5 Big Mistakes You Should Avoid When Teaching Beginning Guitar Students

by Tom Hess

Do your beginning guitar students usually progress slowly with you? Do they sometimes ‘get stuck’ and reach a plateau in their guitar playing? Do some of your students limp along - struggling to make a ‘breakthrough’ in their guitar playing? Is teaching beginners sometimes very frustrating for you? Do some of them easily lose interest in the lessons? Is it sometimes difficult for you to keep your students motivated to practice? Are there times when you are unsure about what to teach them, how to teach them, or in what order to teach them things? Do you have a significant number of beginning students who quit lessons with you after less than 1 year?

All these things are very common problems teachers have when teaching beginners.

I’m going to show you 5 mistakes that most guitar teachers make when teaching beginning guitar students and how you can avoid them.

But before I go into detail about this, I strongly encourage you to test how effective you are in teaching beginning guitar students. I have prepared an assessment where you can easily find out if you are giving your students the best you can. New teachers erroneously assume that teaching guitar to beginning students is easier than teaching more advanced students… fact is, this is totally false.

Teaching beginners effectively is very critical and assumes a great deal of responsibility. Get it right and these people will learn to love to play guitar and do well in the process, get it wrong and they will often leave disillusioned and discouraged to play guitar.

Before reading further, test your effectiveness on how to teach beginning guitar.

Avoid These Common Mistakes

Mistake #1 - Using linear guitar teaching methods with beginners.

The vast majority of guitar teachers teach beginning guitar students in a logical linear way. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t work well for beginners. Students progress slowly, or give up, leaving both teachers and students very frustrated. Reading this, you may think: ‘But all books for beginning guitar students are written in this way?’ You are right, they are written in a very logical linear way, and this is a huge part of the problem. The linear teaching approach makes perfect sense if you are teaching a topic that is linear such as mathematics or science, but you are teaching music - an art that requires a different method to teaching and learning. Yet the conventional way beginner books are written (and the conventional way beginning students are taught) is typically very linear. When some teachers realize that it doesn’t work, they start to not use any book at all and instead make their own attempt to teaching beginning students with their own version of the linear teaching approach. This often produces mediocre results… some teachers simply ‘accept’ those mediocre results, while others begin searching (again) for a better method of teaching beginners that will work all (or at least most) of the time. One of those better methods is the “geometric guitar teaching method”. With this approach students learn to apply and integrate a wider range of necessary musical skills from the beginning of their training.

Mistake #2 - Teaching total beginning guitar students the wrong things in the first several lessons such as: music theory, finger exercises, how to read music notation. Although each of those areas are very useful for most students to know (especially music theory), it is simply not the right time to introduce those topics at this point. Why? Well, there are several reasons, but the main one is that most total beginners will become bored, quickly lose interest, and may hurt their confidence at this point. Of course there will be some students who can respond well to learning these areas from the very beginning, but many will not.

Some teachers feel they are being an irresponsible teacher if they don’t teach this stuff right away. They insist on teaching total beginners these topics which usually causes the teacher to make mistake #3 below. For the vast majority of total beginning guitar students, the primary teaching goal should be to build the students’ confidence by getting them to actually do some guitar playing as soon as possible – this will help you to also avoid mistake #3.

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Mistake #3 - Not building the critical self-confidence that all students need (especially beginners). New students of the guitar (total beginners) are totally clueless about learning to play guitar, guitar lessons, and most importantly, about ‘themselves’. Beginners don’t know if they will actually be able to ever learn to play guitar. They don’t know if they have any potential. They are wondering if they have any natural talent at all. They’re wondering if they actually need to have natural talent to play guitar. They worry that they might be too old, or too young. They worry that maybe their hands are too big, or too small. They don’t know if they will enjoy practicing or not. They worry they may not have an ‘ear for music’ or if they have any rhythm.

You must help your students to remove these self-doubts as soon as possible… but encouraging words are often not enough. You will need to use guitar teaching methods and materials which will naturally and quickly show your beginning students some very real tangible proof that they really can, will and are learning to play guitar well.

Mistake #4 - Teaching beginning students using a similar (but more simple) approach to teaching intermediate and advanced students. As mentioned above, building self-confidence in the student should be the foundation with which to build your lessons upon, but after this is established and nurtured in your beginning guitar students, there are still aspects of your approach to teaching which should be different than it is for more advanced guitar players. For example, advanced students are more likely to understand, appreciate and be willing to practice a tedious exercise countless times in order to achieve something on the guitar – most beginners cannot (or will not) fully understand, appreciate these ideas nor actually be willing to practice in this way for long periods of time. Your teaching methods must match the general mindset of the type of student you are teaching. Focus on teaching ‘people’ more than teaching ‘music’… It’s all about your student.

Mistake #5 - Using the trial-and-error approach to learn how to teach guitar. Fact is most guitar teachers try to learn how to teach guitar by treating their students like laboratory rats in an experiment. Of course you can learn some good things from hands-on teaching, but it’s unfair to your students to learn ‘only’ in this way. With all of the resources available for guitar teachers today, there is no excuse for teachers to gain all their teaching experience using the trial and error approach. Seek out proven training programs for guitar teachers, acquire guitar teaching resources, or at least read more articles on how to become a better guitar teacher.

When you avoid the guitar teaching mistakes mentioned above both you and your students will benefit in many ways. You will both experience a greater fulfillment during your lessons. Your students will make much faster, easier and better progress in their guitar playing. You will likely keep your students active in taking lessons from you for a longer period of time. And your reputation as a guitar teacher will only be enhanced in the process.

Since you are still reading this article, it is clear that you have a sincere interest in helping your beginning guitar students (that’s good!). If you have not already done so, test your effectiveness on how to teach beginners guitar.

Tom Hess is a highly successful guitar teacher, professional touring guitarist and recording artist. He coaches other guitar teachers on how to teach guitar.

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I wanted to fill in the survey, but what I do is so different from the questions that you pose to be answered. IWould love to learn even more about how to teach beginners.

I'm 61, and studied under Jamie Andreas (Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar) and firmly believe that her methods are superb.

I have studied under many many teachers over the years and I have seen some who will literally ruin a student. Please offer any advice or ask any questions that you deem necessary.

What a crock!

I wanted to fill in the survey, but what I do is so different from the questions that you pose to be answered.

I would love to learn even more about how to teach beginners.

I'm 61, and studied under Jamie Andreas (Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar) and firmly believe that her methods are superb.

I have studied under many many teachers over the years and I have seen some who will literally ruin a student.

Please offer any advice or ask any questions that you deem necessary.

I am 60 yrs old and just started learning the guitar. Many thoughts in this article resonated with me and my first 20 lessons. But, every student is different. I wanted to learn to read music, understand terms, but my teacher said I didn't need to know to much and was over complicating the process. I think there are 3 certain age groups needing to be treated differently, 1-20, 21-40, 41-up. My 10 yr old grandson is interested in terminology but I am. An intuitive teacher should listen to his student and the questions they ask or the statements they make to choose a course of study.

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