Finding a Qualified Guitar Teacher

Here are some tips for parents to evaluate potential teachers, understand your role in your child’s lessons, and to help find a qualified teacher.

So you’ve decided to seek out a qualified guitar instructor for your child. Where to start? Well, some choices are to use search engines, phone books, local music stores, and local schools and colleges to find a teacher near you. The challenge, however, is to find someone who is both well qualified and enjoys teaching children. How do you know if a teacher is well qualified you ask? Good question. There is no governing board for private guitar teachers that specifies a specific education or certification requirement, so you have to inquire about your teacher’s background yourself.

Some considerations when selecting a guitar teacher for your child should include the following:

1) How long has the potential teacher been teaching full time? It takes several years and hundreds of students to really learn how to teach effectively, regardless of the teacher’s formal education. A teacher learns the most common problems and their solutions during the first few years of teaching and will generally be a much better teacher at 3 years than when they first started.

2) Does the teacher feel that your child should learn to read notes, learn musical terms, and music theory? They should. I think there’s nothing wrong with a teacher showing some things by rote or using alternate notation methods occasionally such as tablature to keep a child’s interest, but the focus should be on learning standard notation. There’s no replacement for notation when it comes to laying the foundation for complete musical understanding. The exception would be very young students being taught in the Suzuki method, where the student is taught by rote initially with standard musical notion being brought in later.

3) Does the teacher’s own background illustrate that they have training in these areas? It’s a safe bet that teachers with music degrees specifically in guitar are qualified in this area. It’s harder to evaluate teachers without degree’s in these areas, but this does not disqualify them, just as a degree does not automatically qualify a teacher. Having a degree simply makes it more likely that they will have the necessary knowledge to effectively teach your child. You must ask them about their experience and evaluate their abilities first hand to see that they are knowledgeable. This can be tough to evaluate if you have no musical training, so tread carefully as there are many people that market themselves as guitar teachers that are not very good in these areas. Don’t get fooled by marketing. Evaluate their resume and experience. For example: A local teacher that plays in the local church’s worship band may be a fine guitar player for that style and a nice person, but that doesn’t necessarily qualify them as a guitar teacher for your child. They may know little of music theory, note reading, or other styles of music.

4) Do you want your child to learn classical guitar? If so, then you need a classical guitarist, period. This is a very specific field of study that requires extensive and specific training. Don’t trust someone that says they teach classical guitar that does not have a degree in classical guitar from a reputable institution. Classical guitarists are often proficient in and teach many popular styles as well, but really are the only ones to go to when it comes to learning classical guitar.

5) What if I want my child to be a rock/pop guitar player or singer-songwriter, do they really need to know all of this stuff? Yes, you should still encourage note reading! There’s no way it’s going to hurt someone’s development. The idea that formal music training might stifle creative development is something as a guitarist I’ve heard before but believe is a misguided notion coming from the guitar being part of our popular culture, often being taught by rote, and compounded by the existence of talented and successful singer-songwriters that have little formal music education. This can give people the impression that note reading is simply not necessary. The truth is that note reading will help your child better facilitate the writing process, but also prepare them for a broader musical life that may include teaching, studio playing, composing, transcribing, etc. Would the Beatles have been as good without the help of their classically trained composer/producer George Martin? I don’t think so and neither does the famous guitarist Jeff Beck. You’re paying top dollar for guitar lessons for your child, so why limit their musical future?

6) Should the teacher be a top level performer? Not necessarily. I believe they should be able to play at a high level though, which is usually the case with guitarist that have performance degrees. You want to make sure that a teacher has been able to translate their own understanding of the guitar into their playing. However, some people just enjoy teaching more than performing and therefore have a more extensive resume in teaching than performing. This is a good thing, as they may still be very high caliber players that simply love to teach. Also, some top level performers may not be around often enough to give lessons consistently, which is especially important for children.

7) Is it OK for you to sit in on the lessons? It should be, and for children’s lessons some sitting in by the parents should be encouraged. You’re going to have to supervise your child’s practice at least some throughout the week if you want them to make good progress. You’ll need to pay attention to the important reminders your teacher gives during the lessons so that they can be reinforced during the week. Remember, it’s the work you and your child do during the week that has the biggest impact on your child’s success. If you sit in on lessons, make sure to let your teacher do their job and not interrupt too much. Occasionally, I’ve had parents who have completely lost patience with their child during the lesson. Though they were only trying to help, they ended up completely ruining the supportive atmosphere of the lesson and consequently the child’s enjoyment. It’s a pretty awkward situation being the teacher in that situation to say the least, and it’s counterproductive to your child’s success. A child needs to feel that it’s OK to make some mistakes while they’re learning, otherwise they’ll give up quickly. So, let your teacher do their job but pay attention to their tips, and you may even want to try playing some of the studies so you can help your child at home.

8) Another important point is that you may need to try a month or so with a teacher to see if they are right for you. Unless the teacher is just awful, you may not get a good idea of their abilities in a single lesson.

Where to find a teacher that satisfies this criteria:

Music stores

While local music stores are often a good place to find a qualified teacher, they’re not without their pitfalls. Some pros: convenient, as they carry the supplies you’ll need and usually have a wide variety of teachers from which to choose. Cons: some teachers may have little to no teaching experience, you’ll often pay the same fee for any of the teachers regardless of their credentials and experience, store’s often have registration/sign up fees to help pay their bills, fees may also rise more often so that the store can stay in business, they may force you to use substitute teachers if your teacher is out sick or out of town, and there’s always the possibility that the store may suddenly go out of business leaving you scrambling to find a new teacher.

So let’s say you’ve chosen to inquire about guitar lessons at your local music store. You should ask the management/owner about the different teacher’s backgrounds and which teacher does the best with children. Assuming you feel comfortable with their suggestion, it is advisable that you wait, if necessary, for an opening with that teacher if their schedule is full rather than starting with someone else. Starting with an unsuitable teacher may give your child a bad initial impression of lessons and could ruin their enthusiasm for learning the instrument forever. As stated, music stores usually have some excellent teachers, but they also often have people with little to no teaching experience as well. You have to keep in mind that their main mission is to keep their studios full so that they can stay in business. It’s possible that they may suggest a teacher that is not nearly as qualified or child friendly if the best suited teacher for your child is full. Remember, it’s your child so it’s your choice who teaches them. Don’t lower your standards for convenience.

Other sources

Private music “schools or academies”. These are usually just private businesses like music stores and have the same potential plusses and minuses except they usually don’t sell instruments. The term school or academy should not denote more credibility as they are not any better or worse a source for teachers than music stores.

Recommendations from public schools and colleges are another good option for finding well qualified teachers who teach privately.

Phone books and internet searches, including music teacher databases can also be good sources for finding local teachers.

Recommendations from friends can be helpful as well, but make sure to do your own research on the teacher. It’s worth the extra effort.

Summary:

Take the time to get to know who your child’s teacher is both as a person and a teacher. Make sure they’re qualified, competent, caring, and communicate well. By taking the time to keep yourself involved in your child’s learning you will be rewarded with a child who will have a solid musical skill set and a deep appreciation of music for the rest of their lives.