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Music has advanced far beyond the time when someone could teach himself (or herself) to become a world class player. If your ambition is to become a competent player and a competent musician, you need a competent music teacher. Even if your goals are more modest, you can reach those goals far more quickly, easily and efficiently with the guidance of the right guitar teacher. There are hundreds of books, instructional videos, CD-ROMs and, of course, the internet. Even though a lot of information is readily available, there exists a lot of incorrect, incomplete and otherwise bad information (this is especially true for a lot of information found on the internet!).
You will need the aid of an excellent instructor to teach you how to fully understand and apply the correct information. You can save yourself a lot of time this way. Remember that text books, CD-ROMs, instructional videos and the internet cannot answer your specific questions. They cannot offer you advice on your playing, song writing, ear training, etc. They cannot listen to your playing and point out any mistakes or flaws that may be present. Some text books are great and I have seen some pretty good CD-ROMs out there too, but you still need the aid of an excellent teacher to guide you through everything and to help you to develop your abilities and musicianship correctly and efficiently.
Great teachers manage and schedule new materials and effectively explain its importance and meaning. A teacher should encourage you when you are doing well and correct you where you may have gone wrong. Good teachers will show you how to better organize your practice materials and show you how to effectively manage your practice time (this is crucial to your progress!). They help you to build up your confidence level (even if you are not consciously aware that this is happening). A great guitar teacher will help you to become secure with your technical skills so that you can execute difficult techniques comfortably. These teachers emphasize creativity (song writing, improvising) and performing. Great teachers want to make sure that you fully understand what you are learning and, most importantly, teach you how to apply it by giving you detailed explanations and encouraging you to ask questions when something is unclear. A good guitar teacher sincerely cares about your musical growth and development. An experienced and competent teacher will take you far beyond what you could learn on your own.
Unfortunately, teachers are not licensed and there is no organization that oversees or regulates them. Anyone can claim to be a good teacher and there are lots of people who make this claim. The number of competent teachers, however, is limited. This brings us to this crucial question; How can a student find, choose, and then accurately evaluate a guitar teacher?
Here are some questions that you should ask any music teacher that you are considering to study with. I have also included my own comments for each question:
Can you please tell me about your teaching experience, such as: How long have you been teaching and approximately how many students have you taught during that time? At least 3-5 years of teaching experience would be preferred. Certainly no less than one year of experience. It is good if the teacher has taught a moderate to large number of students. It takes time for a teacher to really learn how to teach well and the main way that someone learns to teach is by teaching for a while. So a young teacher’s first students are like experiments. The teacher learns how to teach on-the-job by trial and error. The teacher learns how to teach over time and will make some mistakes in the beginning of his or her career. You don’t want to be one of those first 30-50 students. Let that teacher gain his or her experience by making mistakes on someone else.
Do you offer a free introductory course? Its good to get a feel of an instructor before you commit long term to lessons. This way you can get an idea of what the lesson environment is like, sample the curriculum and see how well you or your child related to the subject material. Then comes the best part, you can compare the lesson with other instructors. You can then make an informed decision which is best. Beware instructors that pressure you to continue lessons after a single block of instruction.
What is the cost of lessons? Excellent teachers are in demand and usually already have a lot of students. These teachers often are not cheap. I can tell you that the going rates for good teachers in the midwestern United States is between $16-$24 per 1/2 hour private lesson. There are a handful of teachers that offer correspondence guitar lessons for students who do not live in the same state or country as the teacher. Usually these lessons are less expensive in the long run. However, finding a good internet instructor can be difficult (if you are looking for Neoclassical instruction I highly recommend my instructor, guitar virtuoso Tom Hess ). In general, don’t look for the teacher with the lowest rates, you usually get what you pay for. If you can’t afford to pay the higher rates for a really good guitar teacher, ask the teacher if you can take lessons on a bi-monthly basis instead of taking weekly lessons.
Can you tell me how you teach the lessons? This is probably the most important question that you can ask a teacher. The answer to this question can really help you to determine if a teacher is competent because this is actually a trick question. Anyone can tell you that they have been teaching for 100 years and that they have had 10,000 students and the cost is $1,000 per lesson because they are the greatest teacher of all time, but an inexperienced teacher cannot trick you with his or her answer to this question (unless he or she is reading this article.) If a prospective teacher who does not know you, your musical knowledge, your guitar technique, your musical tastes, and your musical goals tries to explain how he or she will teach you, then this is not a competent teacher. Not even the best teacher on Earth could answer this question if that teacher knows nothing about you, your goals, your playing level, your knowledge of music theory, etc. So what would an experienced and competent teacher say to you when you ask the question? Well, I can tell you what I do when a new prospective student asks me this. I explain to him or her that I can’t formulate a lesson plan for anyone until I learn a lot more about that student’s playing, goals, musical tastes, knowledge of theory, etc.
In addition to asking the questions above, here are some other things to watch out for:
When students ask how to approach a certain technique or how to hold the pick correctly or how to most effectively mute strings that are not supposed to be sounding, the advice of some teachers is to do whatever feels natural to you. Sometimes what you may think is the natural way to hold your left hand may not be the correct way at all. It is the teacher’s job to know those types of things, the teacher should be teaching, not letting you do whatever you feel like. For most things, there is a right and wrong way and you will better off learning it the right way from the beginning.
Just because a teacher may have some talented students, does not mean that the teacher is good. This might seem like a good criteria for evaluating a teacher, but the fact is that sometimes advanced students were already good players before taking lessons from this new teacher. The only time that judging a teacher’s teaching skills, based on his or her student’s playing skills, is really a reliable criteria is when those advanced students started taking lessons from the same teacher since they were beginners.
Some teachers tell their students to try to learn from as many sources as possible and then leave it up to you to sort through it all and decide what works best for you. How are you supposed to decide that? How is a student to know what the best fingering is for a particular scale? Students typically won’t know how to determine what the right way is. This is one of the reasons why you have a teacher, it is his or her job to teach you these things, this is why you are giving the teacher your money!
Do not assume that someone is a good teacher just because he or she may be an excellent player or has good credentials. I know plenty of competent players with advanced music degrees that I don’t believe are good teachers. I was fortunate to have some truly great teachers, but I had some incompetent ones too, along the way. Whenever I realized that a teacher wasn’t good, I looked for a new teacher.
The following things are not required for someone to be a good teacher, but it certainly is to your advantage to have a teacher who, in addition to teaching you about guitar and music, can help you in some of these other ways:
Musc Pedagogy. This is learning how to teach music. If one of your goals is to be a music teacher then you would benefit greatly from a teacher who can teach you how to teach a variety of techniques, music theory, ear training, song writing, improvisation, sight reading, etc. You will also need to learn about how to deal with a wide variety of personality types. Every student is different and each of those students may learn and comprehend information in different ways. It is important for any teacher to understand this. You need to know how to explain the same information in several different ways so that you will be better able to teach all of your students well.
Recording advice. The better you become as a musician, the more likely it will be that you will want to record your guitar playing. If you have little or no experience in this area, then having someone who can help you is especially helpful.
Music business. If you plan to record, release and sell your own CD, now or in the future, there is a huge amount of music business information that you will need to learn if you want to make any money. Some teachers who have released their own CDs, and are promoting it themselves, can be the best source of help for selling your CD. You can also learn other things like how to set up gigs for your band and how to get the press to write about you.
So now that you have a better idea about what to look for in a teacher, the next question is, Where do you look for a really good teacher? This depends on if you are looking for a teacher to teach you privately (face to face) or if you are looking for a teacher to teach you through correspondence. Both are good and there are advantages to both ways. If you are looking for a private teacher to teach you face to face, check out these places first: Contact individuals who perform in the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra here on the Kenai Peninsula. Even if they can’t help you directly, they can usually refer you to someone who can help. Next, you can try your local music shops (where guitars are sold). Most music shops offer lessons, most of the teachers found here are not of the highest quality, but sometimes there are some really great teachers that you can find at these shops. When you call one of these shops, ask to speak to the manager or owner. Ask him or her, who are the most qualified teachers for you (your style of music and skill level). After you get the teachers names, make arrangements to speak to each of the teachers privately. Ask those teachers all of the questions that are written above. If you are not satisfied with any of those teachers, keep looking.
After teaching music for over seven years locally (and over 15 abroad) I can tell you that using the information above can really make a huge difference in finding an experienced high quality teacher. An incompetent teacher can severely hinder your ability to fully develop your music skills. If you are not progressing well, but you are spending a lot of time practicing, find another teacher.
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Choose the kind of guitar that interests you the most.
Many people mistakenly purchase an inexpensive acoustic guitar when they may really want an electric guitar. Often they are afraid they or their child will not stick with it. This is almost like buying a guarantee for failure. A cheaply made acoustic guitar will certainly lead you to quit because it is physically just too hard to play (or will not stay in tune). Coupled with the fact its not what you or your child really wanted in the first place, this is a formula for failure. Also, the technical approach for the electric, acoustic or classical guitar is different. In other words, if you master the acoustic guitar it will not necessarily translate well to the electric guitar. The next time you go to a concert or watch videos of your favorite bands and performers, notice the technical and musical way the instruments are being played is not the same when an acoustic guitar is being played and when a electric guitar is being played. The chords, notes and scales may look the same but the approach to playing the chords, notes and scales is different. Choose the kind of guitar you are most interested in playing.
Select the right size guitar.
Children should learn on small sized guitars that match their bodies. Do not try to save money by buying them a larger guitar that they will grow into. By the time they have grown into this guitar they may have stopped playing altogether because they became frustrated trying to play on an instrument that was too large for them. All three types of guitar are produced in 3/4 and 7/8 sizes. As a rough guide children from 5 to 9 should play on a 3/4 size and children from 9 to 12 on a 7/8 size. At around 12 years old most children can play a normal sized guitar as long as it is not a huge steel string. It is not necessary to buy a top notch and expensive instrument at this age as long as the guitar is reasonably well constructed and easy to play. A guitar that is too large will make it difficult for your child to make the proper reach with both the right and left hands. Having their arm as high as their shoulder to reach over the guitar can become uncomfortable and at worst painful. Over reaching for the first fret puts them at a great technical disadvantage because their muscles are already stretched out making it difficult to properly move their fingers on the fingerboard. Generally, adults are comfortable with full size guitars.
Many adult players make a mistake of getting a guitar that have too small of a neck width. Different types and brands of guitars have different neck widths. Electric guitars usually have a neck width of slightly under 1.7 inches, the acoustic guitar standard is 1.72 inches while the standard classical guitar is 2 inches. A smaller neck makes it easier to play fast and make chord changes but makes it harder to avoid unintentionally muting strings. A larger neck is better for fingerpicking (gives the fingers of the right hand more room) and makes it easier not to mute strings when playing chords. In general, a smaller neck is better for people with smaller hands and thinner fingers and a larger neck is better for people with large, thick fingers. There are some hybrid guitars: nylon string guitars with necks smaller than the classical standard and steel-string guitars with larger than standard size necks. These guitars are designed to allow players used to one type of guitar to play the other type without having to play on a different sized neck. While many of the hybrid guitars are not in the lower price range there are a few options in this price category. Some of the Seagull acoustic guitar models have a neck width of 1.8 inches while Taylor and Ovation makes a classical guitar with a 1.875 inch neck. There are some small variations in the neck widths of electric guitars but wider necked electrics are relatively rare outside of a few nylon string electrics in the higher price range with larger hands and thicker fingers. A small neck will give a.
If your left handed, GET A LEFT HANDED GUITAR!
Some people will disagree with me on this. Most of those people don’t teach music for a living. Your dominant hand should always be the picking hand. The reason for this is timing purposes. If your dominant hand is fretting and it is slow on chording, you will stop playing till you fret the chord. This is bad and a pain in the butt to teach where the subordinate hand forces the dominant hand to follow.
I buy a lot of used guitars. However, I know what I am doing. If you are interested in a used guitar here are some of the things to look for.
1 – Check the frets of the guitar (if you don’t know what that is, look at the diagrams I have provided in this article). If a guitar fall and the fret board hits the floor, it will dent the fret. This spells doom for a guitar. The fret needs to be replaced. If it is an older guitar, it is possible that all of the frets will need to be replaced. This is easily $150-$400 worth of work, depending on how many frets need to be replaced.
2 – Check intonation. Often a nice looking guitar gets sold because IT WONT STAY IN TUNE. The cause of this is often due to a manufacturing flaw in the guitar. I wont go in depth as to why this happens, suffice to say that the manufacturer got the fret spacing wrong (there is a formula that determines how far each fret must be from each other). To check this, you will need a tuner. Tune the guitar as best as you can (EADGBe). If you have problems tuning it with a tuner.. it’s a good sign that there is something wrong with the instrument. What will tell your for sure is if a tuned string is out of tune (more then 10 ct) when you fret at the 12 fret position, the guitar is BAD. This problem is not fixable. I have seen this problem often in Korean and Chinese made Squire Electric guitars.
3 – Hardware. If its an electric guitar, check the volume and tone knobs. If the knob continues to spin (it doesn’t stop at any point when you rotate it), that knob (potentiometer) is bad. This is not too much of a problem, a potentiometer replacement is not a deal killer. To replace all the potentiometers is only around $40 (with wire). Its also good practice for the student to know how to wire and solder their own hardware (chances are you will do it again).
4 – Tuning pegs. Look to see if any of the tuning pegs are missing or bent. To replace all the tuners usually is around $75 (you replace one, you usually have to replace them all because they will not match). Its hard to find a matching tuner, if you can find one.. its cheap ($15 dollars). If not, you replace them all.
Select a guitar that does not sell at the bottom of the price barrel.
This may seem a little difficult without giving you numbers but the old adage is almost always true, “You get what you pay for”. Sometimes you even get less. As a general rule, cheaply made guitars are not really playable or adjustable. They are not worth your time or money.
DO NOT select an expensive guitar unless..
You have put a lot of time behind the fret board and you know what kind of guitar is best for your style of playing. Guitars are specialized and not a one size fits all.
You have help from a seasoned musician that can help you. Many times a store will raise the price of an instrument to sell it. If your new to guitar, you wont be able to tell if its worth the money your spending
Do not fall into the so-called major “Brand Name” trap unless you know what you are getting into. Most major brand name companies compete with minor brand name companies for the entry and intermediate level player. Smaller brand name companies rely less on media advertising and more on dealer support and knowledge. These companies may even specialize in the entry and intermediate entry levels where as the major brands specialty is higher priced professional instruments. Obviously the cost of media advertising is included in the overall cost of the instrument. You may end up paying more for the brand name while the quality is the same or paying a competitive price for an instrument of less quality. A brand name guitar does not guarantee it to be a better guitar. As a side note, many major brand guitar makers provide free guitars to recording artist to use in concert, which is a very effective marketing tool. The fans that play guitar or want to begin playing the guitar associate the name brand with their favorite performers, not realizing that the expensive instruments they use share very little (except the name) with the entry level models.
The following items will help you become more aware of what to look for in a quality, adjustable instrument and one that is inspected and properly adjusted.