Teaching guitar can be a rewarding way to make money and can turn into a long-term career for some musicians.
One of the interesting things about teaching guitar is that you don’t necessarily need to be an expert guitarist to teach – you simply need to be able to teach effectively. It’s about communicating and connecting with your students.
When you start out teaching, it’s quite likely that you will begin by teaching basic, beginner guitar lessons. Most entry-level teachers get put with these students, as the more senior teachers already have a full roster of students.
Teaching total beginners is a unique challenge. There is so much to learn! It’s exciting and intimidating for both the student and the teacher.
There are many ways to organize a curriculum or lesson plan for a beginner student.
No matter how you teach, the goal is always to keep students interested, excited, and motivated to practice. In this guide, I’ll share a few tips that will help you achieve this.
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Tip 1: Allow Beginner Guitar Students To Be Creative
It seems logical to teach guitar like you would any other subject (math, science, etc.). There are many skills to learn, so you work on them one at a time until you have a complete toolkit of skills.
This works well for some subjects, but not for guitar. Firstly, this is music, not math. People do it to express themselves – to feel things. They do it to be creative.
Instead of teaching one skill at a time, teach a skill and then allow the student to do something with it.
For example, students will often start off practicing scales and arpeggios. This gets their fingers moving and increases their knowledge of the neck.
The problem is, scales don’t make you feel like a musician. They make you feel like a robot. People lose interest in scales quickly.
Teach the scale, but then allow students the freedom to make up melodies and patterns within the scales. Strum a chord, and allow them to feel how different notes sound when played over that chord. Do the same thing with arpeggios.
You can even provide students with basic backing tracks to do this to. This gets students listening to their own playing, improvising, and feeling like real musicians, all the while practicing scales.
Similarly, when you’re teaching chords, teach them with a goal in mind. Find an easy song that the student wants to learn, and teach the chords with the goal of being able to cover that song in mind.
Tip 2: Don’t Focus On Teaching Too Much Guitar Theory To Beginners
This is my own opinion, but I believe that some instruments lend themselves to theoretical knowledge better than others.
On a piano, all of the notes are laid out in front of you. The pattern is the same across all 88 keys. It’s easy to visualize, and thus easy to understand and explain how scales are built, how keys work, and how chords are built from scales within keys.
Guitar is not like that. Notes repeat themselves all over the neck. The strings themselves are laid out in fourths with on random third in there – this makes it more complicated to learn.
Beyond that, the songs most students are wanting to play on guitar are varied. Guitar’s function in popular music today is mostly as a harmonic, rhythmic instrument or as a lead melodic instrument.
Either way, it’s better to get students just playing music first. In time, as they play more, it will become apparent to both student and teacher that more theoretical knowledge is needed to explain why certain scales work to solo with, or why certain chords fit together.
Music first. Theory later.
Tip 3: Instill Confidence In Your Students
Beginner guitar students have never learned to play before. You have. You need to instill in them the confidence that they have the ability to learn and play the guitar well.
The path of learning an instrument is full of self-doubt, self-criticism, and has many roadblocks. Among them, being the time needed to practice and the will to practice.
Removing the doubts in your student's mind and giving them the confidence to work on their skills will go a long way towards having them practice consistently and having them feel more motivated and driven.
You can do this by sharing personal anecdotes about your own struggles, what you’re working on now, and how you overcame various obstacles.
Tip 4: Help Your Beginner Students Get A Few Easy Wins
I am teaching an adult how to play piano right now, and they have absolutely no experience on the piano at all. They just want to be able to jam in a band.
There is no way I am going to give them a dozen Hanon exercises and a bunch of tedious things to work on. I’m going to give them easy wins.
My first lesson was teaching the student how to build any chord on the piano. I can do this, because major and minor chords follow the same pattern no matter which key you are in. This allowed the student to immediately figure out the chords to a song they were learning.
Easy win! The student feels accomplished and I taught a major concept in just an hour.
You can’t teach beginner students like you teach intermediate or advanced students. More experienced students know what they need to work on. They’ll have less of an issue sitting down and practicing the same thing for an hour.
Most beginners don’t even know what they want out of the instrument yet! Be patient, and give them easy and fun victories as often as possible.
Tip 5: Consider Sitting In On Another Guitar Teacher’s Lessons
It’s sort of ironic that novice teachers often get paired up with novice students. This is probably not a good approach, because novice teachers are just learning how to teach.
Over time, beginner teachers will figure it out, but it’s usually a lot of trial and error.
This is fine, but it’s wise to get some input on how to teach guitar (or any instrument) from an experienced teacher.
Sit in on some lessons taught by somebody experienced. Watch how they deal with a student’s frustrations and figure out what works for them.
You won’t need to do much of this before you get a strong idea of what makes a good teacher and what makes a good guitar lesson.