So you wanna be a guitar teacher?

After touring for many years, I decided that long drives and bad food weren’t good for me. A friend who teaches music suggested I try that. I found that I loved it, plus I eat better (and still get to tour part time). Thinking of doing the same? Eating well is a blog better written by someone else, but I can give you a few tips about teaching.

Worried that you don’t play well enough?

The best teachers are not always the ones with the flashy licks. Sure, if you’re still struggling with barre chords and fingerpicking is a mystery, you might want to wait. But if you have a few years of playing under your guitar strap and know how to read chord diagrams and tab, you’re doing great. It helps if you can read notation too, but not absolutely necessary. Most of my adult students aren’t interested in reading music, although it’s a good skill to have if you’re teaching kids.

Where to teach?

I started by teaching one-time workshops at festivals where I was booked, then moved into teaching at an arts center. It was a fairly easy thing to do because they don’t require a music degree (or any degree at all). You could also start off with private lessons, either in your home or at a music store. If the former, make sure you have a space that’s already set up. Look professional. You can go to the student’s house, but remember that’s going to cost you (and them) more. Not only do you spend money on gas and other transportation expenses, but you can’t teach in the half hour before or after that lesson.

What to teach?

The basics are important – chords, strum patterns, using a pick, reading tab or notation – but so is keeping the student interested. Ask them who their favorite artists are and what they’d like to learn. Choose songs that are challenging enough so that they learn something, but not so challenging that they want to throw the guitar across the room.  Kids love songs they recognize, like “Skip to My Lou.” Adults usually like songs they can sing and play, like “Brown Eyed Girl.” Many of my students, adults and kids, learn a 12 bar blues  – they learn the two finger shuffle, the chords that go with it (open, barre and/or power, depending on their interest and skill level), and a blues scale and licks in the same key.

Jamie’s top ten songs that students love

This is what many of my students have requested and enjoyed playing, in alphabetical order:


Brown Eyed Girl

Good Riddance

Heart of Gold

House of the Rising Sun (great for fingerpicking in ¾ time)

Purple Haze

Skip to My Lou (for kids)

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Smoke on the Water (for kids)

Stairway to Heaven

 Where to find material

My favorite tab site is because it’s maintained by a guitar teacher and the tabs are right. There are a ton of books out there too. I use the Mel Bay books for my beginners, especially for reading notation. I get my books at discount book sites on line, then resell them to students. It’s easier than having students hunt for them.  I also have a whole filing cabinet of things I’ve printed off the net.

Check out my earlier blog, Ten Great Songs for Beginning Guitarists, for more about finding tab on line.

I also list tab sites on my blog Free music instruction and tab.

Go slowly

One of the mistakes I made in the beginning was to give students too much material in one lesson. Don’t overload them. If they’re beginners, give them just one or two songs. Practice the strum or picking pattern separately. Go over the chord forms. Talk about singing with the song (if that’s what they want to do). Put it together. Play it several times before you go on to something else.


Do you play another instrument that you can teach? Can you teach songwriting or simple instrument repair? Many of my students just want to learn to change strings.

 What age should students be?

I don’t take students younger than 7 and even then, some aren’t ready for lessons. Nine is an ideal age. As for adults, I’ve taught people as old as 70. While learning is slower the older you get, it’s not impossible if they practice and have a good attitude.

How much to charge?

What’s the going rate? See what music stores charge. Look on Craig’s List and Kijiji. Check out other teacher’s websites. Don’t price yourself too low. If you’re only charging $10 to teach them in their home, they’ll wonder how experienced you really are (and if you’re just casing the joint to steal their TV later).


I post flyers around my neighborhood on a regular basis. I also have a Kijiji ad that runs all the time. Make sure your website can be found easily in a web search. Try several different search terms like “your city, guitar lessons.”

Want more information?

Some of my other blogs might help you:

When is a good age to start lessons?

Finding a guitar teacher

Evaulating a guitar teacher

Also, Rob at Heartwood Guitar has a great handbook for teachers

Now go learn “Stairway to Heaven” and put up some fliers.


About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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2 Responses to So you wanna be a guitar teacher?

  1. Pingback: So you wanna be a professional singer-songwriter? | Jamiebobamie

  2. Pingback: When the tip jar isn’t enough – day jobs for musicians | Jamiebobamie

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