December 11, 2023

The Right Guitar Teacher

When I started playing guitar, at around 12 years old, my dad showed me a few ‘Cowboy Chords’. He was my first guitar teacher.

He was self taught and managed to turn four chords into a party set-list in the folk era. Those few chords were D, A7 and a kind of G – but with one finger.

Why did he show me this way? Because that’s how HE was taught.

Later I showed some confidence in music, so I managed to convince my parents to fork out for some guitar lessons with a guitar tutor who showed up every Wednesday afternoon at school.

He was charming and funny when presenting his talents at a school concert he did every year to drum up students to teach. He played a bit of everything and charmed the teachers and parents well.

However his class was 20mins and had 30-40 kids all with saxes, drum sticks and guitars at the ready. He’d arrive late and flustered…and write out the next lesson in your book while each kid went through last weeks piece one by one. He’s say ‘Great but needs work’ and run out the door saying see ya next week.

He made a killing out of eager little children. No-one got any better in those awful classes. Yet, no-one would dare say it was the teacher….we’d just think we were useless and quit. Then he’d call our parents asking for more money and saying… “little Mark is really showing promise” and scam another term of tuition fees.

Why did he teach this way? Because it made him lots of money.

At High school I was a lone wolf, learning from whatever way I could and trying to decipher it all through my limited capacity to learn. Then the School announced we were to have guitar lessons available this Tuesday afternoon.

I went along… sat in front of a tall, woolly ginger haired man with a big smile. He went through each person finding out how they played, if at all, and making notes of who was who…. that was new for a start.

He then separated people into similar levels and small groups of 2-4 students. I was by myself. He then said… you’re very talented, so I want to give you 20 minutes one on one! I was blown away… for a number of reasons:

  1. He believed in me..and complimented me.
  2. He assessed me before teaching
  3. He got to know where I was at.
  4. Then he skipped all the BS and showed me exactly what I wanted to learn immediately.
  5. He let me decide what I wanted to learn.

Why did he teach this way? Because he genuinely wanted to help me learn guitar.

I only had about two months of lessons before he had to move…. but his lessons were vastly different from anyones before and gave me the tools and confidence to be here in front of you guys teaching guitar.

His replacement tutor was a cool laid back Jazz and Rock muso who spoke like fonzy from happy days and had just spent the last 15 years of his life playing rock in clubs and living the rock n roll lifestyle.

I liked him a lot and he introduced me into a world of Jazz fusion and helped me think about music differently… but he wasn’t a great guitar tutor. He did however broaden my thinking. He helped expand my ‘Context’ (my beliefs) so I could later fill it with new ‘Content’ (information).

It was while getting lessons from him, that I had decided to become a full-time muso after leaving school. I thought he would be very encouraging when I told him… but he went crazy! Saying that his life was ‘S#*thouse’ and that I should study hard and get a real job. He’s always tired and broke and not to do what he’d done.

I was completely shattered. I had no self esteem…. bad grades…. and a pile of guitar player magazines at home. This was all I wanted to do!!! And it felt like my one ally had abandoned me.

I was broken.

Why did he teach and think this way? Because he only taught what HE wanted to play.

He never listened and gave me what I wanted to learn. He was so self-obsessed, that he couldn’t see how anyone could be successful doing what he did.

Later, I would find out that learning the guitar is completely different to learning to be a guitar teacher.

When I started teaching guitar I thought “I’ll just teach them how I was taught”. It went something like this:

  1. Show off and impress them for 10 minutes, so they know I mean business and have credibility.
  2. Show them the first three chords I was shown.
  3. Show off again.

I felt elated after my first teaching experience… I thought I was a natural. But they just weren’t getting any better. Week to week I was getting deflated by how slowly they were learning. They were too. After a month they’d all quit!!

It took me a long time to realise it wasn’t about me!! What an epiphany. They didn’t care how good I was as a guitarist. They just assumed I was awesome. They didn’t need to see diplomas. They didn’t need to see me shred. Instead, I made each student feel welcome, happy and confident. They at the very least had to feel better after the lesson than before. This made people look forward to each lesson and feel good about how they were going. Confidence was the key to their success.

I’d love to hear about your experiences learning guitar… What inspired you to pick it up? The first chord you learned? What was your first lesson like? What’s worked, what hasn’t?

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