Choosing A Teacher

This article is intended to show you how to choose a great guitar teacher.

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The electric guitar has advanced far beyond the time when someone could teach himself (or herself) to become a world class player. If your ambition is to become a competent player and a competent musician, you need a competent teacher. Even if your goals are more modest, you can reach those goals far more quickly, easily and efficiently with the guidance of the right teacher.

Much of the information needed to learn about guitar playing (and music in general) is available from many different sources. There are hundreds of books, instructional videos, CD-ROMs and, of course, the Internet. Even though a lot of information is readily available, there exists a lot of incorrect, incomplete and otherwise bad information (this is especially true for a lot of information found on the Internet!).

You will need the aid of an excellent teacher to teach you how to fully understand and apply the correct information. You can save yourself a lot of unnecessary frustration and disappointment by studying with a good teacher. Remember that textbooks, CD-ROMs, instructional videos and the Internet cannot answer your specific questions. They cannot offer you advice on your playing, song writing, ear training, etc. They cannot listen to your playing and point out any mistakes or flaws that may be present. Some textbooks are great and I have seen some pretty good CD-ROMs out there too, but you still need the aid of an excellent teacher to guide you through everything and to help you develop your abilities and musicianship correctly and efficiently.

Great teachers manage and schedule new materials and effectively explain their importance and meaning. A teacher should encourage you when you are doing well and correct you when you make mistakes. Good teachers will show you how to better organize your practice materials and show you how to effectively manage your practice time (this is crucial to your progress!). They help you build up your confidence level (even if you are not consciously aware that this is happening). A great teacher will help you become secure with your technical skills so that you can execute difficult techniques on your guitar comfortably. These teachers emphasize creativity (songwriting and improvising) and performing.

Great teachers want to make sure that you fully understand what you are learning and, most importantly, teach you how to apply it by giving you detailed explanations and encouraging you to ask questions when something is unclear. A good teacher sincerely cares about your musical growth and development. An experienced and competent teacher will take you far beyond what you could learn on your own. Unfortunately, guitar teachers are not licensed and there is no organization that oversees or regulates them. Anyone can claim to be a good teacher and there are lots of people who make this claim. The number of competent teachers, however, is limited.

This brings us to this crucial question: how can a student find, choose, and then accurately evaluate a guitar teacher? Here are some questions that you should ask any teachers you are considering studying with. I have also included my own comments for each question:

01. Can you please tell me about your teaching experience? May I see your resume or credentials? How long have you been teaching and approximately how many students have you taught during that time?

At least three to five years of teaching experience is preferred - certainly no less than one year of experience. Prefer a teacher who has taught a moderate to large number of students. It takes time for a teacher to truly learn how to teach well, and the main way that someone learns to teach is by teaching for a while.

The students of a new teacher are like experiments. These teachers are learning how to teach on the job by trial and error. They need time to learn how to teach, and will make some mistakes in the beginning of their careers. You don't want to be one of those first thirty to fifty students. Let a new teacher gain his or her experience by making mistakes with someone else.

02. Do you teach private lessons or group lessons?

You definitely want private lessons, unless you are a total beginner or are enrolled in a college music course. You will learn a lot more about playing guitar in a one-on-one private lesson or in a correspondence lesson program.

03. What styles of music do you teach best?

Make sure you ask this question before telling the prospective teacher what style of music you want to learn. A lot of teachers claim to teach all styles well. Beware of this. Do not be impressed by someone who tells you that he or she can teach every style of music well.

If you really want to be a great rock guitarist, take lessons from a rock teacher, not a blues or country player who claims to teach all styles well. Find yourself a good rock teacher. If you want to learn multiple styles of music that are not similar (like country, classical and heavy metal) take lessons from more than one teacher for each of those styles. Unless you are a total beginner, you are better off with an expert teacher in your style of music, not a jack-of-all-trades teacher.

04. What is the cost of lessons?

Excellent teachers are in demand and usually already have a lot of students. These teachers often are not cheap. I can tell you that the going rates for good teachers in the Midwestern United States (where I live) is between $16-$24 per 1/2 hour private lesson (rates may be different in your state or country). There are a handful of teachers offering correspondence lessons for students who do not live in the same state or country as the teacher. Usually these lessons are less expensive in the long run (read more about correspondence lessons later). In general, don't look for the teacher with the lowest rates; you usually get what you pay for. If you can't afford to pay the higher rates for a really good teacher, ask the teacher if you can take lessons on a bi-monthly basis instead of taking weekly lessons.

05. Can you tell me how you teach the lessons?

This is probably the most important question you can ask a teacher. The answer to this question can help you determine if a teacher is competent, because this is actually a trick question. Anyone can tell you they have been teaching for 100 years, they have had 10,000 students and the cost is $1,000 per lesson because they are the greatest teacher of all time. But an inexperienced teacher cannot trick you with his or her answer to this question (unless he or she is reading this article.)

If a prospective teacher who does not know you, your musical knowledge, your guitar technique, your musical tastes, and your musical goals tries to explain how he or she will teach you, this is not a competent teacher. Not even the best teacher on Earth could answer this question if that teacher knows nothing about you, your goals, your playing level, your knowledge of music theory, etc.

So what would an experienced and competent teacher say to you when you ask the question? Well, I can tell you what I do when a new prospective student asks me this. I explain to him or her that I can't formulate a lesson plan for anyone until I learn a lot more about that student's playing, goals, musical tastes, knowledge of theory, etc.

To my correspondence students (whom I don't see face to face), I send a long list of questions about everything I need to know about their music background. This helps me determine the best way for us to begin. I also encourage the student to send me a tape or CD of his or her playing with a variety of his or her playing on it so I have a clearer picture of what areas need improvement.

Obviously, for my private students (whom I do see face to face), I can simply ask the questions that I need answers to. And I can hear the student play in front of me. Only after all of this can I (or any other teacher) truly know how to teach that individual student. It seems obvious that you shouldn't teach a 13-year-old-boy who has never played guitar before and wants to learn to play alternative rock the same way that you would teach a 27-year-old-man who has been playing for 16 years and wants to become a virtuoso in the style of Steve Vai or Yngwie Malmsteen.

In addition to asking the questions above, here are some other things to watch out for:

When students ask how to approach a certain technique or how to hold the pick correctly or how to most effectively mute strings that are not supposed to be sounding, the advice of some teachers is to do whatever feels natural to you. Sometimes what you may think is the natural way to hold your left hand may not be the correct way at all. It is the teacher's job to know those types of things. The teacher should be teaching, not letting you do whatever you feel like doing. For most things, there is a right and wrong way and you will be better off learning it the right way from the beginning.

A teacher may have some talented students, but this does not mean the teacher is good. This might seem like good criteria for evaluating a teacher, but the fact is that sometimes advanced students were already good players before taking lessons from the new teacher. The only time you can judge a teacher's teaching skills, based on his or her students' playing skills, is when those advanced students have been taking lessons from the same teacher since they were beginners.

Some teachers tell their students to learn from as many sources as possible and then leave it up to you to sort through it all and decide what works best for you. How are you supposed to decide that? How is a student to know what the best fingering is for a particular scale? Students typically won't know how to determine what the right way is. This is one of the reasons you have a teacher. It is his or her job to teach you these things. This is why you are giving the teacher your money!

Do not assume that someone is a good teacher just because he or she may be an excellent player or has good credentials. I know plenty of competent players with advanced music degrees whom I don't believe are good teachers. I was fortunate to have some truly great teachers, but I had some incompetent ones too, along the way. Whenever I realized that a teacher wasn't good, I looked for a new teacher.

The following things are not required for someone to be a good teacher, but it certainly is to your advantage to have a teacher who, in addition to teaching you about guitar and music, can help you in some of these other ways:

01. Guitar Pedagogy - This is learning how to teach guitar. If one of your goals is to be a guitar or music teacher, then you would benefit greatly from a teacher who can show you how to teach a variety of techniques, music theory, ear training, songwriting, improvisation, etc. You will also need to learn about how to deal with a wide variety of personality types. Every student is different. Each student learns and comprehends information in different ways. It is important for any teacher to understand this. You need to know how to explain the same information in several different ways so you can teach all of your students well.

02. Recording advice - The better you become as a musician, the more likely it will be that you will want to record your guitar playing. If you have little or no experience in this area, then having someone who can help you is especially helpful.

03. Music business - If you plan to record, release and sell your own CD, now or in the future, there is a huge amount of music business information that you will need to learn if you want to make any money. Some teachers who have released their own CDs, and are promoting it themselves, can be the best source of help for selling your CD. You can also learn other things like how to set up gigs for your band and how to get the press to write about you.

Now that you have a better idea about what to look for in a teacher, the next question is, where do you look for a good teacher? This depends on if you are looking for a teacher to teach you privately (face to face) or if you are looking for a teacher to teach you through correspondence. Both are good and there are advantages to both ways.

If you are looking for a private teacher to teach you face to face, check out these places first: Contact the music department at universities and colleges near you. Even if they can't help you directly, they can usually refer you to someone who can help. Next, you can try your local music shops (where guitars are sold). Most music shops offer lessons. And most of the teachers found here are not of the highest quality, but sometimes there are great teachers you can find at these shops.

When you call one of these shops, ask to speak to the manager or owner. Find out from him or her exactly who are the most qualified teachers for you (your style of music and skill level). After you get the teachers' names, make arrangements to speak to each of the teachers privately. Ask those teachers all of the questions we've gone over above. If you are not satisfied with any of those teachers, keep looking.

If you are looking for correspondence lessons, your search will be a little different (and these lessons are usually a little cheaper in the long run). You can look on the Internet for these types of teachers and you can also contact universities (in any part of the world). The best thing about correspondence lessons is that you can take lessons from any teacher in the world (that teaches via correspondence)! What I would look for in a correspondence teacher is someone who has been doing this type of teaching for a while, someone who always allows you to ask questions about your lesson via e-mail or telephone (for no additional charge!).

I personally don't think that courses (like CD-ROM courses) are a good idea because they don't provide the private and individual instruction needed to learn in the most efficient way. Even though correspondence lessons are not face to face, the lessons should be personalized for you, your skill level, your musical knowledge, your style of music and your musical goals.

Stay away from a one-size-fits-all method or the cookie-cutter style courses. Everyone is different and is at a different level, has different musical goals, and likes different music. So the lessons (whether face to face or correspondence) should be tailored specifically to your needs.

After teaching guitar and music for over 11 years now, I can tell you that using the information above can make a huge difference in finding an experienced high quality teacher. An incompetent teacher can severely hinder your ability to fully develop your guitar and music skills. If you are not progressing well, but you are spending a lot of time practicing, find another teacher.

I invite you to sign up for my free newsletter. It is filled with valuable music / guitar learning resources!

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    Copyright 2005 and 2002 by Tom Hess. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

85 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Green_Day_Rock
    bin learning for about a year know; get lessons from one of my dad's old work friends. I teach my self stuff as well, I learn most of the basic playing techniques, and then improve them in my own way. It's mostly blues acoustic songs, but I teach muyself other things too. the point I'm trying to make here is that lessons just get you going a bit faster.
    thefinalcut
    if youre not even going to think about what the hell youre comment says, dont post anymore. You misinterpreted what he said in the first paragraph. He said "...when someone could teach himself (or herself) to become a world class player ." Oh, just whatever...I stand by what I said.
    leijsa
    The article was awesome. I had a guitar teacher, but I didn't get much because he was teaching me the basics of the basics of music, which I learned when I was 6 from taking piano lessons. I've been looking for a teacher since I quit. We've had some professionals come into school for a few days, and I learned more from them in 3 days than my guitar lessons in 8 months.
    teenage_cobain
    Ok, dude, just because you started learning Hendrix on your third lesson doesn't mean you have "the best guitar teacher ever." It means that your guitar teacher wants to make sure he/she comes off as being really interesting and fun at the beginning, to make sure that you keep recieving their lessons until you're poor. He/she is just wasting your money because starting a Hendrix song that early in the game, you'll be 2 months just learning it. When it's all said and done, you'll have spent $80-100 just to learn a Hendrix song.
    Hendrixisbetter
    I was so happy to see that someone acknowledged the fact the techer you have is just as important as any other thing. I have propably the best guitar teacher ever. I started learning hendrix on my third lesson, and he is as cheap as hell. $10/hour(private lessons)
    quietimeating
    He's right, it was written by the same person. I just started playing over the summer, and my teachers say I have talent, but...I think I have what you call a "bad guitar teacher". And I think you're right about what you said. Looks like I'm a test student, huh? I'll send this article to him before I quit and find another teacher.
    No_Quarter
    Well I was just given a job teaching at my old high-school guitar to about 30 to 40 students a day. This is a pretty long shot from just teaching one on one with my buddies... I'm fairly confident that i will do a good job too
    Mosher
    I'm still learning after 4 years, right now im getting into technical details because my guitar teachers finds that I am a good player and thinks that I should learn how the guitar works.. he reads my mind great teacher
    Guitar_Poet
    undead_bunny wrote: Nice job copying an article from Cyberfret. http://www.cyberfret.com/misc-wisdom/tom... lol, it may be true that the article is off that site but the person never really claimed it as his/her own, they never said they didnt write it but they never said they did.
    yea.... in the end its still copied. though possible this person wrote both articles, i highly doubt it.
    Guitar_Poet
    certainly no less than one year of experience.
    well if everyone followed that advice, we would not have teachers besides the ones that exist and once theyre gone we're screwed. bad idea.... and you dont have to have credentials or a whole lot of experience to be a great teacher... an OK article, but lots of the things you said i dont think are true, or should be followed.
    hanesh
    i would like to know..must we learn classical guitar b4 learning electric guitar???
    Brendan DEwald
    At least three to five years of teaching experience is preferred - certainly no less than one year of experience
    What the hell if every kid is awiting for you to get three years experi than you wont get it becusae everybody is waiting and then you will have no students.
    Nirvana_rocks73
    PS: I think this article is just an unknown guitarist with an unknown music career who needs money crying for people to buy his stuff and "give him" their money. If you check out this dude's site, he praises himself up in heaps. It's truly ridiculous. Honestly... pfft!
    HAHAH he really does praise himself insanely!!!what a dumbass!!!!! its funny because now he cant say anything back because he is unregistered hahah!Kiss my self-taught Bass Tom Hess or whatever!!
    Nirvana_rocks73
    Oh, same goes for bassists!!Bass is my main instrument but I play a bit of guitar..(cant play guitar too well though haha)
    Nirvana_rocks73
    Yes, Yngwie Malmsteen is self-taught and can he ever play the guitar!!! I am amazed at some stuff Yngwie plays I think he is one of the greatest. So you can be an AMAZING self taught guitarist.Teaching yourself I think is one of the best ways to gain experience. Besides, what teacher can you trust more and get pushed hard enough by then yourself?You set the standards, goals, and limits for yourself and not have anyone to set those important things for you, you know what you can do and what you want to do and teaching yourself youll reach them that much faster. Thats what I think.
    RandyismyIdol
    Although a lot of the greats were self-taught, it still took them quite a few years of diligence to get to their virtuoso status. Many started at very young ages with little or no mentors to go by so they had to make up their own style. But now we have all their examples to go by and we all look to them to develop our own tricks and skills so no one is really "teaching themselves." You're really just being taught by the people you listen to. And I believe that if it is at all possible you should take lessons from someone (at least in the beginning to get you started). If he's a good teacher, let's face it, you're gonna get to where you want to be quicker than if you went it alone. My friend has played for over 4 years or so "Self taught" and I've been playing a little over a year with lessons. I've practically met and even surpassed his playing skills. I would never have gotten there without a teacher to get me started.
    ANTIHIPPY102
    one huge thing i disagree with ""When students ask how to approach a certain technique or how to hold the pick correctly or how to most effectively mute strings that are not supposed to be sounding, the advice of some teachers is to do whatever feels natural to you. Sometimes what you may think is the natural way to hold your left hand may not be the correct way at all. It is the teacher's job to know those types of things. The teacher should be teaching, not letting you do whatever you feel like doing. For most things, there is a right and wrong way and you will be better off learning it the right way from the beginning."" holding a pick SHOULD NEVER be taught.. all they need to know is that the pointy side slucks the string...other than that, you should do what feels natural. My first teacher tried to get me to hold the pick with the side of my thumb and my finger, and i cant do that i have to hold it in between the tips of my thumb and finger. that just shouldnt be taught.
    coquet
    This guy never said you can't teach yourself, he just said you'll probably be better if you get a good teacher.
    yes, the first sentense says you cant teach yourself to be great.
    I doubt today there are many self-taught guitarists that can shut Gilbert, Malmsteen and Batio down today.
    i dont know about the others, but i do know that yngwie is self-taught. teaching yourself guitar can make you that good at it. if youre not even going to think about what the hell youre comment says, dont post anymore.
    DarkSithLord
    Wow, very good article. I used it whilst searching for my teacher...finally found one. This helped me a lot. Good job.
    X_Tears_X
    1* dude... seriously... if you are wanting to learn rock or metal... you need to start off with blues... after all... ROCK AND METAL ORIGINATED FROM BLUES!
    slayerbizkit
    Ok, dude, just because you started learning Hendrix on your third lesson doesn't mean you have "the best guitar teacher ever." It means that your guitar teacher wants to make sure he/she comes off as being really interesting and fun at the beginning, to make sure that you keep recieving their lessons until you're poor. He/she is just wasting your money because starting a Hendrix song that early in the game, you'll be 2 months just learning it. When it's all said and done, you'll have spent $80-100 just to learn a Hendrix song.
    Heh, I had a teacher like that. We started off with beginner/basic music theory and I was learning way too fast for him so he started bringing in songs like Little Wing and Spanish Castle for me to learn. $60 down the hole, I hadn't learned jack shit and I realized what he was up to and just and decided to ditch that teacher and learn on my own. Its really slow trying to teach myself but better than getting conned and wasting cash.
    r_lightning
    we need more people like you! keep on teaching those guitar-blind kids around the world
    __toni__
    I taught myself for about 3 months and then I convinced my mom to get me a teacher. He works at this really tiny shop that sells guitars but he knows just about everything. I never would've learned about 2 handed tapping if it weren't for him.
    shut_up_you_***
    Well I've been on both sides of the spectrum. I am a classically trained pianist and a self taught bassist (4 lessons do not count I think! lol). I must say that having a teacher does really improve your general technique.
    iceesforlife
    I think Mr. Hess is reight about guitar teachers. Man, I had this sweet teacher in Canada, and I know I could never've got where I am without her, but I suppose some people just have the natural ability to learn by themselves.
    Archaon
    quotecoquet said: hendrix taught himself. it is doable
    hence why he said- "The electric guitar has advanced far beyond the time when someone could teach himself (or herself) to become a world class player" Please do the world a favor and learn how to read, Hendrix is part of that time which the author is mentioning. By the way, awsome article, I'm planning on taking lessons soon and this is really gonna help.
    Emil_Gorecki
    I dont even play with the pointy part of my pick, i play with on of the other 2 corners because I find it easier and more accurate. I can also shred alot faster with it
    stratmanjay3000
    yeah i agree with fingerpkngood but my teacher is both and the good thing is that hes cool and you can just have a good time there and not get nervous about a lesson and hell actually help me with what im working on
    fingerpkngood
    I know plenty of competent players...whom I don't believe are good teachers.
    I know of at least one--Brent Mason. An amazing guitar player ("chickin' pickin" is the style he plays) who can't teach worth a damn, at least not on an instructional video I watched.
    Iruleeverything
    hhmm, I could've used this article last week, I just went ot a teacher and I was almost as good as him and I've only played a year, of course he did know more songs than I did.
    twocenttip
    good stuff. i started teaching about a year ago. i'm also cheaper than most guitar teachers- im $10 for 30 min. but very well executed. ****.
    GuitarJunkie
    Ok, dude, just because you started learning Hendrix on your third lesson doesn't mean you have "the best guitar teacher ever." It means that your guitar teacher wants to make sure he/she comes off as being really interesting and fun at the beginning, to make sure that you keep recieving their lessons until you're poor. He/she is just wasting your money because starting a Hendrix song that early in the game, you'll be 2 months just learning it. When it's all said and done, you'll have spent $80-100 just to learn a Hendrix song.
    welll...not really i taught myselft purple haze...not just the intro...the whole song after 6 months of teaching myself how to play, been playing two years now...never had a lesson, and im doin just fine
    PearlJamania
    kinda contradicts himself... claims don't go for the mass produced stuff... then suggests u sign up for his mass produced emails with guitar learning resources... just noticing you know
    teenage_cobain
    GnRrelease_it wrote: Even though a lot of information is readily available, there exists a lot of incorrect, incomplete and otherwise bad information (this is especially true for a lot of information found on the Internet!). isn't that a farily ironic statement considering this article is on the...you guessed it...INTERNET. way to serve up your credibility with chips.
    Dear lord, that was hilarious GnRrelease_it! Clever of you to notice it. PS: I think this article is just an unknown guitarist with an unknown music career who needs money crying for people to buy his stuff and "give him" their money. If you check out this dude's site, he praises himself up in heaps. It's truly ridiculous. Honestly... pfft!
    junkhead35
    all you have to do is get motivated and read an article on ultinate-guitar.com to get good really,and emo is gay.
    Jonwah
    I've just completed my A level music course, having taught myself for two years. I prefer doing it on my own, there aren't any limitations or rules and there's more freedom to experiment. I wouldn't have my current playing style if I had lessons. I tried having lessons once but my teacher just told me everything I did was wrong, I asked him if it was really hindering me and he said No but it's wrong. There's more than one right way of playing the guitar; I think I've managed to show that with the way I play. On the other hand, I know some people who played shockingly badly, and 'wrongly', but when they had lessons they improved. It just depends on the person really. I'd have to go 50/50 on my agreement with this article. Some of the stuff is quite true, but a lot of it is just obscured opinion.
    local_hippy
    thank god i had an excellent teacher.....and good article, alot ov things i didnt know to teach and had problems with my student....
    LankyNewb
    undead_bunny wrote: Nice job copying an article from Cyberfret. http://www.cyberfret.com/misc-wisdom/tom...
    Hmmm, well the article on cyber fret was written by tom hess... the author of this article is ... tom hess. Notice a pattern? And I guess as a new instructor you charge less and get the students that can't afford more experienced teachers. Or teach your friends. Besides, not everyone is going to follow these instructions like it's a commandment
    Kryptonite_0194
    Lol... maybe he's the writer of that article as well and noticed that there are a lot of moldeable minds in here, so he copied it.. Anyway, I think I have to go with Cobain's opinion; I had my first lesson after half year of self teaching, and there was one guy just before it was my turn, and he said he's been playing for 3 years, and still wasn't able to switch a bit faster than normal from open-chord to open-chord... But for the article: quite good, 4 stars
    CodyJuice
    nice...cant tell you how many noobs ive seen make a really big mistake in paying for a teacher who cant teach them more than i can (im 14- been playing for 4 years)