students miss out if they’re too afraid to ask questions because they don’t grasp key concepts that could serve as building blocks later to make them a better guitar player. So, you definitely want students that are going to ask a lot of good questions. That’s the sign of a really, really exceptional student.

3) The Perfect Student Is Involved Beyond Just The Lessons

So, number three out of the ten is a good student is involved beyond just the lessons. So, I’m talking about extracurricular activities here. So, a good student is going to be jamming with other musicians as often as they can. If they’re not playing in a band already, they’re going to be auditioning and trying to get into a band so that they can apply all of the stuff that they’re learning. A good student is someone that’s going to go to as many live shows to see guitar players play as they can, and they’re going to read a lot of music-related books. They’re going to listen to a lot of guitar music. They’re going to be involved with the whole guitar thing outside of their lesson time with you.

And if they do that, these things all help instill confidence, which always improves your abilities on the guitar. A lot of times, you’ve got the skills and the abilities, but if you don’t have the confidence, you’re going to hold back and not be the kind of player that you could be. And doing these things also inspires you to be a better player and it motivates you to keep on getting better on the guitar and putting in the work and disciplining yourself and all that stuff. And doing this stuff, jamming with other musicians, playing in a band, going to live shows, reading, listening to music – it gives opportunities to learn and experience things that you really can’t cover in a guitar lesson.

You know, I mean you can teach someone how to play for a year and they’re going to learn probably more in a four-hour practice session with a band the first time they actually get up there about what it means to be a real guitar player than you could ever teach them in that whole year of sitting in lessons with you. I mean it just gives it instant context, real world context for the things that they get taught in their lessons. So, you want to encourage that. You want them to be involved beyond just showing up for their lessons and practicing as well. So, that’s number three.

4) The Perfect Student Displays Leadership

Number four: a good student displays leadership, and that’s especially true in a group class setting. So, it’s true also in individual lessons whenever you get your students together, they can inspire each other and leadership can go a long way, but in a group class, when you have five, seven, or ten guitar students all in the same room, your group class is going to kind of take on a personality of its own anyway because of small-group dynamics. And when one student emerges as a good leader in the class, then it’s amazing, but the whole class gets better for everyone. Right, because this one person just inspires everybody and encourages everybody and just adds so much.

You know, it’s almost like they help you teach it in a way. And likewise, if you have a guitar class with a bad leader in it or bad peer leadership in the class, that class is a pain to teach. And it’s not going to be as effective as if you have someone in there that really shines. So, leadership is important, and it’s not really something that you can always teach. I mean you can help someone to be a better leader, but leadership is something that has to be inspired and instilled and caught more than just taught. So, if you have a student that has leadership, then that’s someone that can help you grow your whole business and be a lot more successful as a teacher. So, that’s another thing, number four.

5) The Perfect Student Is Self-Motivated

Number five: a good guitar student is self-motivated. Self-motivating. To be self-motivated means that you have an inner desire to be a great guitar player. You have something that drives you from the inside to practice, to work, to succeed, whatever it takes. And a student who is self-motivated is going to have this internal motivation and drive to be a great guitar player. And the more motivated a student is, the easier they are to teach. You already know this if you’ve ever tried to teach guitar lessons before. If the student is motivated and they’re excited, and they want to learn and they’re soaking it up like a sponge, it’s a lot easier and a lot more fun to teach them.

That means they want to be at their lessons. They want to practice. They want to complete their assignments. They want to learn because they want to succeed. They have that drive that makes them want to be successful. Without that, you know, then you have your average guitar student, right? You have to resort to external means of motivation in that case, which are never quite as effective for some reason. You know, everyone is motivated by something, and if you spend enough time with them, you can usually figure out what that something is, but man, it is way easier to teach lessons when the student is self-motivated. And that’s another one of those things you can’t really give somebody. I mean they just have to have it. They have to possess that drive. You can try to inspire them and encourage them, but if they’re self-motivated, then everything is so much better.

Students without internal motivation like that really are the hardest ones to reach and get through to, and they usually don’t last very long. They usually end up giving up the guitar. And you know, it’s not necessarily your fault as a teacher. You can only do so much, because remember it takes both of you pulling on the rope to get where you want to go. And if you’re the only one that’s pulling, then you can only pull somebody so far. So, self-motivated is a huge quality of a successful guitar student.

6) The Perfect Student Solves Problems

Number six: a good guitar student solves problems. Has problem solving skills, troubleshooting skills. So, I talked about that a few episodes back from the perspective of the teacher, how you need to have good troubleshooting skills. If neither one of you have it, you or the student, then that’s going to be a problem. But if you have good troubleshooting skills and your student has good troubleshooting skills, then you can really get a lot accomplished in your lessons and make progress really fast.

You know, but just an observation here. Problem solving seems to be one of the biggest deficiencies in all students today. Not just guitar students, but students in school, you know? I think the reason why is because you can do a Google search and find almost anything you want at the snap of your fingers. And because it’s so easy to get access to information, the ability to really analyze and think and solve a problem just doesn’t get developed like it used to in days gone by, because it’s so easy to find what you need without really having to think about it. You don’t have to figure it out. You can just Google it and, boom, there’s your answer.

So, that skill is kind of lacking in a lot of people these days, but if you get a rare student that can think analytically, they will usually progress much faster than the rest of your students that don’t think that way. They can work with you to understand what’s broken with their guitar playing and then find a solution to that problem a lot quicker if they can think the same way that you do. So, solving problems is another very important thing that you can do as a student. A quality of a really good student there, number six.

7) The Perfect Student Takes Advantage Of Opportunities

Okay, number seven. Number seven is a good student takes advantage of opportunities. So, a lot of this comes back down to a student’s attitude. Guitar lessons with you are an opportunity to change their lives for the better, if they see it that way and they take advantage of that opportunity. So, you’re not just babysitting them for half-hour every week or an hour every week. That’s not what the lessons are about. You know, you’re not just getting money out of them and looking after them and dealing with them for an hour. It really is an opportunity to change their lives for the better forever, if they see it that way and engage in it and take advantage of it.

So, even if mom and dad, if it’s a kid, are paying for it and forcing them to come, you know, their attitude is key here. Do they view the lessons as an opportunity? Do they view the lessons as something cool and exciting, or is it just another chore to them, just another thing that they have to do, like going to math class or something like that? Their perspective is what I’m talking about here. Do they see things as opportunities and then take advantage of them? When a student is grateful for the opportunity to study the guitar, they’re glad about it and they’re grateful, and they see it as something that can really help them. They get engaged in the process.

When they see it that way, they get engaged. So, when they’re engaged, that means they perform in recitals. They buy the books that you recommend. They make it to the auditions to get into bands. They see an open door for them to be more successful on the guitar, and they walk right through it every single time. So, it takes a special person to recognize those opportunities and to take advantage of them, but if you have a student that does that, then you’ve got a really good one. So, that’s number seven.

8) The Perfect Student Exhibits Good Behavior

Number eight: obviously, good behavior. Obviously, the more that your students follow the rules of your teaching studio, the more time you can spend teaching them and the better they do with the guitar. That’s just common sense. That’s two plus two equals four, right? So, you want to have students that do what they’re supposed to do. You want students that pay you early, especially not ones that pay you late. You want a student that is never tardy, never late for your lessons, never a no-show, never an absentee. You want a student that’s going to show respect for your time and for your position in this situation. Someone that’s going to treat you with respect.

The more a student frustrates you, as the teacher, the less effective you’ll be able to be with that student. You know, the more irritated you are. Be honest here. Nobody wants to work with a student who’s a troublemaker. If the student is causing all kinds of problems every time you see them, they keep saying about how they’re going to pay you next week, they’re going to pay you next week, they forgot, blah, blah, blah. You know, they’re fine minutes late, then ten minutes late, then twenty minutes late, and then the next week they don’t show up. You know, that is just so irritating and frustrating and demoralizing for you, as a teacher, if you have to put up with that.

So, you don’t want to work with students like that, and I’ll tell you in a minute how to set things up so that you minimize that as much as you can. But isn’t it true that as a teacher that you’re going to try to move mountains to help a student who’s polite, who’s respectful, and who follows your rules and treats you with respect? I mean won’t you bend over backwards for someone like that? You know? So, it makes it easier to teach that person if they follow the rules, and everybody gets better results. So, that’s number eight. Good behavior is really important.

9) The Perfect Student Has A Support System

I’ve got two more for you. Number nine: a good student has a support system. A support system. This is true for kids and for adults, but I’m primarily going to talk about kids here. For kids, that means parental involvement in the music lessons for kids. That’s their support system. You know, unfortunately, you can’t pick your parents. Some of you love your parents. Others of you may have wished that you could’ve picked someone different to be your mom and dad. You know, honestly we don’t get that choice, right? We’re born into the families that we’re born into, but if the parents of your students care enough to pay for music lessons, then they must have something going for them. Because if they didn’t care at all, then they wouldn’t spend the money for their kids to learn guitar.

So, the younger students in your teaching business who do the best are typically the ones who have very supportive parents. And what I mean by being a supportive parent is they pay for quality lessons and they pay for quality gear, so the student has the tools that they need to be successful on the guitar. They make lessons with you a priority over other extracurricular activities, like you know, football and whatever else the kid might be doing. They realize that to get the best investing out of this money that they’re putting in for guitar lessons that they need to prioritize it over less important things.

And supportive parents are going to keep track of what the student is learning. They’re going to know what’s going on in the lessons. They’re going to know what their child is learning right now. They’re going to know what their strengths and weaknesses are. They’re going to know where things are going and where you’re going to be taking that student next. And if they don’t know that information, they’re going to talk to you and they’re going to find out. That’s what a good parent of a music student does.

And then the very best parents of music students are going to practice with their kids so that they actually become the teacher at home, and that’s one of the strengths of the Suzuki Method of music instruction; is that the parent has the primary role of the music teacher, and then, whenever the student comes in for a lesson, that’s just kind of moving things forward, but everybody knows that what happens at home is what decides how successful a student is. So, if a student has supportive parents that will practice with them and be their music teacher at home, making sure that they’re doing everything correctly and that they’re still having fun doing what they need to do at the same time, then that’s going to be really good for that student. They’re going to really do well.

10) The Perfect Student Is Fearless

Okay, and then number ten. This is probably my favorite one. I alluded to it a little bit earlier. The number ten quality of a good student is fearlessness. Fearlessness. This last one is probably one of the most important factors for success as a student. A fearless student is not going to be intimidated by their guitar teacher. A fearless student is not going to hold back, is not going to hesitate whenever they play the guitar. A fearless student is not going to be tentative, is not going to be overly cautious. A fearless student is going to take risks and because they take risks, they’re going to progress much faster than another student who’s timid and afraid.

So, you can do whatever you can to build good rapport with a student, but this is something that they have to choose. This has to be their outlook on life. They have to be fearless in their own hearts and in their own minds to bring that into your teaching studio. But if you have a student that’s fearless, then you’ve got something good right there.

So, those are the ten characteristics of a perfect guitar student, of a good guitar student. So, now, for STG All-Access members only, I’m going to give you some hands-on practical tips on how to teach better students, whether it’s students that you’re working with currently or attracting better students into your teaching business, so I’m going to give you some practical tips for STG All-Access members only.

Thank You For Listening!

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Feel free to use the comments section below to let me know what you think about this episode, to suggest a topic for a future episode or just to join in on the conversation with other guitar teachers.

STG 040: 10 Characteristics of a Perfect Guitar Student was last modified: June 10th, 2014 by Donnie Schexnayder

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