While you can learn guitar using YouTube and websites like this one, an actual teacher giving you one-on-one lessons can make a massive difference to your progress. With a good teacher, you can learn faster, avoid bad habits, and learn things you wouldn’t have discovered on your own.
But not all guitar teachers are equal. Some guitar teachers see teaching as just a way to pay their bills. Some teachers have amazing guitar skills but lack good teaching skills. Then there are teachers who understand your needs and know exactly what to do to help you achieve your goals.
Every guitar teacher will claim that they offer superior lessons and that they’re the best guitar teacher for you. In this guide, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know to choose the right guitar teacher for your needs.
After you finish this guide, you’ll know exactly what to look for and how to find out whether a guitar teacher is right for you or not.
Note: I’ve been training guitar teachers for 10 years, so this guide is based on my experience dealing with hundreds of guitar teachers.
Overview of What to Look For In a Guitar Teacher
This guide goes into a lot of detail, so if you’re looking for the short version, here are the main points to remember.
The point to remember when searching for a guitar teacher is that you’re looking for a good teacher – somebody who knows how to teach in an effective way. While their own guitar skills are important, teaching skills are what matters.
Things that are important in a guitar teacher:
- Has excellent teaching abilities (teaching skills are far more important than guitar skills)
- Has a passion for teaching and regularly studies teaching methods/strategies
- Likes/listens to/is passionate about the same (or similar) music as you
- Specializes in the music you want to learn (doesn’t try to teach every style of music)
- Experience (to a certain degree)
- A personality that works with your personality
If you can find a guitar teacher that meets most of the above points, the chances are you’ll have a good learning experience.
Things that aren’t important:
- Virtuoso-level technical abilities (a guitarist with amazing skills doesn’t automatically make a great teacher)
- Music degrees (unless you also want to study music formally or take exams)
- Testimonials (a lot of teachers make them up, so you can’t trust any of them)
- Experience (as explained later, not all experience is equal)
The above points are often thought of as important in a guitar teacher, but they aren’t. There are many guitarists with amazing skills that are terrible teachers. I’ve seen guitar teachers with impressive degrees on their wall, only to struggle to deal with basic student problems.
Signs of a Bad Guitar Teacher (Before You Take Lessons With Them)
Every guitar teacher tries to claim that they’ll give you the best lessons. With every guitar teacher trying to claim that they’re the best, it makes it hard to figure out who is actually good and who is just trying to talk themselves up (very common).
Here are a few signs and red flags to watch out for that hint that maybe the teacher isn’t worth it. The more of these red flags you see from one teacher, the more likely you should look somewhere else.
Claims to be able to teach all styles and all abilities: nobody is an expert in every style of music. Guitar teachers who claim they can teach anything should be avoided. The reason they claim this is that they want to fill their timetable.
Don’t take lessons from somebody who says they can teach any style of music. Take lessons from a teacher who specializes in the music you want to learn.
If you injured your knee, would you want to see a general doctor or a knee specialist? You would get far better care with a knee specialist. It’s the same with learning guitar. Take lessons with a specialist.
Withholding rates and lesson information: some teachers don’t publish their lesson rates on their websites. The reason they do this is that they want you to call them, so they can then try to persuade you to sign up for lessons. Withholding information is common with teachers who aren’t confident in what they have to offer.
Requires you to lock into a contract and prepay a lot of lessons: some teachers require you to pay 10+ lessons in advance and don’t offer any refunds if you cancel. Teachers who care about giving a good experience for their students don’t do this.
Negative reviews on Google: many guitar teachers will have a Google business listing. These reviews are worth considering because the teacher has no control over them (unlike testimonials on their own website). If you see negative reviews for a teacher, that’s a concern. While sometimes a negative review can be a result of a simple misunderstanding between that student and the teacher, multiple negative reviews is a warning sign.
Signs Of a Bad Guitar Teacher (You Currently Take Lessons With)
If you’re currently taking guitar lessons and have doubts that maybe your guitar teacher isn’t doing a good job, let’s look at how to find out whether you should change.
Here are some clear signs that your guitar teacher isn’t doing a good job and you should look elsewhere:
Isn’t a good guitarist: while I’ve said that teaching skills are far more important than guitar skills, your teacher should still be a good guitarist. If you notice sloppy playing or poor technique in your teacher’s playing, that’s a sign you need to find somebody else. The worse examples I’ve heard were from piano teachers dabbling in teaching guitar as I’ll cover later.
Being unprepared: when you get into the lesson, does it seem like the teacher has a good idea of what to do in the lesson? Or do they seem unprepared? If your teacher doesn’t seem to have a plan on what to cover in the lesson, that’s a big problem. Your teacher should have a clear plan on how they intend to help you reach your goals. If your teacher comes into every lesson without a plan, they’re not going to do a good job at helping you reach your goals.
Doesn’t follow up on previous lessons: an important part of teaching is following up on previously covered topics to see how well the student has learned them. A good guitar teacher will often start a lesson by checking how you went with what was covered in the previous lesson. They may ask you to demonstrate what you have been working on and where you ran into trouble.
If your teacher doesn’t follow up on what was covered in the previous lesson, it’s a sign they’re not taking good notes or that they don’t understand why it’s so important from a learning point of view.
Wasted time: if you have a typical 30-minute guitar lesson, how much time is wasted? How long does it take the teacher to get ready, tune up the guitar, prepare your materials and actually start the lesson? Does the teacher spend too long talking about things irrelevant to the lesson?
A clear sign of a bad teacher is if they don’t use their time wisely. Spending 5 minutes tuning a guitar and talking about the weekend is a waste of your time. A good teacher will make the most out of every second. If you have the feeling that your teacher is stretching lessons out or wasting time, get out of there and find someone else who values your time.
Lack of passion: great guitar teachers love to teach. You can see on their face that they thrive on seeing their students improve and they enjoy every moment of a lesson. Mediocre teachers don’t care and it shows on their face. If your teacher always looks bored or doesn’t seem to care, find a new teacher. While every teacher can have bad days, it becomes a problem for your learning if it happens regularly.
Only teaches out of a book: while it’s fine for a teacher to teach out of a method book, it should only be a part of the lesson materials you receive. Mediocre teachers rely completely on method books because it makes their job easier. Good teachers will prepare additional materials with exercises or examples based on your specific learning needs.
If you forgot to bring your method book to a lesson, how do you think your teacher would handle it? Would they be able to give you something else to work on or would they struggle to come up with anything? A good teacher should be able to give you an effective lesson with or without a method book.
Struggles to explain something: your teacher should be able to effectively explain any topic or technique to you in a way that you understand. If you don’t understand, it’s not your fault – it’s theirs.
This is a common issue when a guitar teacher has great technical skills, but poor teaching skills. If you tell your teacher you don’t understand something and they can’t rephrase it in a way that makes sense to you, that’s a bad sign.
Doesn’t give you a clear practice plan: practice is the key to success with learning guitar. If your teacher doesn’t give you a clear outline of what you should practice outside of lessons, find a new teacher. What your teacher sets as your practice plan is more important than what is covered in the lessons.
Doesn’t work towards your goals: does your teacher know what your goals are and do they provide you materials that seem to work towards those goals? Or do they seem to give you irrelevant materials to learn without explaining why they’re giving it to you?
Your teacher should know what your goal is and how to get you to that goal. If they’re giving you songs you’re not interested in or covering topics that don’t have anything to do with your goals, then find a different teacher.
Whenever your teacher gives you something new, ask them how it will help them work towards your goals. A good teacher will be able to give you an answer. A bad teacher will get annoyed at the question or will tell you that everybody needs to learn it.
Questions to ask your current teacher to test them
If you have doubts over your current guitar teacher’s teaching abilities, here are two important questions you can ask to decide whether you should look for somebody else. These questions will reveal whether your teacher has a good plan for your lessons or not.
Here are the two questions to ask in order to test your teacher:
- What are my goals for guitar? if your teacher can’t tell you on the spot what your goals are, find a new teacher. A student’s goals should always be in the teacher’s mind and constantly guiding their teaching. If your teacher isn’t constantly thinking about your goals, they’re not going to help you reach those goals.
- What do I need to learn to reach my goal? if your teacher knows your goals, find out what they have planned for you to help you reach those goals. Your teacher should be able to tell you their plan on what topics you need to cover to help you reach your goal. If they give a vague answer, find a new teacher.
You may have noticed that these questions are focused completely on your goals. That’s because a guitar teacher’s job is to help you reach your specific goals. Testing how well your teacher knows your goals and how they plan on helping you reach your goals is the best way to find out whether you should stick with them or not.
But what if you don’t have goals for guitar? Then that’s a clear sign that your guitar teacher has already failed and you should find somebody else.
The first thing a good guitar teacher will do with a new student is to find out their goals. What does the student want to learn? What specific songs? What styles of music? Do they want to play in a band? Do they want to write their own music? Study exams? Record covers?
If you don’t remember your teacher asking you about your goals, that means the teacher doesn’t understand how important goals are to their teaching effectiveness.
What about students who don’t have goals? In that case, it’s the teacher’s job to find goals that the student is interested in working towards. If you don’t have any goals for learning guitar, it’s because your teacher has failed at helping you identify a good goal.
Teaching Abilities are More Important Than Guitar Abilities
A good guitar teacher can help you achieve your goals in less time, with less hassle, and make the entire learning process more enjoyable. A bad teacher can turn learning guitar into a nightmare.
A big mistake students sometimes make is that they place too much importance on a guitar teacher’s technical abilities. They see a video of the teacher shredding like crazy, then take that as a sign that they’ll be a great teacher.
A good guitarist doesn’t automatically make a good teacher.
I was recently reminded of this when I reviewed Carlos Santana’s Masterclass. While he’s an excellent musician with incredible experience, he’s a terrible teacher. Half of the course was him struggling to find the words to explain his approach to guitar.
When you consider a guitar teacher for your lessons, remember that a great guitarist doesn’t mean a great teacher.
When Guitar Ability Matters (Real-Life Example)
While a person’s guitar abilities don’t give you a good indication on what they’re like as a teacher, it does matter to a point.
The best example of where guitar abilities matter is when the teacher doesn’t really know how to play guitar at all. I’ll share a specific example of one of my students to explain why your guitar teacher needs to have a decent skill level before they can consider teaching:
A few years ago I had a student come to me after taking lessons for a year with another teacher. The student had made incredibly poor progress considering he had taken a year’s worth of lessons before he came to me. When I discussed this with his parents, I found out the reason why.
The previous teacher was a piano teacher who decided to start teaching guitar to attract more students. That would normally be fine except she didn’t know how to play guitar when she first advertised for guitar lessons.
It turns out that the teacher was learning to play from the same method book she was teaching out of. In her mind, all she had to do was stay a few pages ahead of her students and she’ll be fine (the student’s parents found this out during a strong discussion with her after seeing me).
The student had developed bad habits and poor technique because the teacher didn’t know what she was doing. His slow progress was a direct result of his teacher not having a decent skill level on guitar. It didn’t matter if she was a great piano teacher (I have doubts) because she didn’t know enough on guitar to teach.
Unfortunately, stories like this are not uncommon. There are countless teachers out there who try to teach multiple instruments or don’t have a sufficient level of skill on guitar to be effective teachers.
If you’re looking at taking lessons with somebody, make sure they can play what you want to learn. Find a teacher who’s abilities match your goals. Your teacher doesn’t need to be a super-star and play everything perfectly on the first attempt, but they need to have a high enough skill level to teach effectively.
Are Music Degrees Important in a Guitar Teacher?
Does your teacher need to have a degree in music to be a good teacher?
The answer depends on your own goals. If you want to study music with the goal of eventually getting your own degree, then it makes sense to take lessons with a teacher who has already gone through that path. Not only will your teacher know exactly what you need to learn to prepare for your exams, but they’ll also know the right advice to give you along the way.
If you’re not interested in taking exams or getting a degree in music, then the answer isn’t as straightforward.
A guitar teacher with a degree is a sign that they have a certain level of knowledge about music. But there are many ways a guitarist can learn those skills and topics without formal study. There are countless self-taught guitarists who are more knowledgeable than formally trained guitarists.
The point here is that degrees are only important if they’re important to you. There are plenty of great teachers with degrees and there are plenty of great teachers without degrees.
On the other hand, there are plenty of bad teachers with degrees, so don’t assume having a degree makes a person a good teacher.
A music degree does not guarantee a good guitar teacher. It can give you confidence that the teacher is knowledgable, but it doesn’t tell you anything about their teaching abilities.
The Guitar Teacher’s Music Preferences
One of the most common things you’ll see as you start comparing guitar teachers is that many claim they can teach any style of music to any skill level.
As mentioned earlier, nobody is an expert in every style. A rock guitar teacher might know a bit about classical music/funk/jazz/country, but there’s no way they can be an expert on all of those styles.
Every teacher has their own unique strengths and weaknesses. You want to find a teacher with strengths in the areas you want to focus on.
Find a guitar teacher who listens to similar music as you do. Find out what bands and guitarists they’re into.
Don’t let the teacher get away with saying “I listen to everything” – that’s a cop-out answer. Find out what they know about the music you enjoy.
Do they really know a lot about the bands and guitarists you follow? Or are they just saying they like that music to win you over as a student?
The reason this is important is that you want to learn from somebody who is an expert in the music you want to learn. If you’re a die-hard Eric Clapton fan, would you want to learn guitar from somebody who is also a die-hard Clapton fan and can play any song from memory? Or from somebody who has only heard his main hit songs?
Later in this guide, I will explain how to check whether the guitar teacher is an expert in the style you want to learn or whether they’re faking it to win you over.
The key point to remember is that you want to find a guitar teacher who is actually interested in the music you want to learn. Not only will you enjoy the lessons more, but the teacher will know exactly what to teach you to really develop in that style.
What to Ask A Potential Guitar Teacher
Once you’ve found a guitar teacher who might be a good fit for you, I recommend asking them a few important questions before you sign up. If the teacher doesn’t give you good answers to those questions, I recommend looking elsewhere.
Most guitar teachers are prepared against common questions you might think of asking (eg: “what experience do you have?”), so you’re not going to get good answers from asking the same questions everybody else asks.
Instead, I’m going to give you three questions that most guitar teachers are unprepared for and I’ll explain how to separate good answers from BS answers.
Here are the three key questions to ask a guitar teacher you’re considering taking lessons with:
- What do you know about [bands you listen to]?
- How do you work on improving yourself as a teacher?
- What type of students isn’t a good fit for your teaching style?
I’ll go through each of the above questions so you know why it’s important to ask and how to determine if the guitar teacher is giving you a good answer or not.
With these questions, you’ll be able to decide whether the guitar teacher is right for you or not.
The reason I recommend asking these questions is that they’re questions most guitar teachers aren’t prepared for. Guitar teachers are used to being asked about their experience or qualifications, so they’ve prepared answers to those questions. You’re not going to get good answers from those questions because they know what they should tell you.
Q1: What do you know about [bands and guitarists you listen to]?
This is an incredibly important question to ask because it reveals what the teacher actually knows about the bands and music you want to learn.
This question is a good way to check whether the teacher actually knows how to teach the music you want to learn or whether they’re just pretending that they know. Guitar teachers who claim to be an expert in all styles of music will get caught out trying to answer this question.
This is important to know because you don’t want to learn from a teacher who doesn’t have a solid understanding of the music you want to learn. A classical guitar teacher who has no interest in blues music won’t give you good quality blues lessons. They might say they can teach any style, but they’ll never be as good as a teacher who actually lives and breathes blues music.
If you mention a band, the teacher should be able to easily tell you who the guitarists are, mention plenty of their songs (not just the well-known hits), talk about the type of techniques you’ll need to learn, etc.
For example, if you want to learn Metallica songs, here is an example of a good response from the teacher:
“There’s a lot to learn from Metallica’s music. James Hetfield is a great riff-writer and you’ll develop some great picking control by learning his riffs. Once you learn how to play a gallop rhythm, I think you’ll enjoy playing a lot of his riffs. Kirk Hammett’s solos might sound too hard to learn if you’re just starting out, but once you learn something called the Pentatonic scale, you’ll see that a lot of his solos follow some simple patterns.
Are you interested in learning their more progressive songs like on Master of Puppets or …and Justic for All?, or are you more interested in their more straight-forward rock songs like the ones off of the black album?”
The above response shows that the teacher actually knows a bit about the band. That’s a sign that the teacher is already familiar with Metallica’s songs and knows what you need to learn to be able to play their music.
You’re likely to get good quality lessons from this teacher because the teacher will know what techniques and songs to teach you as you progress.
Here is an example of a bad response from the teacher:
I love Enter Sandman! Great song and the solo is fun to play. I’m more of an AC DC guy myself, but I can easily teach you any Metallica songs you want to learn.
A teacher who gives this type of response probably doesn’t know anything about the band or music. Even if the teacher has the skills to be able to play that stuff, it’s not a good sign. If you wanted to learn Metallica songs, would you want to learn from somebody who only knows about their most famous songs? Or would you want to learn from a die-hard Metallica fan?
Find a teacher who listens to and is passionate about the music you want to learn. Not only will you enjoy learning from a teacher who listens to the same music as you do, but their in-depth understanding of the music will help you learn faster.
Extra tip: ask follow-up questions to really dig into the teacher’s knowledge about the band or guitarist. Ask what they’re favorite albums are from that artist, what tunings the guitarist uses, or anything else that most people don’t know about the band/guitarist. It’s okay if the teacher doesn’t know as much as you do about the band or guitarist, but you really want to find a teacher who has a decent understanding of the music you want to learn.
Q2: How do you work on improving yourself as a guitar teacher?
This is a trick question and can reveal a lot about a guitar teacher.
It’s a trick question because the way the teacher interprets the question says a lot about their teaching mindset.
The answer you want to hear is that the teacher spends time and effort working on their teaching skills (eg: reading up on teaching methods, watching lectures on teaching strategies, studying pedagogy).
This is a hard question for many guitar teachers to answer because many guitar teachers don’t even think about their own teaching skills. That might sound shocking, but many guitar teachers don’t think they need to work on their own teaching abilities. Many guitar teachers already think they’re expert teachers. This question will help you avoid mediocre teachers.
Many guitar teachers only think about their own guitar skills. If a teacher answers this question by explaining how often they practice guitar, rephrase the question to make it clear you want to know about their teaching skills. You could rephrase it to “What do you do to work on your teaching skills?”
Ask this question to a few teachers and you’ll probably be shocked by how little most teachers think about teaching methodology, teaching strategies or pedagogy theory.
This is an important question to ask because as you read earlier, teaching skills are more important than guitar skills. An amazing guitarist can still be a bad teacher, but a great teacher will always be a great teacher regardless of their guitar skills.
Guitar teachers who recognize that it’s their teaching skills that matter most will spend time and effort trying to improve their teaching abilities. They might do this by regularly reading teaching books, taking courses/workshops on teaching, reading studies from academic sources, or they may even study teaching formally.
If a teacher doesn’t recognize that their teaching skills are important, they will probably talk about how they practice their guitar skills or they will talk about how great their students are. This is a red flag as it means the teacher doesn’t understand what it means to be a good teacher.
Here is a good example of a teacher answering this question:
“I know my teaching abilities are important, so I regularly read books on teaching methods and strategies. I also read books on the learning process and how we learn so I can make sure I teach in a way that fits with how students learn.
I actually just finished reading a book called Make it Stick and have been taking the ideas from the book into my lessons to help students memorize licks faster.”
If you get a response anything like the above example, it’s a great sign you’ve found a great teacher. If a guitar teacher is passionate enough to read through dry teaching books (believe me, they’re often very dry and dense), that means the teacher cares about their student’s development.
A guitar teacher who actively works on trying to improve their teaching abilities will be a great teacher to learn from.
Here is an example of a bad response from a teacher:
“I have 20 years experience and have built my teaching up to a very high level. I’ve taught thousands of students over the years with great results. My students love my lessons and they’ve achieved great things.”
This answer completely evades the question. If a teacher talks about past experience or how much their students enjoy their lessons, that’s a bad response. It’s a sign that the teacher doesn’t feel like they need to improve themselves or that they don’t understand that mere experience isn’t enough.
Having 20 years experience doesn’t automatically mean they’re a great teacher. Do they really have 20 years experience? Or do they have 1 year’s experience, repeated 20 times over?
Q3: What type of students isn’t a good fit for your teaching style?
This is a trick question to see how honest the teacher is. Every teacher has strengths and weaknesses. Nobody likes to admit any weaknesses, but it’s important to know where your teacher’s weak areas are.
If a teacher says that they can teach anybody and everybody is a good fit, RUN AWAY! That’s a lie and you shouldn’t trust a teacher who thinks they can teach anybody.
For example, I don’t teach classical, jazz, fusion, country, or similar styles because I don’t listen to those styles of music. Students wanting to learn those styles aren’t a good fit for my lessons. I shouldn’t even try to teach students wanting to learn those styles. Yet there are countless teachers who claim they can teach any style to any student. Nobody is an expert in every style, so avoid any teacher who thinks they’re a perfect fit for everybody.
Here is an example of a good response from a teacher:
“I teach metal, rock, blues and similar styles, so students who aren’t interested in those styles probably aren’t a good fit for my lessons. For students who want to play in bands, jam along with other guitarists, or write their own music, I’m a good fit. For students who want to study music formally, take exams and get a degree, I’m not a good fit.
I also don’t teach children because I prefer teaching teens and adults.”
This is a good response because the teacher is honest. You know immediately from the answer whether the teacher is a good fit for you or not. The teacher is honest enough to point out their weak areas, so you can feel confident that you’ll get honest lessons.
Here is an example of a bad response:
“I can teach all styles, across all ability levels. I’ve taught students as young as 6 and as old as 80. Whatever you want to learn, I can help you.”
Nobody can teach all styles across all ability levels. Any teacher who says this is lying or is fooling themselves. If a teacher isn’t honest enough to tell you what their weak areas are, don’t take lessons with them.
A good or great guitar teacher will help you learn faster, easier, and more enjoyable. Trying to separate the good and great guitar teachers from the average or bad teachers isn’t easy but if you follow the advice in this guide, you’ll be able to easily weed out the bad guitar teachers.
The key to remember when looking for a guitar teacher is that you want to focus on their teaching abilities. It’s a teacher’s teaching abilities that will help you learn guitar, not their playing abilities.
Focusing your questions on the teacher’s teaching methods and skills will help you uncover whether they take teaching seriously or not. A great guitar teacher knows that they can always improve as a teacher and they actively work on their teaching abilities. An average guitar teacher already thinks they’re an expert.
Don’t let a guitar teacher’s dazzling guitar skills trick you into thinking they’re great teachers. As I mentioned earlier, a great guitarist doesn’t automatically make a great teacher.
Use the questions covered in this guide to test out any potential guitar teachers and you’ll find it much easier to find a good guitar teacher.
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