While some people are able to pick up guitar with ease, most students need the guidance of a proper instructor. Teaching guitar isn’t just about knowing how to play. It’s also about demonstrating patience and understanding to help keep students motivated and inspired. These are five tips for teaching guitar.
1. Teach the Fundamentals
No one picks up a guitar and starts performing amazing solos immediately. To be proficient at any instrument, you need to start slowly. Your students are going to be itching to do mesmerizing things with their guitar, but it’s important that they know about building up gradually through learning the fundamentals. With guitar, they need to know how to work their fingers up and down the fretboard. Before they even learn a song, they should be getting used to how their fingers feel on the strings. In the beginning, it is definitely painful. However, with enough time, their finger sensitivity will decrease and they’ll develop calluses that allow them to hold down notes with much greater ease.
To some, learning music theory takes the “magic” out of playing guitar. However, knowing how chords and melodies are formulated through frequencies that create tones with a variety of moods. When they understand how intervals work (such as a minor second having a foreboding tone, such as the “Jaws” theme), they can grasp the technicalities of writing and performing music much more easily.
You should also fully emphasize rhythm. A student won’t reach their full potential if they’re unable to stay on beat. Teach them to play along with a metronome and start at a slow tempo. As they improve their sense of timing, you can increase the tempo and see how they do. Every time they learn a song, it should be done thoughtfully. There’s no need to rush things in music.
2. Recognize Progress
New guitar students can get frustrated because they’re comparing themselves with professionals. Even if they’re doing better than when they started, they can still feel like they’re stuck at that they’re not going to ever be as good as they want to. This can lead to them losing their motivation.
As a teacher, you shouldn’t just be teaching them to play guitar. You should also be encouraging them. Don’t focus exclusively on things they need to improve on, as much of this goes without saying. When they improve in their playing in any way, let them know. This will help them realize how much their efforts are paying off.
It also helps to know that you’re on their side as a teacher. Tell them about struggles you had when you were first learning. They’ll greatly appreciate you sharing your experiences in a way that presents you and them as equals. You shouldn’t give them false praise or not speak up when they’re having difficulties performing a technique properly, but you should always give genuine praise to them when you can.
3. Teach Proper Practice
Everyone knows that you have to practice regularly in order to be a successful musician, but not enough people know how to practice. Consistency is absolutely key. Your students can’t just pick up their guitar for ten minutes a week and expect to develop. They need to practice thoroughly and properly.
Proper practice means having a schedule and a plan. Every day, your students should put aside some time to practice. Even if they only have 20 minutes, that can accumulate into a great week of practice. They should also have realistic goals for their practice. If they’ve just been given a new song to learn, they shouldn’t be trying to learn it all in one sitting. Instead, they can make a goal of learning the first couple measures on the first day of practice, and then move through the rest of the song until they have a decent grasp on it.
It might seem like a chore to practice, but that kind of work is absolutely necessary. If your students are resistant to practicing, ask them to imagine a winning sports team that never practices or one who’s idea of practice is to toss a ball around for five minutes once a week. They might think about it for a second before realizing it’s impossible. If they’re serious about playing, then they need to be serious about practice.
4. Understand Goals
Different people pick up guitar for different reasons. Some want to play in bands. Some want to expand their musical knowledge. Some just want to have fun and have no specific goals in mind. Once they start playing regularly, they can develop a better sense of what they want to get out of it.
Whatever your students have in mind is up to them. When you sit down with them for their first lesson, talk with them about their goals. They might not have the same expectations that you did for yourself, but that doesn’t mean they won’t work hard. You can’t expect everyone to be equal in their levels of passion. Playing guitar should be enjoyable, and no one should be shamed because they’re seen as unambitious.
Once they’ve told you, adjust your expectations as necessary and share them. If someone has a busy schedule that only allows for ten minutes of practice a day, tell them you expect them to be able to accomplish that. You want to show yourself to be an understanding teacher. It’s possible that they overestimate their goals and have to backtrack. Accept these uncertainties as best as you can.
5. Keep Improving Yourself
There’s no such thing as perfecting an instrument. Even if you feel like you’ve learned everything you need to with guitar, there are still going to be gaps, however tiny, in your knowledge. You might know 99 percent of playing guitar, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to learn the other one percent.
You can think of yourself as both a teacher and a student. You might not be going to an instructor yourself, but you can still treat yourself as though you’re learning. Make a point of picking up your guitar on a daily basis. Remember to keep yourself humble by reviewing things like major scales and various chords. There’s absolutely no shame to be found in keeping your skills sharp.
There should be an even playing field with you and your students. Even if you have more experience than them, you shouldn’t believe yourself to be any better than they are. You might be amazed by how quickly some students pick up guitar and how much you’re being a positive influence can help. They can really teach you just as much as you teach them.
As your students improve, their confidence will increase, and so will yours. You will feel proud that you have shown that you can relay multiple, complex concepts. There will be times of frustration, but the times of satisfaction make it all worth it. Remember how much you have to offer as a teacher, and try to take any challenges you face in stride. Music teachers offer an invaluable gift to the world, and this is your chance to demonstrate that.
About the Author: Vincent Reina began teaching piano lessons as a high school student and has continued to do so ever since. He received a Bachelor of Music Degree in Piano Performance from Purchase Conservatory. He then earned a Masters of Arts in Teaching Music from Manhattanville College. Today, Vincent is co-founder of Music To Your Home, a New York City based music school. He’s the proud winner of many significant piano competitions, including the Westminster Choir College Artistic Excellence in Piano Award.
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