I’m a music teacher. I’ve taught lessons in various instruments, taken them myself for several instruments, and I can’t emphasize how awesome it is to have someone you connect with and give you individual feedback in person.
But on the flip side, I’ve also taken lessons where the teacher was no good at all. It was a miserable experience and a huge waste of money. It’s always a little iffy when you find a new lesson teacher, but it seems especially true on the guitar. There are a lot of guitar “experts” out there with limited experience.
You don’t need to learn from a professional to get a lot out of lessons, but there are some key questions to ask to avoid wasting time and money. Let’s go over the ones I recommend for all my students, even the ones who don’t take lessons with me.
How was this person recommended to me?
I often will point people who want to take lessons to a local music store if I don’t know any other teachers with openings on their schedule (I’ve limited mine since I’ve had kids). This is a good place to look, but I’d recommend something else.
Find people who are taking lessons rather than a music store. They will have a definitive opinion on their teacher and be able to give you more information. Music stores are more interested in just hooking you up with anyone.
What is their music experience?
Either asking the teacher directly or looking at a bio, research their experience. It’s not just about schooling, but it’s also not just about performance experience.
Great teachers can make you better at guitar even if they aren’t masters themselves. It really depends on the person, but it also depends on your level. I’ve taught piano lessons in the past, but only to beginners. I’m not good enough to take you to higher levels. But I have brought my brass players and guitar players to high levels of play.
Looking at the teacher’s experience will give you some insight.
What age groups/skill levels do you teach?
Most of my students are young or much older. It’s just the group I prefer to teach. I could and have taken teen and young adult students, but I don’t have as much experience with this age group.
Sure, a teacher may take you on as an intermediate player, but if they usually teach beginners, they may not be a good fit. It’s OK to ask around and it’s OK to say no.
How many students do you have?
If someone has a lot of students, that means people like them. If they have a lot of students, they may also not have the time for you.
Some prefer smaller studios to give more attention to their students. It’s up to you and what you’re looking for.
What does a typical lesson look like?
This is my favorite question to ask. It’s quick to separate a good teacher from a bad teacher right away. If the answer you get is something along the lines of:
Well, you show up and play what I told you to practice, and I tell you how to be better.
Run. Run fast. A good teacher will tell you how much time they spend on parts of the lesson and what kinds of things they cover during the course of a lesson.
For example, here is my normal answer:
First, we warm up a little bit with some strumming and simple chord exercises. I always check for posture and offer tips and advice for playing correctly. Then, we went over what we practiced and talked about the last time. Often, I’ll offer some exercises or extensions if we need more on this topic. I like to spend some time covering reading music as well.
Not too much, but enough you’ll catch on over time. I also always spend time looking at a song you’re really jazzed to learn. This keeps you motivated to keep practicing. We’ll keep track of what we do in a journal/notebook so you always know what we did and what to work on.
What is your favorite guitar music?
This is one just for personal preference. It’s not that critical, but all else being equal, you may want to pick someone with similar interests.
How much do you charge?
Don’t commit to anything without knowing the exact cost. I’m shocked how many people forget to ask this. Teachers aren’t embarrassed to answer this at all.
What are your views on practice?
I advise people to ask this one because it gives some insight into the teacher’s goals for you. If they tell you to practice an hour every day of the week, they think you’re quite serious about learning and getting good. If they advise practicing 30 minutes five days per week, they just want you to enjoy and improve guitar over time. Either is fine, but it depends on what you want.
Keep these questions in mind and you’ll end up with a good teacher and a positive experience.
Of course, it’s OK to skip all of this with online lessons. They usually aren’t as good, but if live options are limited or you’re on a budget, go for a good one. The best one I’ve found is Jam Play.