Any teachers in here?

Been teaching for about 15 or more years now. I consider myself a pretty good teacher. I’ve had some students for over 8 years. I have a few questions/general bits of discussion on how you guys approach your lessons.

First of all, I live in a fairly rural area of south Louisiana outside of Baton Rouge, which is about 80 miles north of New Orleans. You’d think all that art and music appreciation that’s famously attributed to Louisiana would spill over to my area…but it just doesn’t. 9 out of 10 new students I get are usually just being dragged to lessons by the parent. My first discussion with them always involves asking them what kind of music or artists they are into. Nearly all of them (median age about 10), respond with “I don’t know”. Even when I prompt them with “can you name me a song you like?” Still nothing. I think it’s because we are living in the Tik Tok generation where music has become an even more passive experience. This is always my biggest indicator of the student’s level of interest.

  1. Do you guys have this kind of response from incoming students? And how do you go about trying to get a student who, for all intents and purposes has never really attentively listened to music, interested in music in general?

  2. Do you have any specific approach to getting kids to practice their damn chords and scales? Again, most of my students fall into the above category. I frequently say that my students have never heard of music lol. I honestly don’t think the average guitar student understands what chords and scales are for. Even when I show them the chords to a song they like, I’m not sure if they understand the point of learning chords. Scales? Forger about it. I have to literally force students to practice scales. I CANNOT make them understand that if they can rip through a pentatonic or major scale that it makes learning anything else exponentially easier.

I could go on forever but it’s already too long lol. Glad for any discussion on this.

I retired from teaching in 2016, so just throwing that disclaimer up. At that point I’d been doing it for about 14 years.

My goal became to make sure the students were getting to play what they enjoyed. I feel like guitar is a rare instrument where it’s possible to show people anything and that’s partly because you can bypass the learning curve that is reading music. I’m not saying I didn’t teach people to read music, I’m just saying I had them start with TAB. The benefit of them going home on day 1 with ability to play “Hell’s Bells” or “Smoke on the Water” (or whatever I identified they enjoyed) AND if they happen to forget what I showed, them remind themselves via the tabs…is just unparalleled among any other instrument (besides bass I guess).

I could always tell who the interested ones were, and I would try to turn them onto things that would challenge them that they’d also hopefully enjoy. That included scales and theory and virtuosos.

I will say, over the years I changed my approach in general. When I started I was on a crusade to hopefully spawn a new generation of people who wanted to be excellent on the guitar. I came of age during the grunge era into the Nu-Metal thing and we know guitar solos weren’t many people’s high priority then. So I wanted to fight that and thought I’d make everyone learn scales and all the movable chord shapes and a decent amount of theory. This was a supplement to the stuff I still made sure everyone got a healthy dose of, which was getting to learn the songs they liked. By the end of it, I’d realized I was wasting a lot of people’s time. There are plenty of people who will never care about playing scales. I’d make sure they new what scales were and how to move them around and stuff, but I just didn’t focus on it much. I focused more on making sure they were enjoying the guitar.

Whether or not that makes me a bad teacher…maybe lol! I see your problem though - not being able to identify what someone enjoys makes it hard to inspire them. In my experience though, kids didn’t start really knowing what they liked until they were a little older than 10 years old. I think even back in the early 2000’s if I asked a 10 yr old what they liked, I’ve have gotten a similar response. 12 or 13…they knew what they wanted. Back then it was probably Green Day or Nickelback or 3 Days Grace. Even though I was snobby back then and would have rather listened to Yngwie, it was great because I could send a 12 year old home on day one of their first lesson and they could play the intro to “Wake Me Up When September Ends”.

Anyway, maybe the secret is to first make them understand why lead guitar is cool? If they aren’t receptive, why shove it down their throats? Maybe queue up some videos of various awesome guitarists and see how they respond? I do agree with you that you might be facing something cultural, but the age itself might be an issue too.

Good god I type way too much. I should see a therapist.

I’m not a teacher, probably for most of the reasons above, but one thing to consider is that 10years old is a little young in development for anyone who doesn’t have a big interest in the instrument or even in music generally, or comes from a big musical family. If these are situations that are parentally forced, it’s going to be a tough road. If they have no initial interest on their own, there’s no real motivation or reward for learning the concepts involved. Usually around the age of 12 and 13 and later in the teenage years is where you get the formation of guitar interest, and when they start forming their musical preferences, which even if it’s not your style, you can work with and apply it to what they like.

Yea I get that for sure. At least they had guitar driven music on the radio then. These days, a kid that takes an interest in guitar is pretty much screwed unless their parents are music lovers and/or know how to find all the good modern guitarists. Now I have nothing against modern pop music. I really dig a lot of it. Kiss Me More by Doja Cat likely has more plays by a long shot than any other song in my last several months of listening on Spotify. And contrary to what a lot of guitarists tend to think, the superstar pop artists have some of the baddest musicians in their bands. Jules the Wulf is Justin Bieber’s touring guitarist and he kills people.

But yea I have always taught kids the songs they want to hear/play. I want to remain employed lol. So I’m gonna show them songs they can relate to. I get to a point where I feel I am shortchanging students by not drilling theory, chord structure, scales, etc with them. But my thinking has always been, if you still can hardly get through a 4 chord country hit, and aren’t really showing any desire to progress beyond that skill level, then what good is a bunch of theory going to do? To me you need to be at a certain level of musicianship to even appreciate music theory.

Of course this isn’t the case with all or even the majority of my students. I guess I’m just looking at the average new student I get that doesn’t really seem to be into anything in particular.

Yes very true. I come from a musical family. I think its also growing up without all the stuff kids have these days. But at 5 or 6 years old I could have told anyone who my favorite artists were - Garth Brooks and Chris LeDoux! I could have told you my favorite songs, parts, etc. So that was always kind of a shocker for me when I realized that most kids aren’t even close to being like that.

But even my older ones. 12-15. They sometimes still can’t tell me basic musical interests. The thing I find most is that kids often don’t really know or memorize artists or songs. Because of the streaming aspect. Or, with Tik Tok, just not knowing what song it is.

But it’s for that reason that I sometimes consider having an age limit of 12.

Often times I have considered overhauling my entire curriculum and teaching students to be well rounded musicians. Showing them theory, reading charts, multiple genres of songs, improvisation, etc. But again, if they can’t even get through a Blake Shelton song and hardly have any interest in progressing beyond that, why waste my time trying to force a kid to basically be what I want them to be?

So, I’ve been regularly teaching kids as young as 5 for a good while, and it did take me a long time to get how to make this work. I don’t want to spam the thread with a link, but I was interviewed for the “Beyond The Frets” podcast recently, and we get pretty deep into this topic.

The short version is: I think until students have specific self-sparked musical goals for themselves (and often that point never happens) they just want to experience some success with the guitar. Anything we value or aspire to as people who are already guitar players is more or less irrelevant to a young child who is just starting.

Obviously there will be exceptions, but I’ve been teaching as my full time gig for just about twenty years now, and this has been my experience.


Yea that’s a great way to look at it. While I do always try to let the student be their own musician - I don’t generally correct pick grips, I let them play with or without a pick, let them choose their songs, choose their preferred fingerings, etc., it’s easy for me to imagine that my goals should be their goals. I’ve never tried to force anything on students. But this discussion has opened my eyes a little. I get kind of down sometimes with my some of my students’ rates of progression. I think I inadvertently want them all to be like me - approaching the guitar with aspirations of virtuosity. But usually that’s not what drives the average student. So I need to quit being so hard on myself that my studio doesn’t churn out more kids yearning to be the next John Petrucci.

I have had a handful of students in the past who had those kinds of aspirations. And it’s very rewarding. I have one student now who is on his way to being a very accomplished guitarist. So this has helped. Because it’s served as a gut check for me. Get back to the fun of teaching and letting students forge their own path. Whether that’s just learning a simple song or tackling a Wes Montgomery solo.

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Nice yeah, exactly. One way to think of it: a lot of people play a little guitar. Try it out. Take lessons for a few years. Every town, every city…a small % of those kids (or adults) wind up sticking with it for years and being really invested in getting better. A small % of THOSE students wind up as actual professional musicians.

So, IMO, when someone is offering guitar lessons there’s basically a choice to be made about whether they’re cool with chilling with the “try it out” population or they want to only work with students that are clearly dedicated. There’s some obvious economic interplay here if someone is relying on teaching for income. If the demand is high, a teacher can be chooiser about who they work with, etc

Be patient with the young ones that are pushed into lessons - it’s probably a pattern that dominates their life. I taught for 16 years and learned to adapt to every situation like everyone else. I would take those generally disinterested kids and show them 50% basic reading and 50% power chord/easy riff stuff until they stared requesting things (can take years). I’d keep it light and build rapport. I was that kid for years and my teacher eventually became a real mentor.

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I’ve been teaching students at a fairly high level and never had to deal with that kind of motivational problems. But I’ve had some experience when taking a university class in “guitar teaching methodology”. During that we had to take on a beginner and practice teaching.
The key was to pick song that the student loved. My student loved Metallica (I can’t stand Kirk’s playing) so to keep him playing I gave him Metallica solos and songs. Later on he got curious about other styles and guitarists etc.