Choosing Your Guitar Teacher

Hello again from Colin Berrido, the independent music teacher based in Bagshot, Surrey, England.

I’ve been busy lately giving guitar lessons and teaching a variety of instruments – including mandolin and ukulele plus I’ve played a couple of gigs with Rogues Gallery – The Not So Traditional Barn Dance Band and I also did a stand-in/dep gig with another local barn dance band.

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For this posting I thought I’d chat over “Choosing Your Guitar Teacher” – very important for both you and your teacher to make the right choice.

This first thing to think about is: what to look for in picking a guitar teacher?

Some areas could be:

–       to learn to play in particular style.

–       to help me get in to College or University.

–       to boost my confidence and help me play in front of people.

–       to show me how to play barre chords.

–       show me how to solo.

–       or, to help me enjoy music and de-stress.

A good tip is to make a check list of what you want to ask your potential teacher BEFORE you contact them. With the Internet and all the Social Networking sites, such as Facebook/Twitter now available, it is relatively easy for you to check out possible teachers and draw up a short list of candidates.

As part of the screening process you should also ask around friends and family to see if they have any recommendations – “word of mouth” is a good source of information as you can get first hand opinions as to what a particular teacher is like. Music Shops are also a good source of information as they often personally know local teachers and can make recommendations.

A key point I would highlight is wherever possible CALL the prospective teacher up and speak with them. You will instantly get an idea of whether you will get on with them – after all we are all people and “chemistry” is important. Sometimes, for no fault of our own (or the other person), the “chemistry” is wrong and the relationship doesn’t fly. By speaking directly with someone you can get an instant “read out” as to their personality and can quickly gauge if you will get along with them.

Getting back to your Check List – questions you might want to ask when choosing your guitar teacher are:

–       Do they have a recognised Teaching Qualification? I hold a teaching Diploma from the London College of Music (Dip LCM). Remember – great players don’t always make the best teachers (and vice versa).

–       How long have they been teaching? In general, it is difficult to short cut experience.

–       What level/grade can they teach up to? Not all teachers will teach (or want to teach) up to advanced level students. I had a good friend who was a piano teacher and he only taught up to Grade 5 by choice but he was brilliant at getting people up and running!

–       Ask what they think is the most important aspect a student should focus on? The obvious answer is of course – keep up regular practice, but other points of view could include, play music that you like (I’m a firm believer in this philosophy), make sure you play with other musicians, learn to read music (I tend to learn towards the Suzuki philosophy of “learn to play first & them loop back and learn the theory or learn to read music”. As guitarists we have the advantage of being able to use TAB – which I believe is an excellent system as long as it’s used in conjunction with regular notation).

–       Ask what teaching aids or facilities they have? As the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland said – “You have to keep running just to stay where you are!” Technology keeps moving on at a rate of knots and it’s important that your teacher can offer you the advantages of these advancements. Now I’m the first person to say I love valve amps (very old analogue technology) but I wouldn’t record them with a reel to reel recorder anymore (although that could sound very good) simply because at some point I would have to convert the analogue signal to a digital one. For speed and simplicity I use an iPad with a dongle/digital analogue interface these days since the amp emulations are very good and it gives me the ability to quickly email or file share the recording with a student.

On the subject of recording I’m a big fan of recording a student’s efforts (particular those who are working towards an external exam) since it gives them the chance to hear how they are getting on. It’s also a non critical way to give constructive feedback – more often than not we are very self critical of our own work and think our “mistakes” are the size of Mount Everest when in fact when you listen back to the recording they are barely noticeable. Once we learn we can often “get away” with little faux pas as our confidence level rises – which has to be good (see you can “fool” the listener some of the time!).

–       Do they have Web Site or use Social media? This is a good way to keep in contact with your teacher and get extra tips and information (for free!).

–       Do they have any specialist knowledge or types of music they specialize in? Like most teachers I’m a bit of a “jack of all trades” – we have to be to help our students however my specialism is electric Celtic based folk music – in particular playing jigs & reels and the like on electric guitar (that Richard Thompson chap has a lot to answer for but is still the Master). I find they are great “finger twisters” and are an excellent supplement to conventional scales (and more fun – which is the aim of the game after all).

–       Are they a working, gigging musician? I still am and I share my experiences of what pieces of kit – amps, guitars, effects pedals etc., that I find work well (or don’t). This often saves my students a lot time in chasing down a gigging rig that will sound good (and often keeps them on track to a limited budget).

I’m sure you will have lots of questions of your own but I hope these will spark your thought process.

Please don’t lose sight of the fact that a good music teacher can have a long and lasting positive effect on you as well helping you learn to play guitar – they can be inspirational, a mentor, a gigging partner (two of my current band are former pupils) or just a great source of learning. I was taught piano from the age of seven to fourteen (when I took up guitar) and the music theory I was taught by my piano teacher, for which I will be forever grateful, I still use on a daily basis.

So take some time and seek out a teacher that ticks the boxes for you – a teacher is not just for Christmas but their effect on you may be for life (like my piano teacher was for me).

One thought on “Choosing Your Guitar Teacher

  1. Great advice.. making sure you find a music teacher committed to improving your ability is v. important, some teachers can simply clock watch and go through the motions rather than strive to improve you!

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