Teaching Guitar For Money: How Good Do You Need To Be?

Guitar teaching is about guitar learning, pure and simple. It is not about how well the teacher can play.

logo
Ultimate Guitar
3

An article by Rob Hylton of guitar teacher's resources website dealing with one of the most commonly asked questions relating to starting up as a guitar teacher.

There are some great guitar players out there and it can be a little daunting to make the decision that you are going to set yourself up as a guitar teacher? After all, who are you to make out that you're so great that people should look to you for advice and guidance? The reality is that the best technical and theoretical musicians do not necessarily make for the best teachers. Teaching is not about your own playing but about making another person's playing better and to do that you need more than just chops.

Are You Skilled Enough?

Guitar teaching is about guitar learning, pure and simple. It is not about how well the teacher can play (although obviously a teacher who knows nothing and can do nothing will have nothing to teach).

Before you start to teach for money it is important to sit down and spend a little bit of time appraising just where you (and your attributes, attitudes and capabilities) fit into the scheme of things

Forget Ego (which will encourage you to claim to be competent in areas that you are not really comfortable and confident in).

Disregard Insecurity and false modesty (which could equally dictate that you underestimate your own capabilities and potential).

Once you have formed an honest opinion with relation to your own situation then it is time to turn your attention to identifying the type of student that you can best help.

The key to being an effective guitar teacher is to attract (and hold onto?) the right students. People who want to know what it is that you can teach them. It really is that simple.

Who Are Your Customers?

Setting out to be a guitar teacher who attracts the right customers is all really a question of common sense and of pitching your guitar skills to the right section of the market. You need to attract the customers who you are capable of helping and who you would enjoy teaching.

If you can't play jazz (and explain what you are playing and why to someone who has little or no understanding of it) then just don't teach it.

On the other hand if Jazz Guitar is the only thing that floats your boat and you have dedicated your recent life to pushing its boundaries then maybe you should specialise in it?

If you decide to play to your strengths as a musician and concentrate on the areas where the skills that you have as a player are in good shape then you can have a satisfying and rewarding career.

The vast majority of people who seek guitar lessons are novice players with little or no experience of guitar playing but with a real will to improve.

They are looking for someone who will help them to start off on the right guitar-playing path. Teaching a musical instrument depends on more than just being able to get around it. An effective guitar or bass teacher is one who creates a situation in which the student can take advantage of the opportunity to improve.

Planning The Start Of A Guitar Teaching Business

A good intermediate standard player with a reasonably sound grasp of music theory can be ideally placed to take on the job of teaching beginners (the single largest group of students out there by far). In fact it can be argued that such a player has the advantage over a more advanced musician because he or she is likely to have a clearer and more recent memory of being at the stage that the student is at. Given that you have the skills and desire to be a teacher then all that's really required after that is the right attitude and a plan.

The attitude we can't really help you with. If you have great difficulty in communicating with people on a one to one basis then no matter how skilled you are as a musician then maybe teaching guitar isn't the job for you?

If, on the other hand you find it reasonably easy to get along (and interact) with most people then you could be on the verge of starting a rewarding new chapter in your guitar playing life?

At this point May as well come clean. I am involved with a guitar teacher's resources website.

We produce downloadable materials (pre-prepared printable student handouts etc) for guitar teachers around the world and I would love to say that as a guitar teacher you need this stuff but unfortunately (for us) it isn't true.

To be a good (or better than good) guitar teacher you don't need our stuff. Guitar teachers have been getting on fine without teachwombat for decades.

What every guitar teacher does require however is a plan. You should make sure that you are prepared for a lesson and as any experienced teacher knows... Preparation is vital. Something else experienced teachers know is that lessons can stressful when you find that you're winging it too much of the time.

In order to minimise stress and maximise effectiveness you could maybe think about having access to the following materials

1. Chord Handouts 2. Commonly Used Scale Sheets 3. Blank Chord Grids 4. Blank Guitar Necks 5. A set of fallback lessons (with pre-prepared sheets etc) that you can give if a student needs a little more time to practice the stuff covered in the previous session

First Guitar Lessons What Should I Teach?

A big and scary subject but if you look at the situation from the point of view of someone who wishes to master the guitar (rather than that of someone like us who wants to use our musical skills to ward off a day job?) then deciding what to teach beginners can become pretty simple.

They want to be able to make noises that they like and can recognise as quickly as possible. Students want to play songs (or fragments of songs) that they know. If they can turn up at their next lesson making noises that they like that they couldn't make before then they're generally pretty happy.

Our job as guitar teachers is to help them to get to that point by presenting them with a series of challenges appropriate to the stage that they are at.

Learning to play the guitar (or any other instrument for that matter) can be divided into three main areas.

1. Theoretical Knowledge 2. Technical Ability 3. Development of Repertoire

Theoretical Knowledge Very important but being as it would seem pretty pointless to know the theory behind all of the music that you can't yet play this can wait until some capability on the instrument has been achieved.

Technical Ability This is involved with the development of motor skills and involves the student in making and refining particular physical movements with relation to the instrument.

Development of Repertoire This is involved with the development of motor skills and involves the student in making and refining particular physical movements with relation to the instrument.

The more astute reader might have noticed that two of the above definitions are the same and the real eggheads might of worked out that if there were a system of combining them we could kill two birds with one stone.

Why not teach them simple songs (or fragments of songs) that combine the acquisition of a technical ability with the development of a repertoire of music that will make them feel good about themselves and their development as musicians?

All we need to do now is to identify the right chords and to come up with a variety of songs that feature those chords?

Get them off to a Flying Start

The CAGED SYSTEM of Open Guitar Chords

There is a method of learning guitar called the Caged System which when fully developed can be used to master the entire neck of the instrument but which at it's simplest sets out a bunch of open chords generally regarded as being the best ones for a novice to learn.

These chords are C A Am G E Em D and Dm (hence CAGED-Get it?).

Looked at another way this system could be called the (much less memorable -I admit) whatever you do don't try to get them to play an F chord system

When teaching it is just as important to be aware of the things that a guitar student should not be wasting their time, effort and enthusiasm on as it is to provide them with material to study and the F chord is a case in point.

To ask someone who has little or no experience of holding down a single string to suddenly start to clamp down two strings with a single finger is really pretty cruel and you can easily end up with a situation where a perfectly well motivated and potentially capable student becomes convinced that they will never be able to play guitar.

It is unfortunate that a lot of printed guitar tuition material starts from the perspective of music theory and it's relation to the keys on a piano or the notes on a musical stave.

Because the key of C has no #s or b's it is the easiest to understand but its important chords (or rather the F chord which is an important chord in the key) is all but impossible for an inexperienced player to form. Being aware of the danger of introducing the F chord (and others like it) too early is important to anyone teaching guitar. There is nothing guaranteed to dampen the enthusiasm of a novice than presenting them with a (simple looking) challenge that they find way too difficult for them.

If you want to remember what it was like to be a total beginner on the guitar just flip it around. If you are right handed just fret (rather than strum) with your left hand and strum (rather than fret) with your left. Spend a few minutes trying to play some of your favourite simple music. It is a great way to develop an understanding of where your customer is at

If you would like a free handout of the first chords to teach then (oh no here comes the plug again!) just go to teachwombat.com where you can download and print a PDF called First Guitar Chords illustrating all of the chords that you can use to get you started. You don't have to buy anything from us. Use it with our blessing in your teaching (or even use it to find out if you really want to teach?)

The first couple of months of a novice guitarist's career could (and probably should?) be largely taken up with becoming firstly aware of, and then familiar with the eight chords that make up the caged system.

The chords give you access to quite literally hundreds of thousands (and possibly even millions - I never got around to counting them!) of songs (or bits of songs) and they can be used to form the building blocks of a more than sound technical and theoretical approach to teaching and learning the guitar

Use the above material alongside a gradual introduction to single string patterns and scales and you can end up with the beginnings of a well-rounded musician and the start of a successful new business into the bargain?

2009 Rob Hylton. All Rights Reserved

69 comments sorted by best / new / date

    itchy guitar
    Amazing. I also have to give respect because you didn't try to shove your resources don our throats. You were very modest about and even said we didn't need it but gave us the link anyways. 10/10
    alfajores
    I teach guitar for a few years now, and find it most gratifying and exciting to see my students who started from scratch and can now play quite nice, and my oldest student could very well be (if he made up his mind(which he should, god dammit!) ) a professional guitarist. there are many good pointers in this article, i thought i'd add some specific from my experience, and maybe some answers to questions here on the comments - * guitar lessons should be fun. teach what the children like as much as possible, even genres you don't like, or even hate. you'd probably be suprised at how rewarding it could be sometimes to be exposed to things you would never otherwise hear or play. * first lessons - teach easy hits. SMOKE ON THE WATER, famous tv show tunes (not southpark!) - like simpsons. easy beatles songs. stuff like that. also try to introduce the many different sounds available on a guitar(hammer-on,pull-off,harmonics,tapping,vibrato,slide) in a fun way. succes at these things (which is quite easy)can greatly motivate students. * avoid too hard stuff (like BARRE chords) and too complex and long things at all costs. these should be taught after a few months, when a student can be made to understand that some things will sound awful, and have to sound awful, before they improve.(like barre) * do not correct the student ALL THE TIME. this is a big mistake, even if his technique is bad. everybody plays with bad technique at first. the student should be allowed to play something whole (when playing for a while) and at the end it is good to suggest how to improve it. also this causes frustration in the student. * do not impose your own technique and style on the student. I cannot stress hard enough how much this is important. going head to head with a stubborn student is just NO GOOD. it's quite a process sometimes finding how to approach the little buggers.... but it's worth the effort. i've had a 10 year old child-devil who would only play solos, and only with his thumb. and you know what? he may eventually grow up to play like WES MONTGOMERY! he was awsome, i couldn't use my thumb as good as him! ( i tried...) i've had a 16 year old who wouldn't clip his fretting hand's fingernails just cause he didn't feel like it. after half a year he did, because i went with it, and tried to find solutions (which were quite shitty), and in the end he understood he could not learn to play like this from anyone, because no one plays like that! away went the fingernails... *children have limited concentration. take that into account. 6 year old - maybe half hour at best. i give 50 minute lessons to high school kids, and if i can and they are willing (and me), i add time. i even inssist on it if i need to make an important point. *when starting to teach - start slow. one student. small fee. if this occupation agrees with you, and you get good at it, expand the number of students and amount of payment. there's no substitute for experience. * ok, this is hard - you need to play very very little during a lesson. only as much to convey what you want to teach. the student is the one who should play A LOT during the lesson. well, that's all i can think of off the top of my head... have fun
    MH400
    I'm actually a part time guitar teacher, at the age of 18. One of my students is registered to UG. Well, thats how we met each other. I'm not technically amazing (but I'm not bad at all, as he will say). You just need to teach them what they WANT To learn. Theres no point forcing them to learn things that they don't want to, as it will become a chore, and the enjoyment will go. Plan ahead, and ask them what they actually want to learn. Set up a lesson plan, and see if they want anything changed.
    loaded_
    my guitar teacher already failed at the first tip you gave.. dude had some ego
    tom1thomas1
    my guitar teacher gave me the F chord in the first lesson and he didn't even explain it, just gave a chord chart, and it frustrated me badly but I still got it fine, it taught me how to look out for parts of your hand in the wrong position anyway.
    12345abcd3
    One thing you neglected to mention is that to teach you should know a lot about technique. By this I don't mean you should be able to play semi-quavers at 500bpm, I mean you should know what is could technique and what is bad technique. You should know exactly what shape the hand should be in and where each finger should be, and be able to spot when someone is using bad technique. If you don't know this then you shouldn't be teaching. A teacher who can't spot bad technique will let their students build up tons of bad habits which will slow their progress immensly. These bad habits will stop them improving and getting to where they could and it could take them months of practise to correct them when you (or another teacher) finally notices them. This would mean they would have wasted hours and hours of practice. So, I'll say it again, if you can't pick up any slight bit of bad technique then don't teach.
    paddyjfeeney
    12345abcd3 wrote: One thing you neglected to mention is that to teach you should know a lot about technique. By this I don't mean you should be able to play semi-quavers at 500bpm, I mean you should know what is could technique and what is bad technique. You should know exactly what shape the hand should be in and where each finger should be, and be able to spot when someone is using bad technique. If you don't know this then you shouldn't be teaching. A teacher who can't spot bad technique will let their students build up tons of bad habits which will slow their progress immensly. These bad habits will stop them improving and getting to where they could and it could take them months of practise to correct them when you (or another teacher) finally notices them. This would mean they would have wasted hours and hours of practice. So, I'll say it again, if you can't pick up any slight bit of bad technique then don't teach.
    I think your over reacting. im teaching guitar 6 months it took me a while to get into it but I getting better and better. the main things that you have to look out for would easily be found in one of those beginner guitar books. my advice to anyone would be: be prepared, have patience and when starting start with one. don't rush into it by advertising everywhere.
    NemesisxLead
    Hey everyone i tryed this guys site and its a scam!!! I'm starting to teach lessons and i thaught this might have helped but its just a scam for 25 bucks man.
    sherry07
    i'm only teaching a couple of my friends, but this was helpful..... but any tips on how to introduce barres? theyre pretty good with caged, but i tried F, and the top two notes just don't sound
    Ranke
    I'm not trying to teach, but I shall keep "CAGED" In mind.
    mdwallin
    Could you maybe put some tips in this article as to how to advertise?
    Xanadu_ROCK
    really good article!! i learned more about guitar ib this one than any other article
    queenimpossible
    i'm 16 and take guitar lessons myself, but theres this little 6 year old kid that wants me to teach him guitar. i was wondering if someone can tell me how much i should ask for it, since the kid's parents told me to decide, and how long a small child like this can keep concentrated, is half an hour better than an hour?
    playgr8gtr
    O.K., this is a good article. But, it's not all inclusive. Remember teaching is a skill that must be learned (like playing guitar). Some (teachers) are more gifted than others at first, but practice and ongoing education play an important role. Try modeling your program after other successful programs (not just music teachers). Add your own touch though. What new and creative things have you seen in your guitar journey. You expierence is unique, bring that into the program. Make learnig fun. Have multi-student jam sessions. The students can try out thier new skills in a safe environment. Jamming with others hits so many important guitar skills at once this to me is a must! And the students love it!!! After all this is why we all started playing. -playgr8gtr
    evo62
    If they like rock/metal on their first lesson; teach them the intro to ENTER SANDMAN!! That's what my tutor did, and look for flaws in their playing technique and address them and give your new student a tab book and tab out song fragments and exercises to help them grow, mature and develop. That's what I would do as that's how it was for me. Taught by tutor of Sorrowfall, Snow Patrol, The Answer, These Cities Surrender, Valkaine, Circadian, etc
    gotchops4u
    There is an important detail this is missing in all of this. Everyone is an individual and therefore there isnt one method that works for everyone. I have been teaching full time since 1987 and have written my own curiculmn that is custom tailored to the individual. Explaining the fact that everyone is different to every new student and concentrating on there strong points at first has produced quick results for my students. Focusing on isues like "posture" and simple hand possitioning makes things like the "F" chord much easier. The right posture for the size of the individual student makes chords like "F" much easier. The vast majority of my students can play "F" after the second lesson with ease.(That is if they start off with chords, small children dont usually have the strength to do chords and should start with sight reading and just playing notes). Telling a new student not to play "F" for the first 6 months to a year of playing is like giveing a drivers lincense to a new driver and tell them not to make left turns because its hard to do. I have came up with little exercises done without a guitar that make it easier to play much faster than just going by the "Hal Lenord" method. Method books work, but not for every situation. The secret to my sucess has been viewing everyone as an individual, not just a beginner who should only do this or that based on what an auther of a book says who has never meet the student. Anyone who thinks that getting in to teaching is an "easy" way to make a living is in for a big surprise. All of my lessons are private one on one weekly half hour lessons. For every half hour lesson I teach, there is on average an hours worth of prep work. I charge $15.00 a lesson, that works out to $10.00 an hour if you include that prep time. I do this because I love doing it, not because its an easy job. There are a lot of easier jobs that pay better, but not as rewarding as seeing someone get excited because they can play there favorite song or riff. Owner/Operator of "GOT CHOPS? Guitar Services" www.gotchops4u.com
    clearfin
    Best Article i've read yet This has every thing in it you need to start off the article is not gossip. THX
    dc13
    Great job! I've been thinking about this for awhile, and now I'm confident it's something i could do! Thank you so much!!!
    mikaellewis
    Dear NemesisxLead, you are an idiot! A scam is when you pay money and receive nothing for it. If you had bothered to investigate a little further you would see that there are several different price points for materials on teachwombat.com. I paid $15 and received several very helpful and informative teaching tools. I'd call that great value-not a scam!
    ancientson
    Good article and great responses! Im an instructor at a local studio with students ranging from 6 on up and styles across the board. I love to teach! Its very rewarding to see someone learn and progress as well as keeping me up on my game.
    loveaddict205
    really liked this article, the question marks and perenthesis (i spelled that wrong i know) threw me off a bit, but i liked it, ive been asked to teach before, i think i could give it a shot now, thank you
    c_a_murphy_4
    Having taught guitar and other instruments to hundreds of people in two countries since 1968, I've been following this thread with quite a lot of interest. In terms of technique, what you don't know CAN hurt you. I've seen cases where a bad position creating an unergonomic stress point (i.e. excessively bent wrist) caused the player to need cortisone shots to alleviate the pain. People with small fingers are most often prone to creating this misery for themselves, especially as they advance into barre cords. From an ethical standpoint, I say that people worthy of teaching guitar must at least know enough to keep their students from harming themselves. Beyond that, if you have an authentic desire to share what you know, combined with the willingness to relate to where the student is (plus the appropriate balance of patience and persistence), your skills as a teacher will develop with experience. In that sense, as one of my mentors likes to say, "You don't have to get it right, you just have to get it going".
    brad.lewis68
    @NemesisxLead: He openly declared you didn't need the link. He thanks you for the contribution though. @Sherry07: have them try something further up the fretboard, like A barre. Since its further away from the nut, its easier to hold all the strings down. Also, use power chords to explain a barre chord, since all its missing are the other three strings to "flesh" out the sound. Get them playing something like...Wild Thing a la The Troggs in barre chords. That will help them immensely. I didn't think of the CAGED method but it will definitely help since I'm about to start teaching a friend.
    Afterhours
    Excellent article.....the "Whatever you do don't try to get them to play an F Chord" is hillarious! But don't forget about the B chord also.....haha! *Two thumbs up#
    panqba
    I really enjoyed this, although in some places author didn't specified his answer. Anyway: well structured and professionaly written imo.
    FretboardToAsh
    Not much interesting stuff aside from what anyone above 16 can think of if they have enough experience. One trick you came up with yourself(I think at least, I've never heard of the 'caged system' thing but it's nothing new just the same old with a new name). Ah well, maybe this will save us the threads with people asking how to do it without searching first.
    jean_genie
    Good article, but too many unnecessary question marks for a guy who is telling us to be assertive. But that's just something I find funny and ironic. I's still giving it a good rating
    korn_dawg
    FretboardToAsh wrote: Not much interesting stuff aside from what anyone above 16 can think of if they have enough experience. One trick you came up with yourself(I think at least, I've never heard of the 'caged system' thing but it's nothing new just the same old with a new name). Ah well, maybe this will save us the threads with people asking how to do it without searching first.
    The CAGED system isn't a new name for it at all... I'm guessing you don't read much about guitar teaching. Article does just what it should; reaffirms that people should be honest about what they can teach but that they don't necessarily have to let their weaknesses stop them. And those are very good preparations for giving lessons.
    ZeppelinRulez77
    Amazing article. I have some friends that want to learn, so this will be great. I liked how you didn't try to sell us on stuff. Good move.
    Drift king77
    I have a few friends who want to learn guitar, and i think i am at that intermediate stage described in this article, i am just not sure what to start with, i mean, i know that teaching them songs they know will make them want to learn, but i am just really unsure how to go about it, plus i have trouble getting the things that make complete sense in my head, out of my mouth. This article might have just won me over into trying to teach, thanks alot
    grind
    jean_genie wrote: Good article, but too many unnecessary question marks for a guy who is telling us to be assertive. But that's just something I find funny and ironic. I's still giving it a good rating
    I noted this as well... haha.
    Green_Jelly
    Very good article. Take it easy with bold text next time though. I had people asking me to teach them, but I'd have to tackle my insecurity first.
    dannyboy1992
    good article A good thing to remember when teaching is that you aren't selling guitar, you're selling people the ability to do something they could never have done before
    Frankie_Stone
    It worth teaching your friends for free to see if you like teaching and if they think you are any good.
    SaiNt adEL #13
    CAGED is a great system. Another good way is just start teaching Keys that have easy chords. G and D for example. My teacher taught me F on the second lesson.
    libertines4ever
    These chords are C A Am G E Em D and Dm (hence CAGED-Get it?). Looked at another way this system could be called the (much less memorable -I admit) whatever you do dont try to get them to play an F chord system nice one
    lord_abyssium
    Frankie_Stone wrote: It worth teaching your friends for free to see if you like teaching and if they think you are any good.
    enjoying teaching is just as important as your pupils enjoying it. good article
    jamsea
    For anyone interested in teaching in a music store, NOW IS THE TIME to hand in your resume. During the summer atleast 70% of the kids quit because of vacations/soccer/whatever and most of them (along with new students) sign up in August for September lessons. Also, many of the teachers are high school/university aged, meaning often times they leave in september to go away for school meaning the store owner is looking for people to take over there students. That's how I first managed to get in teaching and am still teaching now.
    Strawman
    Good article. The only thing it doesn't deal with is accepting the fact that about 50% of students don't want to learn theory and just want to play gunsnroses songs. Especially with kids, getting them to practice (which should probably be the parent's job, but christ have you seen parents these days?) is a big part. No practice = no improvement = no student.