STG 062: 5 Ways Your Students Can Sabotage Their Guitar Lessons


The Start Teaching Guitar Podcast

Guitar students can choose to quit taking lessons with you for several different reasons. Sometimes it’s because of something you did or didn’t do as a teacher, sometimes it’s just because life gets in the way, and sometimes it’s because they do it to themselves and mess things up.

In this episode, I’ll get into 5 ways your students can sabotage their guitar lessons and what you can do to help prevent that from happening. If you can anticipate and help prevent some of these things with your students, you can improve your retention rates, help them become better guitar players and even help them become better people.

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.

Podcast Transcript

Okay, this episode is going to be a little bit of a departure from some of the stuff we’ve talked about in the past on the podcast. This is going to be interesting. I’m going to get into some – I don’t know – not really psychology, but just some different hang-ups that we tend to have as humans that we carry over into other areas of our lives and into the relationships we have with people, including our guitar teachers. So, these are the things that everybody deals with that we’re going to talk about in this episode. We all do things to screw ourselves up. And some of your students can be holding themselves back from success on the guitar by some of their attitudes and their beliefs and their thinking, and things like that.

So, I’m going to talk about five ways that your students can sabotage their guitar lessons with you sometimes and not even realize that they’re doing it. So, maybe you’ve seen one or two of your students start to make some pretty good progress on the guitar. They start developing as a musician. They start seeing a little bit of success after a while. But then, the next thing you know, something changes. Something happens, and the student just ends up quitting for some reason, or things kind of stat to go downhill. You know?

Sometimes that can happen because of mistakes that we make as guitar teachers. Sometimes we’re maybe not aligning the lessons with what the student really wants, with what their goals and desires are for the guitar. Sometimes maybe we’ve overwhelming them with too much information at one time. Maybe they’ve been giving us warning signs that they’re not happy with their lessons and we’ve just been overlooking those. You know, I’ve talked about all of those things in other podcast episodes in the past, but what’s going to be different about this one is we’re going to talk about ways that the student does it to themselves. They keyword here is sabotage.

So, sometimes it’s our fault, as a teacher. Sometimes life just gets in the way and things happen, circumstances change, people run out of money, people move away, and different things like that, but other times it happens because the student has some bad attitudes, some bad thinking, or some bad habits that they bring into your teaching studio and it impacts the quality of what you can do with them as a teacher and ends up impacting the results that they get on the guitar and their abilities and how fast they make progress, and a lot of times they end up quitting because of that too. So, this isn’t going to be about becoming a counselor or anything like that. I just want to qualify this. I’m not going to talk about how to become a headshrinker and how to become a therapist and do counseling with your guitar students. That’s not what this is all about.

This is all about helping your students and improving your retention rates as a teacher. That’s why I’m going to talk about this topic. So, this episode is about five common attitude and thinking-related problems that can hold your students back or even sometimes make them quit lessons. I’m going to talk about each of the five things and then I’m going to give you some tips on how to handle them.

So, I just want to start out by saying these are just my opinions and my personal experiences, and I’ve fallen into some of these five categories myself. And you know, none of us are perfect. We all have our hang-ups. We all have issues that we deal with in our lives. Okay, teachers and students alike, so I have some experience with these things. I’m just telling you upfront, but I’m not a trained counselor. I’m not a therapist or anything like that, so I’m not giving you professional advice in this podcast. This is just kind of to give you an overview of some things that you could be aware of so that you can hopefully help your students out and have better student retention and things like that.

So, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about this in a little bit of detail here. Some people mess up their own success for a number of different reasons. You know, a lot of times the biggest reason they do that is fear. I’ve talked about fear a lot in the past, but some people fear failure. They’re afraid to fail. And because they’re afraid to fail, they never even try to do big things. Other people are afraid of different things. Some people are afraid of success. You know, it’s hard to imagine. It’s easy to imagine someone being afraid of failure, but it’s hard to imagine sometimes someone actually be fearful of success, but it happens all the time.

When someone’s afraid of success, they’ll try things, but then they’ll only go so far and then they’ll quit before they really start to get successful. And there’s a lot of reasons for that. Maybe they’re afraid that they won’t be able to sustain that success, or maybe they’re afraid that they’re going to be exposed as a fraud, or something like that. Some fear of something that’s probably never going to happen, but fear nonetheless is the reason why a lot of people will start to make success in something and then shut it down or quit, or shift gears, or check out, or do something that stops their progress.

So, it’s important to realize that that can happen because if you don’t know this, you might think it’s your fault. And as a teacher, you can get discouraged sometimes if you think that something’s your fault and it’s really not. If it’s not your fault, then a lot of times you can’t do anything about it to fix it. So, let’s see here. So, some people have a pattern in their lives of this stuff. Now, like I said, I’m not a therapist or anything like that, so I mean this is just my observation, but some people have a pattern of starting something, getting successful to a certain point, and then quitting. And some of these people – for some of them, there’s nothing you can do about it. If this is a guitar student that you happen to be working with, sometimes you can’t change it.

If someone has this pattern in their lives, they really need some professional help and nothing that you can say as a guitar teacher or, a lot of times, nothing you can do can really fix them or make it any different than what it is because it’s something that they’re choosing to do. But you know, for other people, other students that might be having problems like this; they just need some honest feedback sometimes. Sometimes they don’t realize that they’re doing it and they just need someone that’s observant that cares about them to say, “Look, I see this and it concerns me a little bit, and it’s going to affect you in these negative ways.” You know, sometimes they just need honest feedback, sometimes they just need a little bit of encouragement, and sometimes they just need someone to show that they care.

And you can definitely help students like that by believing in them, by encouraging them, and by telling them the truth. You know, a lot of us – we don’t have anyone in our lives that will be direct with us and tell us the truth in love. Tell us the truth in a way that is in our best interest. You know, sometimes there are people that’ll tell you the brutally honest truth in a way that will hurt your feelings, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about just being someone that cares enough to be direct and to point things out in someone’s life that they may or may not be aware of. And if it impacts their lessons and it comes to your attention, that’s something you can do as a teacher that would really help them out.

So, here’s an example, not necessarily from teaching guitar, but from a musical situation that I was in. I was playing guitar with this guy. This was a while back. And it was kind of an intimidating situation. This was several years ago. But I was intimidated by the guy. He was a very successful musician in this particular genre, and I was playing with him on a regular basis, but I was afraid that I wasn’t going to live up to his expectations. So, I’m not going to name any names or give any specifics, or anything like that.

And that fear of displeasing him and messing up and making mistakes, and things like that, affected my performance when we would get up and play. And it made me tentative. It made me hold back. And I didn’t play with all of my heart and play as good as I knew that I could. I was reserved in my playing, thinking that okay, if I do that, if I play it safe, then I won’t make mistakes and I won’t disappoint this guy and I won’t get thrown out of his band. I’ve learned a lot since then.

But what happened was and what makes this story relevant to our discussion here about sabotaging your own success is that I didn’t realize that I was sabotaging my success in this case. So, after one of the times that we played together, he caught up with me when we were walking out and he told me that I had a real opportunity here; that I could really do well with the band, but that I needed to take advantage of that. And the words that he used were: “I need you to bring it.” I need you to bring it. And I told him. I was like: “Man, I’ll be honest with you. I’m just afraid that I’m going to mess up and make the band sound bad and let you down,” and he was like: “No. You know what. Don’t worry about that. You just bring it.” He said, “I’d rather see you make mistakes and have that fire in your playing and play like I know you can than play it safe and never make any mistakes at all.”

So, what he did was he pointed out an area where I was screwing myself over that I wasn’t completely aware of. I mean I kind of knew that I was doing it, but I figured it was okay. But he called me out on that, and he did it as a friend, and that made a huge impact on my life. Not just in my playing within his particular musical situation, but in every other area of my life. I started to say, “Wow, okay. Am I maybe holding back in these other areas and not even aware of it?” So, you know, maybe in my business, maybe in my relationships with my wife and my kids, and maybe in these other things that I’m doing. Maybe I just need to bring it. You know? He called something out of me that I wasn’t manifesting that he could see was there.

And as guitar teachers, we have the same opportunity to do that with our students every single time that we meet with them. We can call out the best in them. We can draw the strength, the passion, and the creativity; the expression that’s deep inside of their souls. We can call it out of them and draw it out of them whenever we work with them in our teaching studios. And that’s exactly what this guy did to me. So, the common thread here to recognize is that this is all about thinking. This is all stuff that goes on in your head. Each of these five things I’m going to tell you about are all things that go on inside your head. And it’s all about your mindset. It’s all about the mindset of your students and the way that they think and what they bring into their lessons with you.

So, I love this quote by Gandhi. This is like one of the quotes that I try to live my life by, but he said this. He said, “Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive, because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive, because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values. And keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny.” That is so, so true. It all starts with our thoughts. And if you follow the trail, our thoughts eventually determine our destiny. Same thing with your students. And here’s another quote that I love by Charles Swindoll. He says, “Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.”

So, there’s a difference between reacting to life and responding to life. Things happen. Stuff happens. It hits you right smack in the face in your life. You get sick. You get cancer. That’s what happened to me. It happens. Sometimes things happen in our lives, and we don’t want them to happen that way. We wouldn’t have chosen for them to happen that way. But because they happened, we have to deal with them. And the way we deal with them defines who we are as a person. And when something happens and hits you right in the face in your life, you can choose to react to it, freak out, get scared, pull away, go run and hide somewhere, go off and medicate somehow, or you can choose to respond to it in a way that makes you a better person.

And the same thing is true for people that come into our teaching studios. Our students have the same choices too. So, what we can do is we can help them, encourage them, and try to prompt them to make the right choices, to respond to situations that happen to them, to respond to their frustration with their guitar playing or the lack of progress in their guitar playing, or different situations that might be impacting their lessons with you. You know, you can encourage them to respond to those things instead of just react to them. Okay, so that’s kind of what this is all about; is dealing with thinking from the perspective of your students.

Okay, so let’s jump in, directly into the five ways now. The five ways your students can sabotage their guitar lessons. And I’m just going to tell you. These aren’t these revolutionary concepts that you’ve probably never heard about before, but you may have probably never thought about them in relation to the students that you teach. So, here’s the first one.

1) Negative Thinking and Beliefs

Negative thinking and beliefs. I’ve kind of alluded to that already, but negative thinking and beliefs is the first way that your students can mess up their guitar lessons, through the negativity that they might bring with them into your teaching studio. And that negativity is reflected in self-defeating language and words that they might use. So, you might hear them say things like: “I can’t,” or, “I don’t have what it takes,” or, “I’m not good enough,” or, “This sucks,” or, “I hate this,” or, “I don’t like this.” It’s just this general negative slant in the way that they talk about the things that they’re doing with the guitar, with music, sometimes even about themselves, which I’ll get into that more in a second.

But this kind of negative thinking can have an impact on the progress that they make on the guitar because negativity is not part of the formula for success in anything that you want to do in your life. If you’re negative, if you think negative thoughts and you speak negative things, then you tend to be more vulnerable to being defeated and to being discouraged, and to giving up and to not taking the risks and the bold moves that can get you to the next level in whatever it is that you’re trying to do, including guitar.

So, if you hear those kinds of words coming out of any of your student’s mouth on a regular basis – I can’t do this. This is not working. I don’t like this. I hate this. This stinks. This is not good enough. This is not what I want to do. I don’t have what it takes. You know, always negative. Then just realize that it’s what, in alcoholics anonymous, I think, they call stinking thinking. We pick up this stinking thinking. It kind of rubs off on us from the environment that we’re in. We kind of catch it like a virus, and many times we’re not even aware that we’re acting and thinking that way. So, it can come from family members that are negative. It can come from our friends. It can come from other people that we associate with. You know, that negativity rubs off on us and it can infect us just like the flu or like a cold, or like a virus or something like that.

Okay, and we become like the people we associate with. You’ve probably heard quotes about that before. I don’t remember them verbatim, but one quote that comes to mind is that we become like the people we associate with. That if you show me the people that a man hangs around with, I’ll show you his future. I can’t remember who said that, but we do. We become like the people that we spend time with, mainly because we adopt their attitudes and their thinking. That’s why we become like them. We start to think like them. We start to talk like them. We start to be influenced by them, no matter who they are. Whether it’s good, whether it’s bad, if we spend any significant amount of time with people, we’re going to start to be influenced by them and they’re going to impact our thinking and our attitudes, and that’s where the stinking thinking comes from. It rubs off on us from negative people that we’re around. So, that makes a pretty good case for choosing your company pretty carefully, right?

But if you have a few students who have a problem with negativity, you can be a light shining into their lives of positive stuff. You can be a great influence on them. Whenever they’re kind of down and complaining and negative, you can encourage them. You can point out the positive side of things whenever they speak negatively about it. Like maybe it’s a scale pattern that they’re trying to learn or a chord that they can’t play right. Maybe their hands aren’t catching up with their brain, and they’re complaining about it. Well, you could point out the positive stuff and point out what they have accomplished, and bring a different perspective to the situation. You can influence them. You’re in an authority position as their guitar teacher, so you can be a positive influence on their lives and on their attitudes.

Just like negative thinking and beliefs are caught, so are positive ones. So, we catch each other’s attitudes and thinking and beliefs, so you can influence your students for the better. If your studio is known as a positive place like that, where you empower people and you encourage people and you speak positive things to them, then people are going to want to spend more time there because places like that in the world we live in today are few and far between. So, I know that anytime I find a place where I can go and be in a positive environment that’s uplifting and that builds me up, I want to spend as much time there as possible. So, the same could be true for your students. But their negative thinking and beliefs are one way that they can kind of try to mess things up, sometimes without realizing it, and that’s how you can counteract that and inject some positivity into the situation.

2) Low Self-Esteem

The next way that students can sometimes sabotage their guitar lessons is through their low self-esteem. You know, sometimes people start things like taking guitar lessons because they really want to feel better about themselves. And I’ve dealt with some self-esteem issues in the past. It’s like there’s this empty hole inside of you and nothing that you do seems to fill it up. You know, it’s like you try to find things that you can do to fill in that empty hole. Different hobbies you could participate in. Different relationships with people sometimes. You can try to buy things and shove it in that empty hole inside your soul. You know, you can try to fill it with food. I mean there are all these different things that a lot of times can turn out to end up becoming addictions in your life, but it’s all trying to fill up this emptiness that you feel inside this empty hole.

But you can’t shove enough money in that hole to fill it up. You can’t shove enough stuff in that hole to fill it up. You can’t get enough praise and approval from other people to fill up that empty hole on the inside of you sometimes. So, that drives people to want to play music sometimes too. And you know, they want to start things like taking guitar lessons because it helps make them feel better about themselves. But the problem is it doesn’t work. So, you might have a student that’s got low self-esteem like this and they start taking lessons with you, and then they realize after a month or two months or three months that it’s just not doing it for them. It’s not filling up that empty hole, so they may want to move on and quit.

But what this is: this self-esteem stuff starts out with negative beliefs about yourself and things like that, but it eventually, over time, becomes the way that you see yourself and the way that you see the world. And you start to have this worldview that’s based on shame. You start thinking things about yourself, like: “I’m not worth it.” You start making value judgments about yourself as a person. Things that no one else would ever say about you that you say about yourself. You start saying and thinking things like: “Maybe there’s something wrong with me.” And this can be spoken. Maybe you have a few students that deal with this from time to time. They might say those kinds of words, but a lot of times it’s just a look that they carry around. It’s just a mindset. It’s a frame of mind that they have, where they just feel subpar and less than and unworthy and unvalued, and things like that.

And that’s all just based on shame. Someone told them some crap about them probably when they were younger or something like that, and they believed it even though it wasn’t true, and now that’s the basis of their outlook on life. It’s really tragic, but it happens to so many people. I know because I’m one of them. It’s happened to me, and it’s taken a long time – a lot of years – to unravel a lot of that garbage that’s just based on lies that I believed. You know? So, maybe you can relate as a teacher, but you’re definitely going to have students that come in that have self-esteem issues because it’s rampant. It’s like a disease in our culture today.

So, when a student has some shame issues like this, a lot of times that can really hold back their progress on the guitar too. I mean they want to improve, but they honestly don’t believe that they’re worthy sometimes to be successful as a guitar player. And you know, fixing their shame and self-esteem issues – some of you might be hearing this and you might be like: “Oh my gosh, I don’t want to teach anybody like this. I don’t want to be in a situation where I have to deal with something like that, man,” but that’s not something that you have the skills to do anyway. You can’t fix that. You can’t fix somebody’s self-esteem. You can’t take away their shame as a guitar teacher. You can’t do that. That’s something that they have to figure out how to do on their own, but you can help them in other ways.

All you can really do as a teacher is to tell them the truth about who they are. So, if someone has issues of self-worth and that kind of junk starts to surface in their lessons with you, you can tell them the truth. You can say things like: “You do have the potential to be a great guitarist. You do have all the talent that you need to be successful with music. You have everything it takes to reach your goals on the guitar,” which is the truth. It’s so true. They do. They have what it takes. It’s just their thinking that’s holding them back. Their beliefs that are holding them back. Tell them that they are worthy of success. That they do deserve to be happy and successful. Tell them that they have what it takes to be a great musician.

They need to hear those words from someone that can tell them that and that they know is going to tell them the truth about it. Someone whose opinion matters. As their teacher, that’s you. Okay, you can provide acceptance. You can provide validation in your lessons. You can give them praise and encouragement for the things they do well. All of those things will help them to have better self-esteem. Your studio can be an environment where they can feel healthy and good about themselves whenever they come. And you know what. That makes for pretty good student retention too, for the same reasons I mentioned before. You know, anytime I go someplace, I find a place that makes me feel better about myself and who I am and what I’m doing. I want to spend as much time there as I can.

So, if you can provide that encouragement, that acceptance, and that validation that they’re looking for as a teacher, and a lot of times it’s just telling them. It’s just pointing out the things that they’re doing right and telling them how cool they are. They’re going to want to stick around. They’re going to want to keep working with you because they’re going to want more and more of that. It’s like oxygen to people with low self-esteem. So, like I said, you can’t fix them. You can’t make all their problems go away, but you can make things a little bit better for them by being a shining light into their lives whenever they’re in lessons with you. So, you know, that’s not what you get paid for, but it adds a tremendous amount of value to your lessons as a guitar teacher.

3) Lack of Vision and Direction

So, the third reason. The third way, I should say, students can sabotage their lessons is by having a lack of vision and direction for what they want to do on the guitar. You know, sometimes your students might just be confused and overwhelmed. Maybe they’ve been studying for a while or maybe they’re new at it and they just don’t really have a good, clear grasp on what the path is, what the plan is, and what lies ahead for them as a guitar player. You know, learning the guitar is a big undertaking, especially if you’re serious about it. There’s a lot of stuff to learn. A lot of different pieces of the puzzle, and it takes time and it takes dedication and it takes hard work to put all of those pieces together.

And if they don’t have a good view of where they want to go with the guitar, a lot of times they’ll get discouraged and they can end up quitting. So, sometimes when you try to help a student come up with some musical goals, maybe you’ve run into this before. You say, “Okay, let’s sit down and talk about what you want to accomplish on the guitar,” and all they tell you is: “I just want to get better on the guitar,” or, “I just want to learn how to play the guitar.” You know, they don’t know what they want sometimes and they don’t know what the next step to take should be. You know, they’ll tell you things like: “I don’t know what to do,” or, “I don’t know what I want,” or, “I don’t know how I want my guitar playing to look.” So, that’s a pretty good giveaway that they could use some vision and use some direction.

There’s a famous quote by Zig Ziglar. He said, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every single time.” That’s the truth, right? That’s why we set goals. So that we know exactly what we’re aiming for and we hit it, because if you don’t set goals, if you aim at nothing, you’re guaranteed to hit it every single time. So, not identifying specific goals for the lessons is a really good way to waste somebody’s time as a guitar student. Okay, you want to give them value. You want to help them identify their goals that they want to reach on the instrument, and then reach them. So, they need to have a target that they’re working towards. Something that they’re shooting for that is going to give them a payback for all of the time and work and money and effort that they’re putting into learning the guitar. That’s what we call results.

Okay, they need to, at some point, identify and see some specific results that shows that this has not been a waste of their time. Give them some goals to aim at. But as their teacher, you’re in a good position to help them with this. You’re actually in a great position. You can help them. You can see the big picture that they can’t see. A lot of times they don’t see all the pieces of puzzle, but you’ve been down this road, you can see the big picture, and you know what lies ahead for them. You know the steps that they’re going to have to take to get to where they want to be on the guitar. You can help them chart the course they need to follow to become the guitar player that they want to be.

So, if a student seems to lack focus and direction, they’re not really motivated. They don’t seem to be excited about learning and playing the new things that you’re trying to teach them. You know, they just don’t seem to have any focus and direction. Then spend some lesson time helping them to drill down into exactly what it is that they want to learn and what they want to do and what kind of guitar player they want to become. They’re going to already have some kind of motivation about why they want to learn guitar. I mean because they started taking lessons in the first place, so there’s got to be some reason why they want to be a guitar player even if they can’t really verbalize it. So, what you can do is you can help them uncover that reason and then give them some goals that are going to help them to achieve that. And that’s the way that you deal with that specific situation, because if you don’t; if you don’t help them find that vision and direction, they’re going to get distracted and they’re going to end up giving up. It’s just not going to work out for them. So, by helping them, as a teacher, then you can do that and then hopefully they’ll stay.

4) Lack of Motivation

So, number four. The fourth way that students can sometimes sabotage their lessons is just general lack of motivation. Sometimes you’ll have a student that just seems to be kind of lazy. I know. I know a lot of the students that we end up teaching seem to be lazy. They just don’t want to put in the work. You know, they don’t practice. They don’t show up on time. You know, they cancel. They don’t put the effort in. And when you ask them about it, they’re just like: “Oh, I just didn’t feel like it,” or, “I’m just so busy.” You know, whatever their reasons are or whatever their excuses are, it just seems like they really don’t want to be there in the guitar lessons, but they still show up.

So, there could be a few different reasons for that. They could be lazy. Like I mentioned before, they just don’t work hard at anything, or maybe they’re just tired. You know, maybe they have a lot going on. Maybe they’re distracted. A lot of problems, especially in the United States. I’m sure this is true in other countries too, but a lot of people are overcommitted and just have so many things going on. That’s a problem common with kids and teenagers. You know, they have soccer practice. They have school. They have all these clubs that they’re in. They have things that they do with their friends. All these activities. And when you have all of that stuff going on, a lot of times playing the guitar and learning your guitar and doing your assignments from your guitar lessons just kind of gets pushed to the bottom of the pile.

You know, maybe mom and dad are forcing them to learn the guitar and they’re really not as interested in being a guitar player as mom and dad are interested in them becoming one. That’s always a bad situation because it’s really hard to motivate someone that doesn’t really want to be there. They’re being forced to be there. And that might be a good conversation to have with that parent and say, “Look, you know, I know that you want them to learn how to play the guitar, but they just don’t really seem interested in this. You know, maybe it’s not for them.” Anyway, that’s neither here nor there.

But maybe really this student that seems to lack motivation – maybe they just need to catch a fresh vision of what learning the guitar can do for them. Maybe you just need to help paint a picture for them of what kinds of things they could do with their guitar skills to kind of light that fire again. But as the teacher, what you could do is you could try to figure out what’s going on here. Why do they lack motivation? And you know, the way you can help them to regain it is to ask what made them want to sign up for lessons in the first place. Why did you want to do this? You know, why are you here? If you can identify that original desire and kind of rekindle that, sometimes you can turn things around for a student like this that lacks motivation.

Another question you can ask and try to answer is what do they like about their lessons. You know, if you know what they really enjoy about their lessons, maybe you can incorporate more of that kind of stuff to make it more enjoyable for them. Also, you probably want to know what do they dislike. What are the things that are boring them and that they’re just not having any fun with in the lessons? You can then do less of those things. You can kind of tailor it to what they really need and want.

Sometimes though there’s nothing you can do to change the situation. You know, sometimes it’s inevitable. They’re just not into this and they’re probably not going to stick around. And that’s okay. You know, it’s not for everyone. You shouldn’t expect one hundred percent of your students to stay with you their entire lives. People come and go, but at least you can try to understand the reason for it better, because you don’t want to blame yourself. Like I mentioned before, it may not be anything that you are doing at all. It might totally be that this person has too many irons in the fire and they don’t have the time or the headspace to devote to learning guitar. Well, okay, then they need to make a choice. They need to probably give something up. And if it’s guitar, then that’s just the way it is, but at least you’ll understand what’s going on and you’ll know that it’s not your fault as a teacher and that you’ve done everything you can.

5) Unhealthy Mindset of Competition

And then the last thing. This is a particular pet peeve of mine. The last way that students can kind of sabotage their guitar lessons is with an unhealthy mindset of competition. That competitive mindset. Now, there’s nothing wrong with healthy competition, where it’s all good-natured and you’re really just trying to kind of outdo each other and both be the best that you can be, but competition, a lot of the time, is unhealthy when it comes to things like this. This last way that your students can mess up their lessons is having this attitude of unhealthy competition.

And I’ve been this kind of student before, so I know a little bit about it, and I’ve seen it in other people. They do everything that you ask them to do, but a lot of times it doesn’t seem to be for the right reasons. You know, something seems to be driving them to play the guitar and to practice and to get better on the instrument, but it just doesn’t seem to be a healthy thing. It doesn’t seem like they’re doing it for the right reason. And sometimes they’ll give it away by saying things like: “Oh, this guitar player is the best in the world. You know, this guitar player over here is the fastest, like he’s the best because he’s the fastest.” Or they’ll say things like: “That guitar player sucks. He stinks on the guitar.” And you know, here’s this person that’s a pro-level player that’s probably a hundred times better than the student that’s criticizing them, but oh, that person sucks. Or: “Oh, that style of music is crap,” or maybe they’ve even more overt it and they’ll say, “Oh, I have to be better than so and so,” or, “I have to be able to play like this person.” They’re comparing themselves to other guitar players and trying to drive themselves to a certain level of achievement that just doesn’t seem to be healthy.

You can see that sometimes in people’s attitudes toward music. And as a teacher, what you can do is you can gently point things like this out. When you start to see these negative attitudes of competition that are unhealthy, you can point out the truth in situations like that. So, you can say things. If the student is saying things like: “Oh, this guitar player sucks,” or, “All of these kinds of guitar players suck,” or something like that, then you can say things like: “No. You know what. All guitar players are unique. Some of them are more unique than others, but everyone has a unique contribution that they can make to music,” which is true. You can tell them things like: “We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Some guitar players are better than others in some areas. Some are weaker than others in some areas. Everyone has things that they’re good at and bad at, and our strengths and weaknesses are all part of the mix.” It’s part of who we are.

You know, you could tell them things like: “We all have something good to offer the world.” You know, just because one of your students doesn’t like a certain guitar player or a certain style of music, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have something to offer. We all have something good and noble and amazing that we can offer the world through our musical expression. Okay, a lot of times our students need to be reminded of that. You know, sometimes you just need to remind them that music is about art. It’s about expression. It’s not a contest. It’s not a sport. It’s not a competition. It’s not a race to see who can get to the finish line first. It’s about art and it’s about expressing yourself in an authentic way through the guitar.

Sometimes we need to explain that to them if they think it’s all just about how fast you can play or whether you can play this song at this tempo, or something like that. And also, we can point out that you can learn something from every guitarist. Even if there are areas about their playing that you don’t like, there’s something you can learn from every single guitar player out there. Even if it’s what not to do, you can learn something. Another thing we should point out is that you should focus on creating and not competing. Music is art. It’s expression. It’s about being creative. It’s not about competing with other people.

So, reinforce those values in your guitar lessons. Communicate them to your students. And anytime they come up with some unhealthy, negative, competitive thing, refute that. Please. We have enough guitar players out there in the world today that just have bad attitudes and they have this gunslinger mentality. So, instead of creating gunslingers in our teaching studios, let’s create artists. Let’s create people that create beautiful music that makes the world a better place and that can work together with other people with respect.

So, beneath all of this though, you know, I used to have this attitude when I was a much younger person, a much younger guitar player. And I picked up a lot of this from music stores I used to hang around with, other musicians that I used to hang around with, from guitar magazines, and it was a way to cover up for my own insecurities is what I’m trying to say. Okay, beneath all of this can be some deep insecurities and the need for approval. And the cool thing is, as a teacher, that you can give a student like this the approval that they’re looking for and you can also speak the truth to them. You know, then they don’t have to criticize other people or they don’t have to compete to try to earn that approval or feel like that making themselves look better than someone else is going to give them the approval that they need.

So, with your students that deal with this, let them know when they’re doing well. And when it’s appropriate, you know, point out gently that they don’t have to compete; that they can create instead. So, what you’re doing is you’re helping them to see that this whole thing is a process. Learning the guitar is a journey. And if we focus on the journey, on each step and on the milestones along the way, then we’re a lot happier. We have a lot more peace while we’re learning the guitar instead of just focusing on the end result and focusing on the destination all the time.


So, now let me just kind of wrap this episode up. We’ve talked about a lot of different stuff here, but in general, the common thread of how you deal with all of this stuff is to talk to your students about it. If you see any of these five things going on, talk to them about it. So, don’t ignore it. You know, don’t let it fester. Don’t let it continue and end up defining your relationship with that person. Don’t put it off. Just talk to them about it. And you don’t want to be mean when you do that. You don’t want to make them feel bad, but just gently be direct with them. You know, mention that you’ve noticed this attitude or this negative thing and that it’s probably holding them back on the guitar.

You know, you can ask them if they’re okay. Say, “Hey, I’ve noticed that you’ve had this kind of competition attitude. Is everything okay? Are you doing okay? Is there anything I can do to help?” You know, a lot of times that’s a way to get them to start talking a little bit about what’s going on. And if it’s a younger student, a teenager or something like that, then you might want to consider talking to their parents about it and just seeing if there’s anything that you guys could kind of partner together to help that student a little bit. But basically you’ve just got to put it on the table. You know, I used to have this friend. I had this friend a long time ago that that was what they did whenever they were put an uncomfortable situation out into the open. They would call it putting the moose on the table. I don’t know what that means, but sometimes, with your students, you just need to put the moose on the table.

You just need to put it out there and just say, “Hey, you know, what’s up with this?” And then you could try to find out what they really need, what they really want, what’s kind of behind all of this, because there’s something behind every bad attitude. And like I said, a lot of times it’s fear. If you could figure out what it is that they’re afraid of, maybe you can help alleviate that and help them have a better experience and do better in the lessons and stuff. And then, if there’s a way that you can help, you know, fine. Figure out how you can help them, but sometimes there’s nothing you can do. You know, you’re not the magic genie in the lamp, where you can speak the word and make all of someone’s problems go away. Life doesn’t work that way. Sometimes there’s nothing you could do, but sometimes you can make a big difference just by being someone who cares.

So, as a teacher, you can try to help your students be aware of these things and overcome them. And what results from that is that makes them better people. Not just better guitar players. This whole teaching guitar business that we’re in is not just about creating guitar players and helping people become better guitar players. It’s really about adding value to their lives, and this is a tremendous way that you can add value to somebody else’s life. By speaking the truth and by caring, and dealing with things like this with them sometimes if they want to. And the cool thing about it is that it also adds a tremendous amount of value to your lessons too.

Thank You For Listening!

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STG 062: 5 Ways Your Students Can Sabotage Their Guitar Lessons was last modified: May 12th, 2014 by Donnie Schexnayder