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If you are paying for lessons then, like any sane consumer, you want to get your money’s worth. Unfortunately guitar instruction can be a murky subject so I’m going to outline a few points about what I feel makes a good or bad guitar instructor.

1. Preparedness

This one is really important. If you are going to pay for services, the least you can expect is for the instructor to be prepared. Even if it’s your first lesson, the instructor should have asked you a little bit about yourself beforehand and should have some material ready to go for your first lesson.

If you show up and he has to write charts down for you, be kind of suspicious as to whether he has his act together. Don’t take it too badly the first time, because I had a great jazz instructor who would write stuff on the go, but he only wrote down quick information like chords. He never sat there and drew staff lines and then proceeded to form a scale. If the teacher does that, then watch out.

2. The number of students

If he doesn’t have a lot of students then that could mean a couple of things (these may or may not reflect on his teaching abilities): He doesn’t know how to market himself, is too expensive for what most people can pay, or is a bad teacher. Only the latter two are bad for you as student. You need to be able to afford him, but you won’t know if he’s actually worth the money until you are already paying. Of course he could just be a poor teacher, which in that case you’ll find out soon. This isn’t a hard-set rule that is true all the time so keep that in mind.

3. Any assumptions?

If your teacher ever does or says anything that makes an assumption of what you know or can do with a guitar then ditch him, because he doesn’t have the perception to teach. He may have reasonable assumptions that you can do something he’s seen you do before, but when it comes to learning new material, don’t get a teacher that assumes.

4. Is he part of a store?

While this doesn’t make him the best teacher, it will guarantee that he has experience teaching. Keep in mind this doesn’t mean he’s trained either. I took a summer’s worth of lessons from a guy in-store and they weren’t too bad.

5. Are you held accountable?

This one will greatly show whether the teacher cares about you or your growth as a player. If you show up to lessons, haven’t practiced the material, and he shows signs that he’s frustrated or upset with you, then that’s a good thing. It means he values himself as a teacher and doesn’t want to waste time. A tell-tale sign of someone who only cares about getting paid is that they won’t scold you or even tell you politely that you need to practice and put in effort.

6. Does he tell, explain, demonstrate, or inspire?

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” -William Arthur Ward

I’d say on practical level, make sure that the teacher demonstrates when he explains and never just tells.

Blah-Blah

When a teacher “tells”, he is just talking. These are just words. He tells you how things are with guitar and doesn’t go into the WHY things are with guitar. This is the same as me saying “The sky is blue. A pentatonic scale contains five notes. You use your thumb to bend notes in blues music.” Imagine yourself idly staring at the ceiling thinking about what you’re gonna’ eat for dinner, while the instructor blabs on.

More than likely when you walk into a lesson, the teacher is never going to sit and just talk. I’ve never run into someone this bad. If you do then get up, grab your stuff, and walk right out the door.

Oh ok, so that’s why

Most teachers fall into the category of explaining things. This is where after they tell you to use your thumb to bend, they tell you why. “It’s because it gives your fingers leverage to bend more efficiently.” Then they go on to say that you should use more than one finger to bend and that adding fingers adds torque. Get it? Explaining concepts is a basic skill everyone should have.

I feel like most everyone could sit and explain something about guitar. Fewer of us can explain very well and that has more to do with oral communication. What you need is something further than that, and it’s visual communication. You need a teacher that can demonstrate well.

Show me the scale or I’ll show you my fist…in your face

The teacher who demonstrates will actually show you what he is explaining and how it applies to you. For instance, most teachers might demonstrate a scale but have the tendency to go too fast for the student to understand. I don’t know how many times I’ve wanted someone to slow it down when explaining. This means the teacher isn’t attentive enough to notice that you are struggling, they just like to hear themselves talk.

If a teacher explains a concept and then doesn’t turn IMMEDIATELY around and demonstrate ON A LEVEL YOU CAN UNDERSTAND, he’s clueless or full of himself, neither being good. Seriously, you just played that scale/chord progression way too fast for me. Show off equals douche. Douche does not equal great teacher.

To put things simply:

Visualize it like this:  “ < means less than”

Tells < explains poorly < explains well < demonstrates poorly < demonstrates well < Inspires

You’re so great Teacher Man

The teacher who inspires can do it all. He can tell, explain, and demonstrate very well. There is one more component that he has and that is enthusiasm. The best teachers have this quality. Their enthusiasm and love for what they do inevitably rub off on you. If it doesn’t, you might have soul sickness. Re-evaluate why you want to play guitar.

So I’ve taken lessons…

…and everything I’ve gone over is what I can pull together from about three teachers that I’ve had lessons with at some point in time.

The Blues guy

The first teacher of significance was in Orlando, Florida around 2007 or so. He was a blues guitarist about in his 60s. He was a pleasant guy, taught in store, was a very good player, and his name was Buster. ‘Nuff said.

He had his own way of explaining things, but he always was enthusiastic. That was probably his strongest quality, his enthusiasm. Another thing he did that I liked was that he would have a tape recorder right there in the room, and if you brought your own tapes, he would record the lesson for you. Now maybe the store had that and said, “We got this piece of ^%$# from the back, Rob had it since that estate sale, you think you can use it?” I’d like to think he cared enough about helping his students out that he bought it himself. He also had copies of staff paper where he would write licks down on the fly. I’d love to have another lesson with him if I could.

The Jazz guy

The second teacher I had last year at Daytona State College in Daytona Beach, Florida. I was enrolled in school so obviously I had a better chance of landing a good teacher. I know that you can’t necessarily go to school just for guitar lessons, but there are a few qualities that stood out about him. I think there may be ways to get private lessons from professors though.

I really liked him. I liked him so much that it would be great to just continue lessons with him over webcam, which I’m not sure yet if I’d ask him. The most notable thing about this guy was that he was no bull-shit. He held me accountable for my practicing and even seemed to get a little annoyed when I didn’t understand something. I didn’t take offense since this was more a personality thing, but it did help motivate me to have my act together.

He was experienced, well rounded in style, and very musically knowledgeable. He played mostly jazz and still did more work outside of teaching. I do remember him telling me that he played for Disney back in the eighties. Once work dropped for him he went to teaching. I got a lot of satisfaction from his feedback. I respected him as a musician which helped me to learn better from him.

The working LA musician

I’m not too sure about the guy I take lessons from now that I’m in LA. He lives in West Hollywood, and teaches out of his small apartment. Nothing wrong with that. I just feel like he’s one of those players who only teaches to bring in a little side cash and does only just enough work to keep his students around.

The thing I don’t like is that during lessons I end up suggesting that he write something down for me. He also assumed that I should be able to learn the harmonic minor scale if I already knew the natural minor scale without needing another scale chart. Even though there is only a one note difference, it’s still helpful to have suggestions on fingering and a chart to read. I came into the next lesson not knowing the scale very well. He was inattentive to how I learn, and it makes me feel like he doesn’t want to go out of his way.

I went off a co-worker’s recommendation. My co-worker plays bass, never took lessons from him, and only said he was a great “player”. Needless to say, things feel lacking, and until I can get a better idea of what $30 per half hour could get me in LA, I might think about ditching this one.

This is my take on things. These aren’t hard set rules, just my experience. Just try to keep in mind what I’ve said. Cheers!

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