So I teach at a music store. I have this new student, adult aged around 25-30 (intermediate level) with very limited attention span. I bring him new stuff to practice related to his music style of interest (blues) and instead of focusing on learning new stuff I'm trying to show him he just keeps on noodling endlessly.

He just wont stop playing dozens of small parts of songs he learned during the lesson and barely looks at the material I've prepared and printed for the lesson. The lessons so far have been about learning new chord voicings to integrate in the 12 bar blues progression and tips on blues soloing. At least it seems like he's having fun so maybe he's just taking lessons to chat with another guitarist

I've tried teaching him new songs by giving him the chords and the theme, but he'll just listen for a minute before his mind wanders off and he starts showing me other riffs he knows. At least the lessons are not a complete waste of time because he wants to participate when its time to jam some blues, but even in that case he wont use the material I'm trying to show him when we are playing.

Any guitar teachers here came across some more "difficult" customers/noodlers like this one? Any advice on how to handle the situation better?
Hmm, sounds like me for the first 2-3 years of playing. Although I am self taught...

For me I struggled to learn full songs for a long time, maybe because the stuff I wanted to learn was way above my level of ability etc. So I would try and learn so much different stuff all at once instead of focusing on one thing.

I'm not trying to defend it, I mean, I think focusing since his made my learning a lot faster and time spent worthwhile. But I think I can empathize with these noobie types.

Also, whenever I would try and teach my older brother (he's 27 or 28 I don't even remember ), he'd do the same which was really frustrating for me so I can also empathize with you OP. So hard to make him stick to the basics when he would get too easy frustrated with his lack of ability that he'd give up trying to fret a chord and go back to putting his fingers in random places hoping they sound alright.

Their loss really.
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Last edited by Nero Galon at May 28, 2014,
I've been teaching for over 20 years and I currently have a kid that is hands down one the most difficult/frustrating students I've ever had. He's 13 or 14 and before coming to me, he took lessons from a family friend for almost a year - and apparently learned nothing. His technique is a disaster; the way he holds the guitar, the way he picks, the way he mangles the chords, etc. He simply will not listen to any advice I give him on how to correct these areas and yet wonders why he can't play. A typical lesson will go like this...show me this, which I proceed to show him and before I can complete it, he's off in his own world playing a bunch of random noises, that have absolutely no rhythm, melodic, or harmonic value.

It's the longest hour of my week...and only 12 1/2 hours away from now
I'd like to help, but not as much as I'd like not to.

"To be successful, you need to be a good musician. To be popular, you just need to be fashionable" - Ritchie Blackmore
How about you ask him what he wants to do? It's clear the current material is boring him.
If you're getting paid and need the cash, I'd just deal with it.

If you can risk the cash and you can't deal with it anymore simply explain that you can't teach him anything if he's not willing to learn.
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
I think for some, it's better to just ask them what they want to play and try your best to teach them proper technique based on what the student wants to learn. Certainly not the most professional way to teach but I think with some students they simply won't practice what you tell them to so it's best to just get them playing what they want to play, a little better.
Some people just aren't motivated to learn new stuff. They want to mess around in this one little area they're interested in and that's it. A few years from now he'll be complaining that other people have made so much more progress than he has lol.
The first thing I would say is work on his ear. I think a lot of noodlers have bad ears, and they don't realize that there's this whole other level to music - it's not about what you do with your fingers.

Then you might try the following game. Often works well over a one-chord backing track.

You play a simple three to five note melody (I say melody rather than lick because it's really NOT about tricks or speed. It's about listening). He then plays that melody back to you, and then plays a variation on it. He's only allowed to tweak it slightly.

You then play his variation, and then vary that slightly. (If he tends to wander, have your variations pull back towards the original melody). Don't be afraid to stop him if you don't hear the connection between what he played and what you played - if he's ignoring you and just doing whatever, back up. Don't progress forward until he both plays back your melody and then modifies it in an approriate way. But once he's played an appropriate variation, you copy his variation, and then vary it yourself.

And you just keep passing the melody back and forth, with slight variations.

This can be a lot of fun, and puts a lot of emphasis on listening, which most noodlers need. You can use your skills to steer the melodies away from his default noodling licks. That being said, if his ear is really bad, this will be frustrating at first - just copying your line will be hard.
Maybe he just wants to noodle around. Maybe he doesn't care about the material you show him. Maybe he just wants to jam. Some guitarists don't want to get technically better. They just want to have fun with their instruments. If you get paid, great.

Also +1 @ HotspurJr.

But yeah, ask him what he wants to do. He shouldn't go to the lessons to learn what you want to teach him. He should go to the lessons to learn what he wants to learn. So ask him about his goals.
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Any guitar teachers here came across some more "difficult" customers/noodlers like this one? Any advice on how to handle the situation better?

Oh I get all sorts. you get the guy/girl who….

- asks you to learn songs for them, but then actually plays over top of it while you're listening/figuring out the song. Or tries to figure out with you.

- comes in every week, and says "I didn't practice what you showed me, but I found these tabs on the internet".

- asks you to teach them "theory", but won't actually study or practice what you show them.

- is only interested in songs that they perceive as making them look good. "those are just chords, I don't want to learn that"

- won't practice no matter what you show them.

- would much rather play call of duty, but don't want to disappoint the parents so they show up every week and learn absolutely nothing.

dealing with this sort of thing is part of the job. It would be nice if all you had to do was show them the right stuff in the right order.
There is a psychological aspect to teaching guitar. Ultimately it's about keeping their interest and finding things that they are ready for and willing to work on.

It can be very rewarding, but it can also be like pulling teeth minus the big paycheck.
Are you sure that he doesn't have a learning disability? I am very sensitive to others learning and attention spans. There's also the concept of maturity. I teach several that are partially deaf, I've taught the blind and autistic, and countless with ADHD.

I'd tread carefully. The other thing that you have to sometimes do, is mentally adjust gears for their sake. There will sometimes be people that don't follow our intended path, but if you work and zero in on what they want to do, even though it may not be how We want to do it, you'll find you have a happier student who feels like they are getting something meaningful from these lessons. If you can tap into their motivations, and what they find meaningful, and go with them, and at the end of the lesson they are happy and had a great time and want to come back, then, in their view of their world, you've succeeded.

Now, if that person complains about their lack of progress, then you have that tough love talk with them, and basically they need to make a choice, either, pay attention, or continue to be frustrated, but hold their feet to the fire. Cause and effect. You get what you put into it.


Last edited by Sean0913 at May 28, 2014,
Sometimes it helps to latch on to whatever it is that they ARE giving you (random riffs and licks in this case) and slipping in some quick tidbits like saying "hey, cool lick, what if you threw in this chord right here, it makes your solo sound really big like you don't even need a band to back you up!" Then when they move on to their next bit try to keep the topic fairly similar, but base it around what they are doing.
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- would much rather play call of duty, but don't want to disappoint the parents so they show up every week and learn absolutely nothing.

This one has to be my favorite. There's another teacher at the school I teach at who has a talk with students who express interest in becoming career musicians. This talk consists of the question "do you play videogames? You're going to have to be very careful about how the hours go by day after day if you do"
Great responses so far by everyone... This is helpful advice. I guess Ill see what happens at the next lessons with his progress. I'll prepare some different stuff in addition of the blues he wanted to work on, get him to noodle in a more constructive way but in a context of an actual song/chord progression/ jam track and see if he's willing to cooperate
I agree with the above comments that maybe he is just really loving to improvise and you can work with that. Give the customer what he wants. Maybe he's a huge jam band fan. So you role might be to teach him how to jam better. Like, by picking out different chord progressions in different keys and/or with different cadences, you can force him to stretch his noodling, or by changing keys, etc.

You can give him a chord progression to play and then you noodle over it, and teach him when/how you might pass the improv lead to him, and you pick up the rhythm / chords.

I think improvisational jamming can be as valid to learn as specific songs, depending on your goal. The main problem, I think, is that most guitarists learn tools for their toolbox / skills in their "bag by learning great songs, and then they can pull those things out of their "bag" when they are doing improvisation or writing original songs or whatever. So a noodler with a limited repertoire of great songs under his belt may wind up noodling in very limited, boring and repetitive ways. However, I'm not sure that's a given. Because I think it's also possible, in noodling, to try new things and learn new things and keep finding new things to put in your bag. In a way, the end result might be that your play is even more original that way compared to people who learn a whole lot of songs very precisely? (But this is speculative.)

You can do something like HotSpurJr suggested -- which is great idea -- but
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I don't know how relevant/useful this will be, but I took lessons for roughly two years with an excellent instructor who ultimately didn't give me a single actual "lesson", in that he never said "Here's a chord, go home and learn it and I expect to hear you play it next week". I was basically an independent studier; I was trying to learn to improve both my playing and songwriting so I'd do stuff on my own and then use him as a second, more qualified pair of ears to correct what I was trying to do. I spent a lot of time showing him songs I'd written and asking about how to fill the gaps in my knowledge or clarify stuff I didn't understand. Looking back on it I wonder how much I actually learned from him, but the validation and encouragement I got from an outside source that wasn't just fluffing up my ego like, say, a parent would was invaluable to my development as a player. I think my first few lessons were stuff on how to harmonize, create riffs, and understand certain points of theory... and once I got that, it was the end of my "formal" instruction.

I mention all of this because it sounds vaguely like your guy. Maybe there's a parallel?
Last edited by CarsonStevens at May 28, 2014,