Congratulations! You've made the decision to begin learning guitar and you're ready to start your journey. Maybe you've got some musical experience already; you've self taught for a little while and feel lost taking your playing to the next level, or maybe you've played piano or spent your middle school or high school days in band or orchestra. Maybe not, maybe this is your very first experience playing an instrument and you want someone with experience walking you through the process. In any case, you've likely realized that not all music teachers are created equal and you've come here for pointers on what to look for. Here's a few pointers that should help you in your search for a music teacher.
Shop for Personality, Not Paper Qualifications
In my early days of studenthood, I hopped between different teachers looking for a fit. By far the worst guitar teacher I had was a graduate of a major music school with a huge resume. Now this isn't to disqualify the value of educated or experienced teachers, but simply to say that it doesn't take a masters degree to show a G chord to a ten-year old. Paper credentials within the private lesson industry should be seen as a plus, but not a requirement. What really matters is a teacher's ability to keep you or your child engaged, excited to practice, and working at a pace which is both comfortable for you and keeps you moving forward.
Try to Find a Professional Musician, Not a Side Hustle
There's a number of reasons a professional musician makes for a better teacher than someone who teaches as a side gig. While of course there are exceptions to this rule, and those who live in a rural area may be forced to skip this step, teaching is the bread and butter of most pro musicians. This means that those who teach and perform for a living not only have had more time working with students and learning how to teach, but their living depends on their ability to retain students by teaching engaging, effective guitar lessons. For students who eventually want to take to the stage, these teachers also know all about getting gigs, rehearsal etiquette, and putting on a show. While they're often slightly more expensive than a teacher who works another day job, teaching is the bread and butter of most pro guitar players and that typically shows pretty clearly in the way they teach.
Guitar Teachers Specialize; Look for One That Fits Your Level
Guitar teachers, and even music schools specialize in not only what levels of experience they teach, but even what age groups they market to. Chain programs, such as School of Rock, Kindermusik, and Bach to Rock tend to reach out to beginning kids and teenagers, whereas many music instrument stores tend to attract older and more experienced musicians. Naturally, they both teach all age groups, but a guitar teacher who specializes in your experience level can be very beneficial. If you're just starting out, one of those chain schools or a local independent teacher who specializes in beginners will suit you perfectly. If you're more experienced, it may even be wise to find a music professor from a local college or orchestra, as these teachers often also teach private lessons. I tend to specialize in beginning to intermediate players, since I love working with kids and there's high demand for beginning guitar teachers in my area.
Shop For Value, Not Price
We've all heard of "buyer's remorse," and that definitely exists within the realm of guitar lessons. I chose this phrase to quote because it doesn't just apply to cheap products. While there are a large number of teachers, notably those teaching as a side gig to a non-musical day job, who offer low-price, low-quality lessons, there's also a plethora of those overcharging for their teaching ability. Avoid craigslist teachers offering $15 lessons, but make sure you're comfortable with any teacher demanding semester-length contracts.
Choose a Teacher by Genre
Classical guitarists aren't the best at teaching metal technique, jazz guys often don't like teaching pop, you get the idea. This tip is more important for students trying to learn classical music and jazz, but if you aren't going into those genres, try to find someone who advertises proficiency in different styles. Even students who start learning pop music usually eventually want to diversify, and classical teachers in particular are famous for not adapting well. Likewise if you want to dive into classical music, the guy who teaches primarily Black Sabbath or BB King at Guitar Center may not be for you.
Find Someone Who Doesn't Teach by the Book
Thankfully, this has become much easier since my childhood. Guitar teachers are finally largely coming to the realization that you can not retain students and inspire a passion for art by teaching nothing but public-domain nursery rhyme songs from a method book that came out in 1970. You want to learn a Taylor Swift song? Classic rock song? Basic jazz standard? Ask a teacher on your initial phone call when you can learn it. Naturally, there are certain fundamentals and bits of technique that come with learning guitar initially, but there's absolutely no reason that you need an extensive knowledge of music theory or reading ability to start learning what you want to learn, and progressive teachers know this. Avoid teachers that put off learning what you want to learn and insist on sticking with the book. A good guitar teacher will help you learn what you want to learn and craft lessons around helping you set and reach your musical goals.
I hope these tips helped you! These are some of the things that I use as my own standards in my guitar lesson business, which I based off of my experiences with the private teachers I had as a kid. If you live in Virginia Beach or Norfolk, you're welcome to use the information on this website to set up lessons, or just give me a call and inquire about how I teach and why I teach guitar that way.
Brandon Giltz is a Bassist, Guitarist, Flutist, Composer, and music teacher operating in Virginia Beach and Norfolk Virginia. He works with students of all ages, plays in a number of classical and contemporary ensembles, and has scored music for trailers and games.