Choosing A Teacher
Your teacher can have a profound effect on your playing. You should seek a teacher who has training in music and guitar performance. If your goal is to play classical guitar, be wary of guitar teachers who are primarily flat-pickers and dabble in classical on the side. The instruction methods for classical guitar playing have improved immensely in the last generation. Find a teacher who specializes in classical.
If possible, try to see and hear students who’ve studied with the teacher you’re considering. This might be easier than you think. For example, the Cleveland Classical Guitar Society holds regular open recitals. Attending these is a good way to see which teachers are producing students who regularly perform. It also suggests that otherwise highly visible teachers whose students never perform might be better at self-promotion than actually helping students learn to play. Also, try to find a teacher who frequently plays duets with his or her students, both during lessons and in performances. Nothing will improve your musical ear faster than playing along with a proficient guitarist.
The going rate for guitar lessons varies enormously. In the greater Cleveland area, you’ll find teachers charging anywhere between $40 to $120 per hour. While rates might reflect the teacher’s training and experience, they tell you nothing of a teacher’s actual worth. A great teacher might charge relatively little—a bad teacher who thinks he’s great might charge a lot.
Initially, the best way to judge a teacher is to talk to him or her. Ask the teacher about his or her training and teaching experience. This in itself may not tell you if the teacher is competent, as there are many incompetent teachers with impressive résumés. But you’ll at least get a sense of the person you’re talking to, and that can help you decide if this is someone you’ll feel comfortable working with. Also, ask to talk to students (or parents of young students) of the teacher. If a teacher who’s worked in the area for a long time won’t give you the name of anyone to talk to, then you might want to look elsewhere.
Once you begin studying with a teacher, beware of the following:
If you encounter these problems, find another teacher. Don’t stay with an unsatisfactory teacher. (Always remember who’s paying whom.) Bear in mind that you may have to go through several teachers before you find a good one. Don’t feel bad about doing this. The wrong teacher wastes your time and money, and can foil your interest in learning the guitar.
Also beware of teachers who treat you like an idiot, as though you can’t possibly understand the things they know. If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, then obfuscation is the last refuge of a bad teacher. A teacher’s job is to clarify. When a teacher throws up his hands and claims something is unteachable, then he fails you on the most basic level. Not only does he fail you, but he also insinuates that the fault lies in you. Of course, I don’t minimize the difficulty of teaching a high level skill. Indeed, many of the nuances of good playing defy attempts to pin down and dissect. But this is the job anyone who teaches takes on. I’ve no patience for teachers who say they have knowledge you aren’t quite smart enough to understand, and neither should you. Teachers explain things—that’s what you pay them for.
How do you know you have a good teacher? Here are some good signs:
Finally, to those who’ve long considered taking lessons but have never quite convinced themselves to take the plunge, a word of advice. Over the years I’ve met many students who’ve waited years before signing up with a good teacher. None of them has ever regretted finally doing so, but almost all of them regret having put it off for so long. So don’t be afraid to jump in. Good teachers don’t bite, and they can introduce you to a world you might never have discovered on your own.