Looking for a new guitar teacher can be a daunting task. How do you get started? How do you know that he will be a good fit? What do you look for? What do you need to pay attention to or be aware off?
There are a couple of good questions you can ask him, to help your decision making. Pay close attention to how he answers those questions. Is he hesitant? Was there a pause before his response? Is he like a fountain of information, excited about your questions, and passionately answering them… or does he sound rather annoyed and uninterested? Here are the five questions everybody should ask their new guitar teacher, but nobody ever does.
- How Does a Lesson Look Like with You?
There is a lot you can learn from that answer. Is the teacher’s response structured and logical? If not: think about how that might reflect his teaching style. Does he sound hesitant and like he’s looking for words, or like a confident professional who can give you the whole picture in a heart beat? The answer you are looking for here should be something along following lines:
“We will be covering about 3-4 different things in each lesson: some theory, a song, some new chords, a scale fingering, rhythm exercises, etc., depending on where are you are at and what your playing needs the most. Each topic covered will take about 10 to 15 minutes of lesson time, which has as a result that lessons will be fast-paced, well organized and structured, and fun. You will be able to keep your concentration at peak performance this way, because by the time your mind is about to get worn down by something, we will already be moving on to the next thing. None of your lesson time will be spent on time wasting things, like for example having to take notes. I have ready for print handouts on anything guitar and music related that you could think off. You will be playing a lot, and I will constantly give you ideas, advice, pointers and tips to improve your performances. You will leave your lesson with a very well defined set of exercises, that will help you master the material we covered in your lesson, in the most time effective and efficient way possible.”
When a teacher gives you an explanation like this, he has his act together and he knows what he is talking about. You want that teacher.
- In Which Ways Would I Benefit From Your Teaching Experience?
Same things apply here: pick up the teacher’s vibe and energy as he answers this question. Those are tough questions that really test the person you are evaluating as your possible future teacher, which is exactly why you want to ask those questions. His response should or could include:
“Experience” means that I have been doing this for many years, which also means that I have a huge collection of books, teaching materials, songs, and information, that has grown over years of teaching, and that covers virtually any music and guitar related topic you can think off. Anything you want to learn about music and guitar, you can learn with me. In addition: you will get more out of the lesson because it takes me very little time to explain anything. I can literally explain anything from numerous angles, and with simple words so even a 6 year old could understand the most complex musical concepts after my explanation. That is another benefit you get from my experience. Exercises and teaching approach have been refined over many years. Many of my students are now famous, or in top-level music schools, and you can enjoy getting the same benefits that they acquired studying with me. Etc., etc.…”
The more detailed your prospect teacher gets into his explanation, the more you can trust he really knows what he is talking about and what he is doing.
- If I Don’t Understand Something: How Long Would It Take You To Make it Click For Me?
Nobody ever thinks about asking that particular question. The response should be:
You will get anything immediately (followed by his explanation why he strongly believes so). His explanation could or should include, that he never explains anything the same way twice when he can tell a student is blanking out on him. He could also say that he can explain anything from many different angles, and that he is capable of explaining everything in such a way that even a 6-year old can immediately understand what he is talking about.
- If I Would Bring In A Song You Don’t Know: How Would You Teach It To Me?
This is one of the questions that would help you assess how flexible your teacher is. Can he work with you, or is he stuck into adhering strictly to his teaching plan like it is the bible? Does he have access to tabs and sheet music for any song you can think off? Does he have a really good ear and strong transcription skills? How long would it take him to transcribe a song you bring in if he can’t find the tablature online?
All those are really good questions that assess the teacher’s skills, organization, experience and efficiency.
- What Lesson Materials Do You Use?
Think about this: if the person you want to study with, does not have lesson materials that are already prepared, he will be wasting your lesson time and money having to write down the lesson for that day. This is a very common complaint music students have about their private music teachers. Oddly enough: people who are looking for private guitar lessons, hardly ever think about asking that particular question. Why? Not sure: maybe they assume that when you are a teacher, that this automatically also means that you also have printable lesson materials ready. Unfortunately: this is not always the case. Ask! You want to make sure that your lesson is spent teaching you how to become a better player, and not spent writing down your lesson.
- Did You Take Lessons/Do You Still Take Lessons?
A self-taught musician probably will not be able to give you the same service and education like someone who earned Degrees in music at a reputable conservatory or college. Even more so, you might want to steer clear of any guitar instructor who has never had lessons himself. I can’t imagine that someone who never studied music under professional guidance would ever decide to become a professional guitar teacher. Surely that person could show you a couple of chords, or a pentatonic scale fingering, but that is not really “teaching”. “Teaching” is not merely “showing information”. There is more to teaching than showing information. In addition: this really only would work with beginning students. If you were an intermediate or advanced level student, you would be screwed with a “teacher” who lacks educational background and never had thorough theory and instrument training. Every pro guitar teacher, no matter his skill or teaching level, remains passionate about continuing to learn.
- What Makes You Qualified to Teach?
This again is one of these important questions that prospect students never ask. Don’t be afraid to ask those kinds of questions. Remember: you will be paying for the teacher’s services; you have all right to know everything there is to know about his abilities and experience.
Possible answers could include:
• Music Degrees from household name music colleges
• Names of famous students who studied with him
• Testimonials from other students.
• Many years of experience and a proven successful track record.
- Explain Me Your Teaching Style?
As in previous questions: listen carefully for pauses, hesitations and insecurities in his answer. An experienced, versatile guitar teacher might very well answer something along the lines of: “My teaching style is whatever it needs to be to cater to your level, your musical goals and the areas in your musicianship that need attention. I have a teaching plan that is easily modified to cater to your specific musical goals, needs and interests.” He might possibly explain what a lesson consists off, how he conveys information, how patient he is, if he is fast paced or not (you want a fast paced approach), etc.…
- What Makes Your Approach Better Than The Approach Of Other Teachers?
This is a loaded, tricky question. On the one hand this question is a great way to evaluate a teacher’s confidence level or his insecurities, on the other hand: a lot can also be learned about his personality in his response. Is he being cocky (and negative) bashing other teachers? Do you really want to study with someone who bashes his competitors? No, you would not!
A guitar instructor, when asked that particular question, might point out that “better” is maybe not the right way of putting it as all instructors have their strengths, but that there probably is a reason he sees 40 something students every week, and that they all are progressing incredibly quickly. Then he could go on to explain why his approach is so strong and successful, the value and organization of his teaching plan, what makes his teaching plan unique and/or so efficient, etc.
Confidence rubs off. You want a teacher who is completely confident in his ability to guide you in becoming a much better guitarist. However: you don’t want a teacher with an ego or with a cocky attitude. This particular question will test both these areas of his personality. If it is difficult for him to come up with an answer, that might be a sign that he is not very successful, not very experienced or to ill-prepared to be considered a professional music teacher.
- Why Do You Like To Teach?
If your current or prospective teacher struggles to answer this question, get another guitar instructor fast! A great guitar teacher will be passionate about teaching and his love for music will be obvious. If he hesitates in his response when you ask your guitar teacher why he likes to teach, he is probably not teaching for the right reasons. Being a guitar instructor takes a lot of time, dedication, patience and passion. Make sure you have a teacher who cares about your development as a musician!
Listen carefully to your guitar teacher’s answers to these questions. His specific answers will greatly help you with your decision-making whether or not he is the right teacher for you. His responses will also provide you with a crystal clear sense of his lesson approach, teaching style, communication skills, background, confidence level, and preparedness, which will make your future lessons with him all the more successful and enjoyable.