You’ve found a guitar teacher who might suit your needs, now what? Is it enough that she can play Hendrix solos note for note? Maybe, but you want someone who also knows how to teach and that involves different skills. I’ve taught music classes for several years and I’ll share with you what I’ve learned.
(If you’re not quite at this step you might want to check out my earlier blog Finding a Guitar Teacher.)
Ask the right questions
Know what you want to learn. Some teachers specialize. You don’t want to learn flamenco from a heavy metal god. If you want to learn classical, you want someone with a degree. For other styles, it’s not so important but you do need to know their experience. How long have they played? Taught? What styles? Can they read music? (Not everyone does and it’s not always necessary – more on that in a future blog.) Is their rate within your budget? Is their studio conveniently located? Is there parking? Do they have time slots that are convenient for you?
If you have specific goals, tell them. Do you want to learn to fingerpick? Play rock lead? Blues riffs? Learn new strumming patterns? Are you a beginner who just wants to get started? If so, tell the potential teacher your favorite artists so he or she has an idea where you’d like to go. That’s true for more experienced players too.
Don’t evaluate a teacher solely based on what they charge. If someone is asking $10 for a lesson and the going rate is $25, be suspicious. You may be saving some money but at what expense? You might be getting someone who can’t tell a power chord from a barre chord.
Take a trial lesson
If they insist on obligating you to a whole series of lessons without meeting them, RUN. We’ve all got to make a living but we shouldn’t be doing it at the expense of a student. I’d make an exception for city sponsored classes or other low cost options. If the classes aren’t to your liking, some will allow you to withdraw and even if you can’t, the cost is usually so low that you aren’t losing much.
Once you’ve started lessons, how do you know if you should stay?
Simple. Are you learning what you want to learn? Keep in mind that you have to hold up your end of the bargain. Don’t expect progress if you aren’t practicing or if you’ve missed a lot of lessons. Remember that progress can be slow, especially for adults. If your nine year old is already playing better, don’t fret. Their brains are built for that.
A good teacher will show you how to play and then give you the opportunity to play. I met a student once whose former teacher expected her to learn just by watching the guy. That’s like watching Tiger Woods and expecting to be a great golfer.
Is your teacher keeping it simple or is your head spinning at the end of a lesson? You want it to be challenging but if they’re teaching you four songs in a half hour and you’re more comfortable with two, speak up.
A good instructor will have handouts or books to illustrate what they’re teaching. It’s okay for them to write things out on the fly but if they do that for everything, be suspicious. It could simply mean that they’re new and don’t have good teaching materials yet. It could also mean that they aren’t prepared. You don’t want to spend valuable lesson time waiting while your teacher painstakingly hand draws a dozen chord diagrams.
A good teacher will periodically check in with you to make sure you’re learning what you want. If they often override your requests with their own agenda, it could mean that they don’t have the experience they need to teach you. Remember, though, that you can’t go from zero to one hundred in a few lessons. If you’ve just learned how to change chords without stopping don’t expect to go right to that Hendrix solo. A good teacher will be honest with you and teach you what you need so that you can eventually get to that solo.
Is your teacher ready for you when you arrive? One of my students said that a former teacher spent time finding chairs and a music stand while she stood there and waited. A good instructor realizes how valuable your time is.
If your child is the one taking lessons, listen in on a few lessons. I always encourage my parents to sit in the other room where they can hear everything. (I discourage parents from sitting in the same room because it makes the child self-conscious and affects their playing.) If you want the teacher to take a different approach, talk with them after the lesson.
Know when it’s time to go
Obviously, if your work or school obligations prevent you from regular practice, then it might be time to take a break. Likewise if you feel like you’ve learned all you wanted for now. Maybe you signed up to learn some bluegrass tunes and are now ready for some rock. You probably don’t want to stay with the teacher who plays in the local string band. (Although don’t assume – ask him or her first.)
Talk to your teacher. If there’s anything you want to learn that they can’t do, they should tell you. No teacher can be an expert in all styles.