Guitar Teaching: Lesson One

If you have read Nick Minnion’s article “Could You Teach Guitar?” and finished with a resounding “Yes!” then the next question is “How?” This article hopes to answer that question with a detailed look at how to teach the all-important first lesson.

As the famous saying goes, “you do not get a second chance to make a first impression.”‘ And, as guitar teachers, this saying is paramount. As our business dealings are periodic, it is important that from the start students have trust and understanding in their learning which in turn will bring them back week after week.

Student goals

It is imperative to establish student goals early on so you, the teacher, are able to create an appropriate route to which they can be attained. When asking new students why they left their previous teacher I am often given answers like, “They had me playing chords when I wanted to play lead,” or “I like Punk but was learning Blues.” These answers show that the students’ goals were never explored and they were taught on the teacher’s standard syllabus.

Always start lesson one with a few questions such as:

  • What made you want to learn the guitar?
  • Have you ever played any other musical instruments?
  • What sort of music do you like?
  • Who’s your favourite guitarist?

These four questions will give you an overview of why the student wants to learn the guitar, allowing you to start planning the most appropriate route to take in achieving his or her goals.

What to teach?

All students will be different, each having his or her individual learning needs. But having a core teaching syllabus (consisting of essential scales, chords and exercises) is essential and most beginners will be happy to follow the same syllabus. Once the rudiments are in place you can then focus on their particular style of music and personal goals.

Remember “quality not quantity.” Many teachers will pile work on students in a vain attempt to “get their money’s worth,” hoping it will bring them back next week. But what usually happens is the student leaves feeling swamped and disheartened. The best thing to do is start slowly, gradually building the students confidence as you go. Start small by firstly introducing the instruments’ main parts and string names then introduce the plectrum and how to hold it. Next, look at the frets and how they are used to produce sound. The student will now not only better understand the instrument but more importantly feel confident enough to start playing it.

A good first song is “Horse with No Name,” as it only consists of two chords. It will not take long till they are committed to muscle memory and the left hand can happily go back and fourth between them. Next, introduce a few simple strum patterns to work in the right hand.

A good rule of thumb to remember here is “ears before eyes.” For example, have the student strum once, twice, three and four times on each of the chords and only when he has truly mastered that should you introduce the strum patterns in notation.

For the last part of the lesson I like to end with a guitar riff such as “Smoke on the Water” or “Sunshine of your Love.” It is a good way of introducing lead guitar and tab reading and gives them something cool to go home with.

Before they go

The first lesson is the ideal time to explain payment and cancellation policies and other terms and conditions, it is a good idea to have a guitar teaching agreement or studio policy, listing what the student can expect and also what you expect from your student. Having such a document leaves nothing to chance and everybody knows exactly where they stand.

Here is an example learning agreement. This document can be freely edited to include your details and also any extra conditions such as a maximum number of cancellations per term.

I hope this article has been of interest and given you a few useful ideas, pleas visit for more information on guitar teaching and loads of FREE resources.