How to: begin teaching guitar

Every month, Guitar Techniques attempts to answer guitarists' playing posers and technical teasers with expert and practical advice. This time, some advice on providing guitar tuition…

The question

Dear GT

I'm about to start teaching guitar privately and need some advice. How do you make inroads with an absolute beginner? What's the first thing to teach them? I figure that if I just rush in with sheets of chords and scales they need to learn I'm going to lose them. Any advice?


The answer

In general, we think that the sooner you make some sort of connection with a student on a musical level, the better the chances are that you will be able to teach them effectively.

For instance, we find that we can get basic information across like chords, scales and so on by using examples from a student's favourite players or bands. If we had a 50 year old guy who was in to Hank Marvin then we would demonstrate simple scale patterns by showing him how they fit into The Shadows' music.

We would apply the same approach if the student in front of us was into Metallica, or James Taylor.

The point here is that if the student feels that you are teaching them something that is 100% relevant to the music they like and wants to learn, you'll cross many of the initial hurdles more easily. You won't fall into the 'why are you telling me this? It's not what I want to play...' trap, either.

As a teacher you have to adopt and adapt, but you have on your side the fact that an awful lot of what you need to teach someone is common to all styles and so it's not the actual rule book you're altering, just the form of presentation.

Meanwhile, if you encourage your pupils to bring in music that they want to learn for you to transcribe, then the lessons will be far more interesting for them. Virtually all music uses basic chords, pentatonic, major and minor scales and so you are getting across all the essential information wrapped up in something that will grab their interest and maintain it for longer.

You can always work on broadening their musical outlook later on by playing them examples of different styles and players. But as long as they can go away at the end of a lesson feeling that they've learnt something about the music they want to play, you'll succeed.