Could You Teach Guitar?

Imagine going through week after week earning more than enough money to maintain a fun lifestyle, but not even noticing that you have done any work. That’s what being a guitar teacher means to me. I enjoy the work so much and find it so rewarding, that I don’t really experience it as work at all!

The popularity of the guitar continues to increase, so the demand for good guitar teachers remains strong. The question is, are you the right sort of person for the job?

Part of my activity over the last several years has involved the recruitment and training of a great many music tutors. I can say with certainty that the four items uppermost on peoples’ minds when they apply for a job as a music tutor are:

  1. You have to be an expert musician
  2. You should have some sort of teaching qualification
  3. You have to be a university graduate
  4. You need to be a music theory wizard

But these four items aren’t even on my tutor recruitment checklist.

I’d like to explain why:

Item 1. You have to be an expert musician

Of course you have to be a reasonably good musician for two reasons. First, you have to have credibility. Second, you have to know something about the territory into which you are going to lead your clients. After all, if you were hiring a guide to lead you up a mountain, you would want to hire someone who had climbed that mountain before, wouldn’t you?

But being an expert can actually be something of a liability when teaching guitar. This is because the vast majority of your work is going to be with people in their first year of playing. If you have played for twenty years and performed on stages all over the world, cut albums and written hit songs, you’ll have heaps of credibility. However, you are really going to struggle to relate to the guy sitting in front of you, with five thumbs on each hand, who is trying to understand why the ‘top’ string is at the bottom!

If you have been playing three years or more, are committed, and making good progress yourself, then you have every chance of being a better guitar teacher for beginners than any “expert musician.”

Oddly, people who themselves learn slowly are often better teachers. I think that’s because they’re conscious of the small details that new students often need help with, but that are invisible to people who learn like greased lightening.

Item 2. You should have some sort of teaching qualification.

If you have any amount of experience in teaching or training, you would definitely meet one of the requirements on my recruitment checklist. Expertise in teaching is undoubtedly gained from experience more than any other factor. But qualifications from mainstream education of teachers do not by themselves make you a good teacher. All of us can think back to our time at school and bring to mind teachers who were certainly qualified but perhaps shouldn’t have been!

Item 3. You have to be a university graduate.

A university education provides you with a chance to hone your intellectual skills and discipline your mind. These are fine things to do and there is little doubt that, when it comes to grappling with the intricacies of advanced music theory, an academic background is definitely going to make things more comfortable for you. But, to be honest, this is a relatively unimportant aspect of guitar teaching and generally overrated. What matters more is the ability to put yourself in your client’s shoes, to empathize, to understand and to accept people as they are.

So, if I had to choose between someone coming from four years at a university and someone who had spent those years travelling the world, working in a variety of settings, rubbing shoulders with rich and poor and generally experiencing contact with people from all walks of life, I would not hesitate to choose the latter, all else being equal.

Item 4. You have to be a music theory wizard.

Music theory is not something you need to understand in order to start teaching guitar. Music theory is something you will grow to understand as you teach guitar.

The process of teaching guitar puts a natural demand on you to continually think about the subject and work with its basic elements, so a deep knowledge of music theory is a result of being a guitar teacher!

Most of your teaching time is spent getting people to string a few simple chords together or playing some basic scale patterns. Every now and then a student will ask a question about what they are doing. You will either know the answer or not. If you don’t, and you believe answering the question is appropriate to the level of the student, be honest and say, “I’ll check that out for you and answer it in full next week!”

After a few hundred lessons your own knowledge and confidence with the subject may lead you to take on more advanced students. At this point you will need to have a higher level of understanding. You will find a wealth of resources on the Web to help you with this.

So if you don’t need to be an expert musician, qualified teacher, graduate or theory wizard, what do you need? What does it take to be a good guitar teacher?

I have isolated four essential qualities a person should have before I recommend taking up guitar teaching as a career. Here they are in order of importance:

1. Patience – an infinite amount of it

Patience is essential because you have to create a safe space in which people feel they have time to apply themselves to the tasks you set.

2. The ability to communicate with confidence

Students’ confidence in their ability to learn is the energy that you work with as a guitar teacher. Confidence is contagious, so if you communicate confidently then some of that rubs off on them.

3. The ability to play guitar reasonably well

As mentioned above, you are going to lead them up the mountain. So it helps if you’ve made the climb before!

4. Commonsense

Teaching is a specialized form of communication. The art of teaching is based almost entirely on the application of commonsense. Having said that, you can gain a lot of insight from reading articles by experienced teachers who have distilled their knowledge gained from many years of teaching experience.

Finally, here are some of the positive rewards of developing a career as a guitar teacher:

  1. You’ll be doing what you love and – better still – sharing that love of music with others.
  2. You’ll have the freedom to work the hours you want to work.
  3. You’ll be in control of your income. Want more? Teach more hours or put up your prices. Need less? Allow natural fall-off to reduce your teaching hours.
  4. You’ll be your own boss. You’ll have no one to answer to but yourself.
  5. You’ll have plenty of scope to express your creativity, both as a musician and teacher.
  6. Best of all, you won’t even notice you’re working!

I hope you have found this article stimulating. If you would like to look closer at teaching guitar as a career, or if you are already a guitar teacher and would like some support, then please visit my website, where you will find a wealth of resources to help you.