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11 Huge Guitar Teaching Mistakes

Tom Hess teaching guitarAs you consider teaching guitar lessons, do any of the following come to mind?

  • You’d like to get started teaching guitar, but you don’t know where to begin.
  • You sometimes struggle when thinking of things to teach, and how you will be able to effectively help your guitar students learn.
  • You feel anxious about being in a situation where your guitar students are having a hard time understanding what you are trying to teach them on guitar.
  • You have no way of knowing whether or not you are making progress as a guitar teacher.

Every guitar teacher who is just starting out goes through these same thoughts and struggles. This also happens to guitar teachers who have been teaching for a while if they have never taken action to find a mentor to show them where they are going wrong in their guitar teaching methods. Most often, these guitar teachers have been teaching for years using a trial and error approach, or by seeking the advice of other guitar teachers who have only experienced small success.

Here are 11 common guitar teaching mistakes that less experienced teachers make. If you can stay away from these, you will be well on your way to becoming a highly successful guitar teacher.

Guitar Teacher Mistake Number One: Not having any kind of strategy for helping your guitar students achieve their goals.

Many guitar teachers merely ‘react’ whenever a student poses a question or expresses interest in learning something new. This means that the guitar teacher does not have any plan for what is to be taught until the day of the lesson (when the student arrives). The mistake here is that the teacher is focusing too much on solving the student’s problem in the present, and in the process the student’s longer term goals and desires become ignored.

Some guitar teachers try doing the opposite. This means that they plan out everything from the start. This is a problem, because if you plan everything out before getting actual experience with teaching guitar, you will be more likely to miss out on subtle problems that arise from the unique needs of your guitar students.

The most effective guitar teaching approach will use a balance of both of these extremes, and as a result will help your guitar students progress much faster.

Guitar Teacher Mistake Number Two: Misunderstanding how to teach what a student ‘wants’ versus what he/she ‘needs’.

Most teachers approach guitar teaching from these perspectives separately:

  1. Focusing on what a guitar student WANTS.
  2. Focusing on what a guitar student NEEDS.

The mistake in this is that guitar teachers are stuck on one extreme, while neglecting the other. If you teach guitar using the first approach (teaching only what the student wants), you will soon find that this approach doesn’t work. Many guitar teachers understand that what a student says he ‘wants’ is not always the same as what he needs. That said, it is much better to teach a guitar student what they ‘need’ than what they ‘want’. However, in order to truly help your guitar students improve, you must balance out both approaches.

The greatest guitar teaching approach is to focus on the students’ goals, while also showing him/her that what they ‘need’ is the same as what they ‘want’. You must consistently keep track of their goals, and then show them what they must do to achieve those goals (while also explaining how these things work together). By doing this, you will help your guitar students gain motivation because they understand that they will be enjoying themselves throughout the learning process. This will help your students stay on track and reach their goals.

Guitar Teacher Mistake Number Three: Not helping students to apply what they learn.

It is easy to tell which guitar teachers are highly successful, and which are not highly successful. How? By looking at the students they teach. For many guitar teachers, it is common that their students have learned a lot of information, but can’t actually play guitar well, create nice guitar solos, make songs, or express themselves with music. One of the biggest errors that guitar teachers commit is not showing their students how to APPLY the things they learn.

It is very common to see a guitar teacher who spends a lot of time showing new things to students rather than helping them to apply what they have already learned. In the end, this produces guitar students who can tell you about a bunch of guitar stuff, but in reality can’t do very much with this information.

Sometimes you will get students who ask you to show them new things on guitar. However, do not feel rushed to be continuously providing new information for them. It is best to make sure that they know how to apply what they have already learned, so that they can use it in real music.

Guitar Teacher Mistake Number Four: Not understanding how to work around or fix a guitar student’s playing mistakes.

If teaching guitar to students were as easy as plugging in the right answer to an equation, there would be little work for guitar teachers to do. In reality, your guitar students are ‘human’ and cannot be programmed so easily. While teaching guitar lessons, you will encounter times when your guitar students are distracted, disinterested, or are simply in the mood to play something different. In addition, some students don’t always want to play everything to perfection. The mistake that teachers make is to “let it slide” too much. In other words, they allow bad habits to build up for the sake of not being too strict. Many times this results not only in sloppy guitar playing, but could also possibly lead to injury!

On the other hand, some teachers are overly strict with their guitar students while fixing bad habits. Unfortunately, this can be a problem as well because most guitar players are not willing to take constant corrections on every little detail. As a result, such guitar teachers cause their students to feel discouraged or unmotivated since they are not getting the chance to enjoy playing and learning guitar.

The most successful guitar teachers have the ability to merge ideas together. It should be your goal to fix all of your students’ bad habits as time goes on. To do this you must prioritize the more urgent ones that need to be taken care of first. The most important problems to fix are the ones that can lead to any kind of physical injury. After this, focus on your guitar student’s picking hand (Often guitar players zone out on their picking hand in everyday playing situations, and will be oblivious to any bad habits).

Guitar Teacher Mistake Number Five: Not clearly communicating to your guitar students what you expect in terms of practice and effort on their part.

There are some students who will always give a lot of effort to practice and learn, but most will not unless you tell them to. Why does this happen? The answer: Most of your guitar students will be unfamiliar with what it takes to be productive and make progress on guitar. Many of these people also are not totally motivated to practice guitar. This lack of motivation comes from not fully understanding how guitar practice is actually FUN. The reason it should be fun is because it is bringing them closer to reaching their music goals.

If you want your students to make serious progress in your guitar lessons, you must constantly work to show them understand how you are helping them reach their guitar and music goals. This means keeping them motivated, and letting them know that you have standards of what you will ‘accept’ and ‘not accept’. When your students know that you are not simply ‘accepting’ any effort, they will naturally feel motivation to work up to your expectations. However, you must also keep in mind that not all of your students should be pushed to follow the same standard. Great teachers set a unique standard for each student based on their personal needs.

Guitar Teacher Mistake Number Six: Teaching too many new ideas in each guitar lesson.

It is very common for guitar teachers to feel as if they must always be ‘teaching new things’. In reality, this causes your students to feel overwhelmed. The reason for this is that they are taking in a bunch of new material, but not actually learning how to APPLY it! So what are the main reasons that guitar teachers feel they must constantly teach new things to their students?

Reason 1 – They feel uncomfortable giving guitar instruction and focuses on demonstrating new ideas each lesson in order to compensate for their lack of teaching skills.

Reason 2 – They try to copy other local guitar instructors because they think it will help them become more successful.

Reason 3 – The teacher wants to please students who express that they are ready to ‘move on’. Truth is, even when a student says this, nine times out of ten…they are not ready!

The greatest teaching approach is one that helps your guitar students to effectively learn how to apply what you show them. The key is to train your new students to use what they learn, so that they do not become overwhelmed with excess ‘facts’ that they can’t really use.

Guitar Teacher Mistake Number Seven: Not understanding how to approach teaching guitar when a student ‘doesn’t get it’.

New guitar teachers usually struggle when coming up with alternative ways of explaining ideas in a manner that makes sense to any of their students. Additionally, these same guitar teachers will normally try to show their guitar students new guitar concepts by using their own learning style (instead of focusing on ‘the student’s’ learning style).

In order to best help your guitar students, it is necessary to understand if each person learns best by watching you play, by listening to you talk, or by spending more time playing guitar on their own. Once you know this, you can more effectively teach them. The best guitar teachers will create a specific strategy based around each student’s learning style in order to help the student get the most out of each lesson.

After you have taught many guitar students you will get better at identifying individual learning styles. However, if you’d like to quickly learn how to do this, you should seek out the advice of an expert guitar teacher who has already shown many other teachers how to become highly successful.

Guitar Teacher Mistake Number Eight: Not knowing that your guitar students don’t always need you to be a ‘teacher’.

The majority of guitar teachers out there only think of themselves as teachers. This means that they are locked in a mindset of merely explaining and reviewing materials with their students (much like a school teacher). Although you are thought of by prospective students as a guitar teacher, you will need to do more than simply ‘teach’ your students.

To become a great guitar teacher, you will need to learn what the difference is between ‘teaching’ your guitar students and ‘training’ your guitar students. The reality is that the majority of people will need to be trained about as much or more than they need to be taught. What you need to do is invest more time into helping your guitar students PLAY things on guitar, rather than just teaching them new ideas or going over old ideas with review. Take your students through this one step at a time. Don’t let them know the order of the steps, or that you are even taking them through these steps. At some point they will probably tell you that they ‘already understand’ what you are teaching. However, most of the people who say this do not understand! So by teaching guitar in this manner you will save a lot of time for you and your students by training them properly from the beginning. Do this at all times.

Guitar Teacher Mistake Number Nine: Not paying attention to the length of time that each student comes back to take guitar lessons.

Many guitar instructors figure that the amount of students they are currently teaching is equal to the amount of success in their guitar teaching business. The truth is, the amount of students you teach does not directly relate to your level of success as a guitar teacher (I currently teach 100+ guitar students, but on its own, this fact does not mean that I am a great teacher). In order to properly gauge your success teaching guitar, you must take various other things into account. One of these things is observing how long each of your students stays with you (this is called your ‘retention rate’). If your guitar students only stay with you for a few months, there is a lot of room for improvement. Essentially, your goal should be to keep your guitar students coming back for years.

Keep in mind that not every single one of your students needs to stay with you for years. Some of the students you teach will have specific guitar goals that can be achieved in only weeks or months. Helping your guitar students to become successful at achieving their goals is the true definition of success as a guitar teacher. At times this can be hard to gauge when your student’s goals are less specific or require a very long time to reach. Make sure to observe how long your students are staying with you, why your (past) students have left, and why the ones who are still with you are happy with the way you teach them. In addition, remember to take action with this information and implement changes as needed!

Guitar Teacher Mistake Number Ten: Not knowing a good way to judge how well you are doing as a guitar teacher.

Many new guitar teachers are unsure of whether or not they are actually any good at teaching guitar. These people typically do not have any dependable way of measuring their teaching skills or success. Here are the 3 main causes of this:

  1. Less experienced guitar teachers often make comparisons with themselves to other local guitar teachers (who likely aren’t very successful either). They are judging their own skills as a teacher based on the merely mediocre teaching of the other guitar instructors who surround them.
  2. Teaching guitar generally is not up to par with other music instruction. Now you understand why classical piano teachers will normally retain students for years, while many guitar instructors struggle to keep students for more than a few months.
  3. Most guitar teachers never actually make the effort to find training to improve their guitar teaching skills. In general, they will ask other (amateur) teachers what to do, or will simply attempt to emulate the actions of others. If these things do not work, they will resort to giving guitar lessons to their students in a ‘hit or miss’ manner. Unfortunately, this tends to make guitar lessons like an ‘experiment’ for your guitar students. There are always times when you will be learning from your mistakes; however it is best to understand how to avoid them from the beginning.

Guitar Teacher Mistake Number Eleven: Not accepting responsibility for the quality of the guitar lessons you give.

The truth is, most guitar teachers do little to nothing to increase the value they give to their students. Many teachers reach a point when they simply stop trying to improve, and only do what is necessary to ‘get by’. Unfortunately, this can have very negative effects on your guitar students. There is no good reason why a student should pay for lesson when the person teaching them to play guitar does not look for ways to train and improve their guitar teaching skills.

Of course, it is not necessary to be a master at guitar teaching before you even begin, but in order to give your very best to your students (and yourself), it is essential to put in the effort to get trained, coached, and mentored so that you can reach your full potential. Once you have done this, you will be able to know for sure that you are giving your students the absolute best lessons you can give.

Remember, although there are many great guitar teachers out there, each and every one of those teachers were likely at the same point you are at right now. These great teachers did not become great by merely attempting to copy others or taking the amateur advice of other non successful guitar teachers in their area. Most likely, they made an effort to seek out a way to improve their guitar teaching skills. These guitar teachers consistently provide the highest value for their students. As a result, these people are highly successful at teaching guitar! Do you want to become the most successful guitar teacher in your area, with lots of great students who love taking lessons with you? You have the power to make this into reality…choose to become the best guitar teacher you can be by getting this free mini course on how to become an incredible guitar teacher.


About The Author:
Tom Hess is a highly successful guitar teacher, recording artist and guitar player. He helps people from all over the world learn how to teach guitar. Visit his website to get free guitar teacher help and to read more guitar teaching articles.

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