Those who have taken lessons before usually understand from the get-go that a commitment to practice is vital to advancing on the guitar. However, it has become apparent that some guitar teachers have a much more casual attitude about lesson planning. In some cases it’s obvious that they did no planning at all, based on the random things the student knows. Or perhaps that teacher subscribes to the square-peg-in-a-round-hole way of teaching, offering a totally linear and rigid course that doesn’t take into account what the student really wants to learn. This really bothers me. What it leads to is frustration for the student (which most likely is why they stopped their lessons) but from my standpoint it sometimes leads to unrealistic expectations. Sometimes I even have to say: If I had a magic wand I could wave over your head and turn you into a fabulous player, I would! But not before I waved it over my own head!
Interestingly, I often find that self-taught players more readily accept a direction-based course of study catered to their interests than those who have tried private lessons for a period of time. This may be because those with experience with another teacher are so used to a teaching method that differs from mine that they have a hard time accepting that I have different ideas about technique and focus than what they originally learned.
The “balance” is a huge part of my lesson planning. For a newer student with previous experience that means factoring interests and expectations with challenging them to the point that they see advancement as soon as possible. There are plenty of other things I must consider too of course like physical ability, how to present the material in a way that they can understand – something that varies widely; even “smart” people can be flummoxed by things like music theory – and even the quality of the guitar they are using. But a student who has previous experience with another teacher is with me instead because he or she hopes I can advance their playing faster or better than their previous teacher. I won’t deny that this is intimidating for me at times! But in a way, it feels good too because I like a challenge.
I’ve found over the years that it’s very important for me ask questions.
Are you playing for personal enjoyment only, or do you hope to perform?
Do you think you want to play with other people?
Are you willing to try to sing while you play? (This is a tough one – many people are fine with that but some are terrified at the prospect. I explain that the most timid singer or even someone who’s never done it outside their shower can always lock their bedroom door and try it! Value judgements are not allowed, ha!)
Do you listen to current music, older stuff, or some combination?
What I’ve found is that most people really haven’t considered those things all that much except in a very general way. But those elements of learning the guitar are VERY important. I don’t fault them for being that way. After all, playing the guitar is supposed to be fun and qualifying one’s expectations in terms of what is required can sound more like work than fun. That is another part of my “balance” that I mentioned earlier.
Years ago when I was in the retail world I had a boss who instructed me early on to NEVER diss the competition. It only makes YOU look petty and egotistical. It was a valuable lesson and I try to live by it, even when a new student shows up with random material given to him or her by a previous guitar teacher. Although I always want to know who their previous teacher was, I never ever bad-mouth that person. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that when this happens, it is vital to explain exactly why we will be doing things differently and how what I’m proposing will make them a better player.
As with most things in life, it comes down to keeping an open mind.
Peace & good music,