Taking Guitar Lessons? Here's What Your Guitar Teacher Won't Tell You...

If you take guitar lessons, here are the 7 things your guitar teacher will never tell you...

Ultimate Guitar

Are you taking guitar lessons (or thinking about it)? Before you stick with a guitar teacher by investing tons of money and time into his lessons, there are seven things that you should become aware of first Here are the seven things that your guitar teacher won't tell you:

1. "The truth is, I was never trained in any way to effectively teach guitar."

It is true that many guitar teachers previously learned how to play guitar through lessons (or even by going to school to learn), however 99/100 guitar teachers have no actual training when it comes to "teaching" guitar. Most guitar teachers began teaching by using an improvisational, trial by error approach that they still use to this day. Fortunately for you, these people are not the same people who clean your teeth, fix your car or handle your bank account. It astounds me how so many guitar students never think to ask their teachers whether or not they received any kind of training for what they do. This point alone explains why so many students who take lessons from mediocre guitar teachers never become great guitarists.

2. "You probably won't become a great guitarist by working with me."

Even if your guitar teacher has a lot of students, chances are high that few (if any) of these students are great guitarists who can play at a high level. So, if you work with a guitar teacher who doesn't know how to teach his other students to play guitar at a high level, you simply can't expect to become a great guitarist yourself.

3. "I'm not very comfortable teaching advanced guitar concepts and am afraid you might get 'too good' for me to teach you."

There are few guitar teachers who can teach students beyond an intermediate level. In fact, many of them are afraid that you will get "too advanced" and stop taking lessons because they can no longer offer valuable insight. Unfortunately, this means that a lot of teachers purposely hold back their guitar students, thinking that this is the only way to stay in business.

4. "I can only teach you in private lessons, because I don't know how to teach any differently."

Contrary to what many teachers will tell you, learning guitar using a private one on one format is NOT the greatest system to learn with. The teachers who try to get you to believe this myth have no experience training A LOT of people to reach high levels of guitar playing. If they did, they would understand that you can get much better results by using a variety of other highly effective guitar learning formats.

5. "Everything you will learn in your lesson today was thought up within the few moments it took you to sit down and pull out your guitar."

The vast majority of guitar teachers have zero training on how to teach guitar. On top of that, many of them have not even planned out what they are going to teach you from lesson to lesson. When was the last time you took a guitar lesson and felt like your guitar teacher had already prepared a specific plan to help you reach your musical goals? Chances are, you have never felt this way.

6. "I'm going to teach you using a GENERALIZED guitar instruction approach because I don't really know how to help you reach your personal musical goals. This may or may not actually be helpful to you."

One of the most common ways that guitar teachers hide their lack of knowledge and experience is to use a generalized approach for everyone they teach. Almost every time I start training a guitar teacher, they ask me: "Tom, do you know any kind of methods I can use in my guitar teaching so I don't have to worry about what I should teach my students every week?" The truth is, with the exception of total "beginners," your guitar teacher MUST use a specific teaching strategy for each of his students (including you) in order to help them effectively improve and reach their goals.

7. "I can show you a bunch of isolated ideas on guitar, but I really have no clue how to help you become creative with them."

Guitar teachers who understand how to teach "creative application" are very rare. This is because the majority of them think that creativity cannot be taught. This means that your teacher will only show you how to play isolated ideas on guitar, but not how to actually use these ideas creatively in order to play music like your favorite guitarists. Fortunately, creativity CAN be taught! It's just that most guitar teachers have never taken the time to learn how to do it.

Finally, let me give you three big reasons why you should listen to what I have to say:

1. I teach thousands of electric guitar lessons to guitar players around the world every year.

2. I have PROOF of helpng lots and lots of students to reach their musical goals (as you can see on this long list of my best guitar students).

3. I have created a specialized guitar teacher training program that has helped hundreds of guitar teachers become highly successful in their guitar teaching businesses.

Now that you have learned what happens "behind the scenes" with (mediocre) guitar teachers, read this free guide to learn how to locate the best guitar teacher.

About The Author: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher online, composer and a touring musician. He plays guitar in the epic metal band Rhapsody Of Fire. He teaches guitar players in his rock guitar lessons online. Go to tomhess.net to get more guitar playing resources, guitar playing eBooks, and to read more guitar playing articles.

108 comments sorted by best / new / date

    As a regular reader of this site, I am used to rolling my eyes at Tom Hess articles. However as a guitar teacher this article is probably one of his most disgusting articles I've read on this web site. These are probably all true (except for #4) if you take lessons from a friend or a neighbor or some other inexperienced teacher. But generally if you go to your local music school, the credentials of most of the music teachers will be posted. Generally they are people who have taught for many years and have degrees either in performance or Hey you guessed it Music Education. Also generally they're teaching career is based in the real world and not online. Ok Tom, if one on one teaching isn't the best format what is better? Class guitar is not nearly as effective so what are you even getting at? Yes if you live in a rural area, finding a qualified guitar teacher might be difficult, but if you live near a relatively large city then finding someone with credentials that are equal to or greater than Mr. Hess's should not be too hard to accomplish. I'm all for self promotion, but putting all your competition down by making up generalizations that in this case would only apply to newbie teachers is pathetic. This is the same as generalizing any group of people with terrible stereotypes. As someone who used to take lessons at a music school and now teaches at one, you can suck a dick Tom Hess. Sorry for such a long post.
    could not agree more sorry everyone i just felt this needed more than just a +1
    I am also a teacher and am also offending. UG should not allow this stuff to be posted. Some Guitar teachers help to run this site.
    The main problem with the article is not so much the content, but more the tone. There's nothing wrong with an article that gives advice to inexperienced players about how to pick a good guitar teacher. The problem, in my view, is that this article is negative from the outset. The title shows that this is not an explanation of what to look for, but rather a scare story of what horrors await. It paints the average guitar teacher as a liar and a conman, and preys on the insecurities of young guitarists. Those insecurities are real, and it's not cool write in a manipulative way for personal gain - although it really goes to show how good Tom Hess is at this type of (imo shady) marketing, those struggling in business could learn a thing or two. After explaining seven reasons why every guitar teacher out there is more or less trying to take your money in exchange for half-arsed/inept tutelage (without any irony), he goes on to list why he is the messiah in this den of crooks. He then links to a website (his own) promising to help you find the best guitar teacher, which asks you to sign up to his website to receive a (Free!!!) eBook which will answer all of your questions - although for some reason I suspect that it will lead you in the direction of his own expensive guitar course, or lessons from one of his tribe (who all went through his business mentoring programme thing). TL;DR, I don't think this article is the best source of advice for those novices who are worried about starting lessons. I do think the following video from Rob Chappers, however, discusses a very similar thing but in a better way (and also features an for his own services after the first seven minutes, but is generally presented in a less obnoxious manner); How to Find a good guitar teacher In some ways, that guy is refreshingly different from Tom Hess's teaching/communicating/advertising style. Reassuring rather than manipulative, imo. That's my preferred way of extorting money off people over the internet - if you're gonna do it, you might as well be likeable :p
    oops, the video I was talking about in that post didn't embed properly, here it is;
    I agree with rockgodman 100%, I have a similar story to rockgodman, took lessons in a music school and have now been teaching here for 6 years with an average of 40-50 students weekly.
    Group teaching has been found to actually be more effective than one-to-one in grade classes. Students have consistently achieved better grades through peer-to-peer learning than in one on one teaching situations. -Source: Instrumental Teaching by Janet Mills. Incidentally, she also cites her sources and research.
    You guys all need to grow up. Seriously... 1. Don't like Hess's articles? Don't read them. Better yet, write something so kickass that UG will have YOUR stuff posted on the front page of this site for a week. Hess has been posting articles on this website since before most of you started playing guitar and is in the top 5 list of the all-time column writers to this website. He is not going anywhere. Where are YOUR columns/contributions to this site? 2. Hess gives FREE stuff away all over his website, YouTube, Facebook etc (not to mention these articles he posts that are free for you to read and write hateful comments on). How many of you guitar teachers do the same? Yes of course he makes money with his lessons (why shouldn't he), but blaming him for "blatant self-promotion" is not only not true but is just stupid unless you do at least as much to add value to the guitar community yourself. 3. The only measure of a guitar teachers' worth is in the playing of his students. Hess seems to have a lot of great students (I'm not a student of his nor did he ask me to write this - I simply followed the link in the article). I've never heard of most of them either (except for a few who write articles here too which I read and follow), but you can't deny that these guys can play and are happy with their playing which is all that matters. Say whatever you want about him, but unless you have just as many good students or more why should anyone listen to you? 4. Hess makes it obvious that it isn't the playing credentials you have, it's what you can do to make your students play better. You guitar teachers who feel "offended" by Hess's words, can you come out from behind the keyboard and tell us what have YOU done for your students that makes you an authority on teaching guitar? The amount of hate so many of you put into your posts says that you either must be an expert or don't have anything useful to say. For the record, no I'm not Tom Hess's second account and no, Hess didn't ask me to write this (don't believe me? I don't care). I'm just a guy with an opinion (aren't we all). Normally I don't get involved in these discussions, but I couldn't keep quiet on this one.
    That would all be valid if Hess's motivation behind this article wasn't to turn people off of their real life guitar teachers and take online lessons from him instead, which it obviously is. I normally don't have a problem with Hess articles; I appreciate the free content and can usually find some value in it. But this kind of thing is not cool.
    "blaming him for "blatant self-promotion" is not only not true but is just stupid unless you do at least as much to add value to the guitar community yourself." Over two thousand of my posts on this guitar forum have been serious in nature, over my six years here I have often went out of my way to give advice to struggling guitarists about the subjects that I'm fairly knowledgeable in. There are many posters on the forums who regularly post more insightful and informative answers than I could ever muster, who are experts in their respective fields. Posters like this are what make this guitar community worth being a part of, more so that the advertisements offered by our friend Tom Hess, and they have every right to judge the content splayed across the front page.
    "blaming him for "blatant self-promotion" is not only not true " Are you kidding me? Every SINGLE article he writes is about self promotion.
    Tomm Hess, as someone with a degree in music education (BMus from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University), I would just like to say the following: Fuck you, people like you, and anyone who agrees with you and this smear campaign against professionals who actually know what the hell they are doing. I say it again, **** you you money-hungry four-limbed bag of shit. Regards Hugo
    this is the most ***** way to promote your stupid program, this whole thing was; "Your guitar teacher is shit, you're shit, and I'm great, so give me your money." Tom Hess,please stop being an annoying attention seeker, maybe you should actually show us something useful, then we will consider your silly program.
    Tom Hess - "Every other guitar teacher is crap. Btw, I'm great so please give me money"
    This says it all imo; http://tomhess.net/PrivateLessons.aspx $1000 a MONTH for PRIVATE LESSONS I have taken lessons from FAR better teachers than Tom Hess for $3500 a YEAR! and I do mean MUCH better former CLASSICAL CONCERT guitarists with 50+ years of experience and an absolute wealth of knowledge on every aspect of music. I bet Joe Satriani ****ing charges less
    I'm from Chicago, the best guitar player in the city charges between $75-$100 an hour and even heads of guitar programs at universities don't charge more than $100 an hour. Hess wants $250 an hour. I bet you're right, Satriani charges less
    Jason Sandercoe in London near me is a fantastic online teacher and gives away tons for free. His lessons are far better than Tom Hess. He charges 75 for a lesson. To me that is extreme (the average in London is 35). But compared to Tom Hess it is fair.
    do you mean Justin, of justinguitar.com? his free lessons are numerous and so helpful. i still have to remember to donate sometime.
    He must mean Justin Sandercoe 9who does ahve good quality stuff online). Personally i would refer you to Andrew Wasson of Creative Guitar studios. Guy obviously knows his instrument, and theory. On top of that, he is insanely nice and humble, and usually clear in his teaching.
    My guitar teacher (the Jazz Guitar professor at my university) says the best teacher in his city charges $125 an hour, but he's been playing jazz and classical internationally for over 40 years so he can get away with it. Not to mention everything's overpriced in said city. As person who has some experience being the teacher, I can say that any teacher worth paying for would do none of these things (except maybe #2. I doubt even our Lord and Savior T-Hess could guarantee that. Shit, for $1000 a month I expect to become a great guitarist in an hour.) I would never, EVER, come to a lesson without a plan. I would never waste a customer's time like that. And the first thing I ask my students when they start lessons is "What do you want to get out of this?", and then I tailor the lessons to their goals. No self-respecting teacher would do anything else.
    This explains his unbanning. It's obvious that he has the finances to bribe admins, should he so wish.
    my guitar teacher charges 25 bucks a lesson. i take 4 a month so 100 bucks a month...
    Alexander Y.
    interesting article!
    "7 Reason why I'm a better guitar teacher than all the others". I remember now why I shuddered when I read the authors name.
    1: I trained with the London College of Music, and studied teaching approaches, adult and child psychology, approaches for differing types of learners, and NLP for music teaching. I don't say this because it doesn't apply to me. 2:I actually do say this to my students. I teach them in such a way to become self sufficient. This includes rudimentary music psychology for song arrangement, ear training, music reading, adaptations from different instruments, etc..... However, I always hammer home that experience if the best teacher, and encourage them to pursue musical pursuits outside of lessons, then troubleshoot and tailor lessons to these pursuits. 3:No, because some of my students ARE better than me. They stay with me for my experience, but I encourage them to leave if they feel that they are learning nothing. That's why I have a waiting list and do not need to advertise. 4:I use group lessons for grade students, as peer learning students tend to do better in exams. I would quote the source, but don't have the book to hand. 5:Not true for me. I tailor my lesson plans and keep records. For Rockschool Teaching Diplomas, a candidate has to enter twenty weeks worth of lesson records, and plans for a further ten for two students. 6: Not true for me. 7: Again not true. This article includes massive generalisations that are unhelpful to the guitar teaching establishment. Rather, it should be a suggested checklist for prospective students to ask a teacher. But to generalise in this way is to be as bad as the crap teachers you hope to counter.
    Is it Ultimate Guitar or Tom Hess I should see about paying for the chemotherapy? Because this shit gave me cancer.
    Nero Galon
    Make sure you go to Tom Hess to DO the chemo too, because I bet his opinion on doctors isn't too high either haha!
    As a guitar teacher who is constantly looking out for the student's best interests, this was a steaming load of BS. If you think you can do it better, Tom, that's fine, but don't bring your "better than everyone else" horseshit attitude here and write it like an ad for your own teaching business.
    This article read like a glorified Ad written up by the owner of the business trying to promote himself, oh wait that's because it is EXACTLY what it is. Who is this guy and who is his shitty so called epic band I have never heard of? Just looks like a Rob Halford wannabe to me, and honestly $10,000 a year for lessons, the dude is ****ing high beyond his mind. I rather pay a tuition at receive a better education from a school. Just the way this guy comes off makes me want to puke, come back and act like this when you got five or six platinum records and a wheelbarrow full of Grammys...
    Completely and utterly tactless. Fuck you, Tom Hess.
    I couldn't agree more with your sentiments here, but just be aware that a moderator might not appreciate your bluntness. I've seen people banned for similar, but perhaps if the mod takes time to read the article they'd empathise
    You're right, my outrage got the best of me. I did, however, head to the site suggestions forum and let the mods know what is going on here. They're looking into it, and also added that this seems to be beyond the acceptable level of advertising in an article.
    Please get these shameless self promoting adds off of UG. Some new guitar players may actually buy into the sort of garbage that Tom Hess and his minions post here, and have their perception of playing the guitar itself warped.
    This is utter bullshit. All Tom is trying to do is promote his teaching business. Take that shit somewhere else. Hand out flyers at Wal-Mart or something.
    I have a personal teacher who has no real degree or written qualification as such but he still is great. All that I know is because of him. I took some time to analyse your pointers and I am able to say that all 7 are not applicable to my teacher. Please don't generalise or stereotype such matters Tom. It may hurt some people like the guy above me
    The Swede Dude
    It's so funny how he tries to make money on a website that gives you quality lessons and theory knowledge for free. Tom Hess = Adbot
    It's pretty telling that his list of "best students" is full of people no one's ever heard of. I don't doubt Mr. Hess' ability to shred, but this kind of blatant self-promotion at the expense of other teachers is petty and sickening. So let me just put something out there for aspiring guitarists: You DO NOT NEED someone like Mr. Hess to teach you how to play guitar. The truth is, those considered to be the "best" guitar players ever (Hendrix, SRV, etc) had almost no formal music training, let alone specific to the guitar. They either taught themselves or picked it up naturally. People like Mr. Hess like to perpetuate the idea that there is some hidden wisdom or secret technique that they bring to the table. Much like clothing or car companies try to sell you on the idea that something is "limited edition", so buy now!! The truth is, guitar playing isn't rocket science. I guarantee you, you could find every technique offered by Mr. Hess either online or in print.
    I don't think it fair that Tom try and expose other teachers' secrets, especially when he boasts about being in Rhapsody of Fire and hides the fact that live he was sloppy, and that Rhapsody's quality nosedived as soon as he joined, and now Luca has remade Rhapsody without him, they're back on form. Telling, Tom.
    You make an interesting point about it being unfair (or perhaps hypocritical) of him to expose other teachers' secrets - with this article, Tom Hess is picking flaws in other teacher's pedagogy (and making some crazy generalisations in the process). However, if you were to try to point out any flaw in his teaching on the comments section of one of his YouTube lessons/adverts, you would find that he strictly filters the comments so that only praise is displayed. I'd bet that he would do the same here, if he had that power.
    this article sounds like hog wash...in fact in rather offended in fact, my guitar teacher is the coolest dude ever he is straight up with me; you either break the work or i'll just keep making you pay for the same shit each week if you chose to still pay. the truth is IF YOUR LAZY YOU ARE A MEDIOCRE MUSICIAN.
    I don't know you too well Mr. Hess, but I do know that I couldn't find your credentials anywhere, so please tell me what makes you qualified to bash on music teacher whether they have credentials or not?
    I am a guitar teaching. I found this article a little insulting. Ok I wasnt trained to teach, but I research it heavily. Being a great guitar player is as much depending on the student as the teacher, so I cant promise any thing, but I work hard to guide them the correct way. I prefer teaching advanced concepts, its more enjoyable to me, but I mostly am doing more basic or general stuff, which I am still very happy to do. I make all my lesson plans, create write ups and work sheets etc and give them to the students to take home. This article is designed to put students off of teachers and on to Tom Hess.
    You will always get what you pay for. Most beginner students will never advance to virtuoso levels, and don't have any intention of doing so. They just want to dick around a bit and say they tried, so why pay top dollar? If you REALLY want to get the absolute best education you can get, forget this self-proclaimed master of the instrument and go get a degree in guitar performance.
    Wouldn't this qualify as advertisement instead of as an article? Also, reading the "biography" section of some of his students and their long term goals are things like starting a band and writing original songs...I'm not sure I want a guitar teacher who hasn't ever experienced actually being in a band and having written original songs.
    Sounds to me like: all the others don't know how to make coffee, try ours at Starbucks! But guess what? Some people are just fine with regular SMALL coffee, no milk, no sugar, no shit - for half a dollar.
    I have to say that my guitar teacher was the exact opposite to everything in this article, other then the first one, he was self taught and brilliant. I had many lessons with other students of his, he kept a personal diary for each of his student with goals, which included a 'what do I want to achieve' section where If you wanted to write songs, he'd teach you how to, if you wanted to learn how to play blisteringly fast solos he'd teach you how to! And the best part is, I now gig with him on a regular basis- he's a top man!
    In the past I have always assumed that the guest articles and lessons featured on this site were submitted and displayed without money changing hands, but when it comes to articles with such little value other than being pretty blatant advertising, I really hope that Ultimate-Guitar is getting it's palms greased a little.
    I have to disagree. My teacher had no musical education at all, I was actually his first student (he was friend of mine) and despite that I've managed to learn some basics with him. Then he started studies, but with knowledge, he has given to me, I was able to develope my skills in any way, I wanted. And I did it. Right now I'm trying to learn something about songwriting, since I'm no longer interested in playing covers. Even the best teacher won't teach You anything, when You lack motivation and interest in learning. This is my opinion.
    To be honest... when I was a much younger teacher, this article would have described me very well! Much respect to Hess for pointing these things out. It is definitely worth the time to do your research and find a guitar teacher who truly knows how to get you great results.
    This sounds more like what you won't tell your students. Don't project your inner issues out on the rest of us.
    At his prices Tom's student's are probably middle aged men with disposable incomes.
    My guitar teacher teaches for over 10 years and is currently on music college. He may not be the best teacher in the world, but he's surely great and is very rich in knowledge. He charges me 100 BR$ (about 50 Dollars) per month, having 200 minutes of classes every month.
    My guitar teacher is great, I've developed into a very different player to him and have my own style, but I have taken on the techniques he has shown me and turned those into my own as a pose to just mimicking him. I'm my own player, not a copy of my teacher, but he has helped me to progress into that. You also have to get on with your teacher, and I don't think I'd get on with you... Very very poor self promotion here.
    seems like you can allow yourself to be pretty cynical when you're all good and technical at playing guitar. hess tell the noobs that teachers also put up a gazzillion of "free" and mostly useless lessons on youtube only trying to get poor saps to pay for a "full lesson". there should only be 1 thing here and it's: you don't even need me as a teacher at all. if you got a grasp of what you frigging want to learn and working on getting better at it's all frigging there on the internet for free. weather it'd be learning theory or technical aspects of playing guitar. don't let some chump with a guitar take your money and tell you how to hold the pick or how to do vibrato!
    Looking at the list, I've noticed that Tom Hess's students also have horrid guitar tone. I want to see Tom Hess post an amp settings lesson, where he just curb stomps himself on his amp head
    I noticed too, that in his videos he always had a horrific tone. Tom Hess, you may be able to move your finger but clearly aren't capable of using your ears. Making music is about sound. I would never trust a "guitar teacher" who doesn't pay attention on how his music sounds.
    I don't get what you're aiming at. Today we're all convinced that everyone needs to have formal credentials to wipe their own asses. Getting good at guitar comes with a ton of practice, not from having someone instruct you at "a high level". And not all great teachers were educated to become teachers in particular, but just know how to convey information effectively while being passionate about what they do.
    I would like TOM to tell us a the name's of a few of his student's that have gone on to have a successful career playing guitar!!!!! la lalla lala la la .....hum.. We're Waiting!!!
    "We're Waiting!!!" You realise that he provided that very list in the article; http://tomhess.net/Students.aspx You might not recognise those names, but that does not mean that they do not have successful careers in the music industry. I'm sure a few of them do, as successful teachers, studio musicians and gigging guitarists. Success should not be measured in how recognisable one's name is, and I'm sure some of these people have enviable careers doing what they love.
    well, there could be a point 2. it goes like this: most teachers are just failed guitarists who hasn't been able to hit it big with their unique and fantastic music and therefore are trying to get by by getting money from noobs only so they won't have to work a normal job.
    It isn't necessarily being a "failed" guitarist man. Not many musicians can say they are making a steady income solely with music. Music instructors can for the most part.