Is it Time to Take Guitar Lessons?

Courtesy of Tim Gillespie...

Sooner or later every guitar player will ask this same question... "Should I get a teacher and take guitar lessons or should I just teach myself how to play?"

What you want to achieve? How good do you want to get? How hard do you want to work? What is it that you want to learn? And where do you live? Thanks to the Internet, this last consideration may become less and less of a factor.

These questions assume one thing. They assume you have a reason for getting an instructor in the first place. Everyone actually does have a reason, even if they don't know it yet. In other words, often times a person is not sure why they are going to an instructor or what they should even expect from this experience. They just think that they will most likely get better if they do this. So they go!

Share the responsibility...
But there are problems with this approach. First it puts all the responsibilities on the teacher to make sure he (or she) figures out what you want and then supplies instruction that will instill it. Although it is the teacher's responsibility to make sure you get what you pay for, it is not his or her responsibility alone. The correct answer is for both of you to share the responsibilities.

Another problem is you may get better but not in the way you intended. It probably would not be a satisfying experience if a 15 year old started lessons thinking he would learn to play heavy metal, only to end up with a guitar teacher who demands the student go through classical training.

He would be learning to play a guitar, but not the way he intended. Most of the time when something like this happens, you can count the days until the person quits. When it happens no one may notice. Often times the student doesn't realizes it for awhile. They just quit!

The #1 reason... Because it's not fun (to them personally). Other reasons could of course include time issues, or over-booking in a students personal life. But, in general students quit because the teacher is not teaching anything of immediate value and so the lessons have become dull. The reality of the situation never measured up with the vision the student had when they decided to start. It wasn't at all what they had expected.

Here is another reaction. A student wants to learn a few chords and nothing more. He is trying to learn just enough to play some very basic folk-rock songs. He takes lessons from a teacher that uses a standard program for everyone. It turns out to be ten times the information the student wanted /needed and it points him in the complete wrong direction. The result is often the same. The person stops taking lessons, or even worse, they stop playing guitar entirely.

It does not matter if we are talking about teenagers, or a 50 year old Dead Head. The problems is, if you feed a person information in the wrong way, they don't get it, they don't like it and they stop playing. They never got close to the vision they had for themselves when they got motivated enough to start taking guitar lessons in the first place. How does this happen? Better yet, how can you avoid this?

Often times a student will pick the wrong avenue to achieve their goals. They know what they wanted when they dreamed up the idea of going to a guitar teacher. They just didn't figure out how to get there once they sat down in a studio with their new instructor. There was nothing wrong with the original intention. They just didn't get enough of the answers that wanted from the instructor to keep them going back.

So what is the right approach?
Choose your teacher carefully and figure out before hand what you want. Selecting a teacher is not an easy task. Teachers are all different. They are as diverse as students. They all know a different subset of information. They all have a different perspective. Each teacher holds a mental collection of experiences. This mental collection is made up from life experiences. It is a major component of how a teacher thinks of his or herself.

Maybe the teacher has extensive experience in performing, or maybe they have an accreditation from a professional music school (generally a good thing). Maybe they've taught all the other kids in the neighborhood. Whatever.

Each teacher learned a different way, they had different teachers and different styles of learning. They all teach a little differently too. They all have different ideas of what should be taught and what is the proper way to proceed.

They all have individual biases too. Everyone does! Because of their diverse backgrounds, they all have different things to teach. A classical teacher probably won't be able to teach heavy rock lead licks and rock riff construction. they probably don't know it because they don't play it and they don't study it. That style of music is completely foreign to them.

All teachers have something to teach. They all have something that they know well enough to be able to teach someone. The trick is to find the instructor that teaches what you want to learn. In order for that to happen, you must have an idea of what you would like to learn. It all comes back to what you want? And for that to be known, you have to have some direction.

Remember we go to teachers to get better. You can use a teacher for an extended period or just to pick up some specific skills. Usually if you find a good teacher, you can speed up the process of learning.

Teachers can make the subject easier to grasp and quickly turn that information into new musical ability. When you find the right teacher you can jump to a higher degree of confidence and extract more fun from the instrument. It's very cool. They can help a lot!

But it is helpful if students take their rightful place in this process and that means they need to take on ownership of their lessons. The students are not only the managers of the topics studied with the teacher... They are also the ones that have to live with the results.



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