How to find a guitar teacher

August 10, 2015 - 18 minutes read

Deciding whether to find a reputable guitar instructor for private lessons or matriculating into a specialized school for music can be a daunting task. There are many things to consider such as your goals, commitment and budget to name a few. The purpose for my writing this article is to explore some of the avenues guitarists have taken that may help you in your decision making.

Playing the guitar is a lifetime learning experience. Whichever route you take you’ll find your musical journey will lead you to many other paths you may not have considered.  Music is a continual adventure that should be explored and shared so as to influence and be influenced by others.

In my lifetime of teaching both privately and in universities, giving lectures, performing workshops and being a committed student of the guitar, I’ve found one learns from everyone, from every source.

Here are the categories that I have suggested for finding a guitar teacher.  I’ve included the advantages and disadvantages of each based on my own experience and experiences of others.  These comments should neither sway you or dissuade you; they are merely included for you to think about. Everyone has different goals, expectations, concepts, opinions, backgrounds, experiences, etc. which should be respected.

Schools for Music:
1. Universities & Music schools
2. Specialized Music schools

Private instruction from a local teacher:
1. Reputable guitar teachers
2. Approaching a performer at a performance
3. Music Store instruction
4. Internet

Self Instruction
1. Learning from friends, books, videos, recordings.

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Selecting a school for music

Universities & Music schools

Advantages: Instruction given at a college, university or specialized music school is by a degreed musician who has had an in depth study of their instrument, has had extensive classroom theory, studied arranging, composing, major composers, etc.
Unlike private instruction from a local professional, universities provide a more well rounded education.  Student’s are required to study all the major art forms, the major composers and their works.  Reading notated music is required.  Piano is also a requirement for students. Ear training classes are part of the curriculum .
Colleges are perfect for the individual intending to get a degree, to enable them to work in the school system, private industry, music therapy, music law and other fields of music where a degree is required.
Colleges have ensembles and orchestras that students are required to take or sign up for which gives them experience interacting with other musicians and gain experience performing in front of an audience.
There are universities that offer electronic music courses and recording studio techniques. This is very advantageous because somewhere down the line someone is going to request a demo of you or your band.  You’ll also want to have these skills to lay down tracks to the original music you compose or to record musical ideas. Other subjects include composition, music business, music law, copyrights, writing for film and games, film scoring and many more.

Disadvantages: Expense. Presently (2015) one school in particular that I will not mention is charging $1500.00 for one course, books and materials not included.
I always hear people say such and such school is an outstanding university.  Understand that the music program is only as good as the teachers.  I know many university professors that hardly perform and have more book knowledge than experience.
Although colleges offer a well rounded education and is especially necessary for those wishing to  teach in the school system, it is not for everyone. Many of the colleges emphasize classical and jazz. If you’re more interested in other genres, looking for more versatility or aspiring to be a studio musician you may check out some music schools with a good reputation.
Not everyone is interested in music history, music law, etc.  They want to become proficient on their instrument, learn theory and ear training to perform.  So the University or specialized music school may not be the answer for you.

Specialized music schools

Advantages: Like universities, private music schools also offer degrees in performance and composition.  You’ll find that these schools have more emphasis on performing, offering private lessons, ensemble playing, group lessons and workshops.  From time to time well known guest artist are invited to perform for the students with a question and answer segment at the end.  Students get to hear from successful guitarists what it’s like to be a full time musicians; what to expect, things to avoid, etc.
Several specialized music schools also offer job placement.  They will get you in contact with other musicians, agencies, venues, etc. to help you find work.
Being in the environment of other guitarists is also beneficial because you get to hear how others play, learn from each other, trade ideas and more importantly how to interact with fellow musicians.

Disadvantages: The main disadvantage is that there are few highly recognized specialized music schools to choose from.  Similar to the cost of a college tuition, music schools often tend to be pricy.
Some of the schools mention famous guest artists but they seldom appear.

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Private instruction from a local teacher

Reputable guitar teachers

Advantages:  A great way to learn how to play the guitar is from a local professional in your area that has a reputation as both a player and an instructor. This person is usually a working performer with a moderate to heavy teaching schedule and is experienced working with students at all levels, ages, interests and styles. Teachers who have invested in a working professional studio with state of the art equipment and a vast library of audio and video study aids is obviously serious about teaching and will produce the best results
You’ll find the private instructor prefers to hand write material to tailor each lesson to the individual student. Often times a teacher will recommend a book that supplements the assignments he or she writes out. Most of the best teachers I know also have a library of recorded backing tracks that the student can take home and practice to. Some instructors will record themselves playing the exercises and or songs so that the student is aware of what the piece should sound like.
Another advantage studying with a performing instructor is that they often have a vast library of songs memorized that they can teach you. Most performers learn songs from recordings, so they often have a very good ear at picking out chords, riffs, etc. which is advantageous if you want to learn a specific song from a cd or from youtube, etc. Additionally, musicians that perform on a regular basis understand what the audience wants to hear and will help you get a solid repertoire together.

Disadvantages:The private instructor is usually more expensive than others but understand, you will be progressing at a quicker pace. What you learn from a qualified teacher in one hour at $60-$75 (average) will often take five or more lessons from an inexperienced teacher.  So let’s say the inexperienced teacher charges $30 x 5 lessons, you’ll be paying $150 for what you could have learned in an hour. Also keep in mind that the material you learn from the qualified teacher is more than likely above and beyond what the hobbyist knows.
Availability may be an issue since the teacher is a full time working professional, so you may have to be placed on a waiting list. Sometimes you’ll have to take a day and/or time that’s not the most convenient just to get on the teachers schedule.

Approaching a performer at a performance

Advantage: Obviously the advantage of approaching a musician you just heard in concert is that they impressed you with their performance.  You got to hear how the guitarist feels the music, approaches solos, connects with the audience, uses sound effects, etc.  All in all you get an idea of what you would like to sound like.
Introducing yourself to the performing guitarist gives you an insight to their personality and let’s you see if there is a personal and musical connection that the both of you have.

Disadvantages: Often times the performer is on the road and is unable to offer regular lessons.  However, if you feel this is the person to study with and you’re really serious about learning the guitar, maybe you can have occasional lessons when they are in town or maybe find out where they are playing and maybe take a trip if need be. I’ve traveled up and down the coast and three thousand miles across the U.S. to track down players.
Keep in mind that just because a performer is great, that doesn’t mean they are effective teachers.  I’ve been with some famous guitarist that were amazing artists (names withheld) but couldn’t tell you one thing they were doing.  In this case, it’s best to maybe get some ideas.

Music store instruction

Advantages: Although I’ve been teaching in my private studio for many years, I started out teaching in a music store and continued to do so for many years.  I have met some very qualified teachers and instrumentalist in little remote mom and dad music shops. Music stores often get a bad rap but understand many teachers have produced some exceptional students. Some teachers prefer not to teach out of their homes because it invades the privacy of other family members. There are others who live off the beaten path and find it difficult to attract students, so opt to teach in a shopping center which is more convenient for most people to commute to.
Find out who the best teachers are and get on their schedule. One on one instruction is the best.  You’ll get to have interplay with an experienced teacher. The rates music stores charge are usually inexpensive however many stores require paying for lessons one to three months (or more) in advance.

Disadvantages: Unfortunately there are a good number of novices teaching guitar in music stores. I remember a guitar teacher telling me that one day the owner came back to the teaching room and said “This is your new accordion student”. Teachers knew half of the kids wouldn’t last more than a couple of months, so they had the student buy an accordion book and the teacher stayed two pages ahead of the student and baby sat the kid until he quit.
Many of these teachers teach out of the music method books that are sold in the store.  Oftentimes owners expect the teachers to move
the merchandise.  Books deal with basic concepts and assume everyone has the same musical interests. Often times the materials are outdated.

Internet

Advantages: People teaching on the internet are usually song teachers, showing you how to play a note for note transcription of a popular tune. You’ll also find individuals explaining scales, chords, theory, etc.  There are also videos explaining famous guitarists styles, riffs and solos.  The advantages of studying online is that it’s free, it doesn’t require traveling any further than to your computer, you can replay the lesson over and over, you can take the lesson on any day at any time, as many times as you’d like. You don’t have to worry if you have to miss a lesson or if you didn’t practice.

Disadvantages:  This is the least effective way to learn the guitar. The biggest disadvantage is that anyone can post a video and unfortunately most of the people posting lessons are inexperienced hobbyist. Notice I said most, not all.  There are many very talented and qualified people offering instruction but they are often luring you onto their website to purchase lessons. I never met any professional that gives away material for free. You don’t see doctors on the internet discussing how to treat certain ailments for free!
Additionally, not only have I found many instructional videos and transcriptions to be incorrect, but the person trying to study off of the internet is getting bits and pieces of information and doesn’t know how to put it all together.
If you decide to study online, try to find someone who seems like they know what they’re doing to some degree and understand at some point it will be best to seek out a local professional that will teach you the guitar and see and hear what you actually play like in order for you to progress.

Self Instruction

Advantages: Little or no monetary investment, no commitment signing up for several months of music lessons, learning what interests you at your own pace.  Working from recordings is especially advantageous because it develops your ear. The best musicians I know have a very good ear and can play anything they hear right on the spot!

Disadvantages:  Many people lack discipline. As a result they don’t see any results, lose motivation and eventually quit.  Often times we learn the mistakes made from others .There are many people on youtube that aren’t qualified instructors and the songs they are attempting to teach have chords or notes that aren’t correct.
Another disadvantage is not knowing what to practice, what order to practice material and how to put it all together.

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