I have been teaching guitar for approximately 8 years now and the most common question I receive from guitarists is, ‘what does it take to be able to teach guitar?’
I used to say that anybody can teach guitar. But after some time coaching other guitar tutors I realize the answer is a bit more involved.
To be able to teach guitar you need three basic things:
- Good quality teaching materials
- Good understanding of guitar and music
I could nitpick and break down the requirements into many more areas but I believe if you get these three areas under your belt, you can become a great guitar teacher. Let’s have a quick look why.
Why you need good quality teaching materials
I started off handwriting my lesson materials. They didn’t look too professional but they did the job. Bare in mind that I started off teaching my friends so they didn’t care about professional looking materials. They knew I had the expertise and trusted my level of knowledge. That changed when I started teaching other people.
As soon as I started teaching strangers guitar, I needed to change the materials I used. This is because the new students didn’t know me and had to judge my expertise based on what I said during lessons and the materials I gave them. Even if I explained concepts perfectly, handwritten notes would create doubts in their minds.
Key Point: Handwritten material creates doubt in your student’s mind about your level of expertise
So I turned to guitar instruction books. I would buy a book for each student and teach out of it. But there is a significant problem with this method: teaching out of a book sucks! I can’t make that statement any bolder although I want to. It sucks because you have no control over the content. If your student doesn’t want to learn about the C Major Scale and half the book is dedicated to teaching the notes in that scale, you’re in for problems.
Key Point: Teaching out of a book sucks because you have little control over the content and what direction you can take
I now write lesson materials for Live and Teach Guitar, a site dedicated to providing guitar tutors with high quality lesson materials they can download and print off as they need. The reason I am so active in promoting this way of teaching is because it works. You have full control over how you teach and can change direction at any time. You can’t do that with a book.
Why you need patience
One of the most frustrating things you can experience as a guitar tutor is when you know your student hasn’t practiced all week. They show up for the next lesson and have forgotten absolutely everything you taught them last time. No matter how good you are as a teacher, you will eventually come across someone like this. How you handle these situations says a lot about how good you are as a tutor. If you can relax and figure out a way to encourage your student to practice during the week, you will succeed in the long term. If on the other hand you get angry and tell your student off, you won’t succeed and your student will give up on you.
You need patience when teaching guitar because it can get frustrating when you see your student play the same mistake over and over. It can get frustrating when you tell your student to keep their thumb in the correct position then see them straight away place it in the wrong position.
If you have patience, these problems stop being problems and become minor challenges for you to work around. If you can relax you can think up a way to overcome any issues your student is having. That increases the chances that they learn over time and stay with you.
Key Point: If you have patience, you can overcome any issues your student faces
Just keep in mind that patience is a skill like any other. So even if you think you don’t have any patience now, you can find ways to develop your patience over time.
Why you need to have a good understanding of guitar and music
It almost goes without saying that you need to have a good understanding of guitar and music in general to be able to teach effectively. But you don’t need to already be an expert. Having a ‘good’ level of understanding is okay. You can start teaching children and other beginners and still think of yourself as an intermediate player. It doesn’t matter if you only have a few years of experience because that’s a whole lot more then your students will have.
When you want to start teaching more advanced students, you need to make sure you level of understanding is still a high level above your student. This is so you can always effectively answer their questions. For example: if your student asks you, ‘can you explain modes to me?’ you need to have a very good grasp of the concept or else they will get confused by your explanations.
Key Point: Although you don’t need to be an expert to teach guitar, the more you understand, the easier your job will be
Just remember that nobody knows everything, so even if your student asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, you are allowed to tell them you will find out and let them know next time.
At the start of this article I mentioned that I used to tell people that anybody can teach guitar. Now I tell people that if they use the right materials, have patience and have a good understanding of guitar, they can teach it. Fortunately there is nothing here that you can’t learn so effectively everybody can teach guitar. How good a teacher you become is dependent on how seriously you take these three points.
For more resources, guides and articles to help you teach guitar, visit the Live and Teach Guitar website. If you have any questions on what it’s like to teach guitar, feel free to ask me in the comments section below.