Guest post by David Andrew Wiebe
Every day, there are new students picking up the guitar.
That means there is a demand for guitar teachers who can offer productive guidance and direction.
If you’re a good guitarist and have decided you’d like to become a professional guitar teacher, then there are certain steps you should take to ensure your successful employment.
There will be more steps to take for those who are inexperienced, and fewer for those who’ve already gotten their feet wet.
So, here are nine tips on how to become a guitar teacher.
Take lessons yourself
You might be a decent guitar player already. But if you’ve never taken any lessons, now is the time to work under the direction of a teacher to develop your chops.
This won’t just make you a better, more knowledgeable player. It will also give you a better idea of how to carry out lessons of your own.
My first guitar teacher did an entire lesson on how to teach guitar for me, and that gave me a great head start. Maybe you could request that from your teacher too.
Teaching is a different ballgame than learning on your own or even jamming with others. It requires a great deal of concentration and discipline.
I don’t know about you, but when I have a guitar in my hands, I just feel like playing. That was even the case when I was with my students.
So, when you’re teaching, you must be focused on what your students are doing and how they’re doing it. You must offer constructive feedback and help correct bad technique.
Watching how your teacher does it can be instructional.
Study guitar method books
There’s a good chance you’ll be teaching many of your students from a book at one point or another.
Some teachers do this because it’s their preference. Others do it because it’s encouraged at the studio they teach at.
Either way, you should spend some time studying guitar method books, because you can’t teach what you don’t know.
You’re going to need to learn the basics of sight-reading, which can be a challenge on the guitar, but it’s worth the effort.
There’s a good chance you’ll only need to learn the basics, but if you want to go beyond, you certainly can. For those times when you have more skilled students, you’ll be glad you did.
Of course, you can also study other guitar or music theory related books and get a lot of value from those.
Going to school to learn your instrument or music in general can help you command higher pay as a guitar teacher.
If you want to go to school to learn music, that’s fine. Spending several years studying the craft should equip you with more tools you can use to effectively teach your students.
Another more affordable option is to take online guitar courses, whether it’s through an independent provider or a course marketplace like Udemy.
I would see no issue adding completed courses to my resume.
And, for the same cost of a diploma or degree, you could probably take well over 250 online courses.
Regardless, you should see taking courses as an opportunity to grow your knowledge and improve as a player.
Learn a variety of musical styles
Although some teachers specialize in different areas of music – whether it’s country or the blues – I think it pays to be a versatile guitarist, especially as a teacher.
Not all your students are going to want to learn the same thing. Some will come to you asking to learn the latest top 40 hits.
You might find this a little annoying, especially as you attempt to adapt a synth riff to the guitar, but it’s important to keep lessons fun.
If music isn’t fun to the student, or they aren’t naturally passionate about it, there’s a good chance they’ll lose interest or spend no time practicing on their own.
So, you should always be tuned in to what your students want to learn, whether it’s punk rock, singer-songwriter, country, jazz or otherwise.
If you can teach in a variety of styles, people won’t have trouble referring more students to you.
Or, if you’re working at a guitar store, the administrative staff will be more likely to set you up with a wider group of students, which is always good for income.
Record and publish your own music
Recording and publishing your own music takes considerable work, but it can only help you as a teacher.
It doesn’t help you in the sense that if the staff at the guitar store know you play in a band and at any moment you could end up going on tour, they may have to think twice about hiring you.
But where it does help is in showing off your skills and determination as a musician. It’s not easy to put together an entire album’s worth of material, and if you can show yourself as capable in this regard, you could land better opportunities as a teacher.
Another benefit is that your students may end up buying your CDs and come to you wanting to learn your riffs. That can be quite gratifying.
If you don’t have a home studio setup already, it’s worth putting some money towards one, even if it’s just for preproduction work.
If you want to make a quality album, you should spend plenty of time messing around with your demos, so you know exactly what you want to do in the studio.
Session playing also counts, so it’s worth gaining experience playing for other artists too, whether it’s on stage or in the studio.
Gain live performance experience
Practicing in your bedroom or basement is good and all, but it’s not as good as performing in front of an audience. Live performance is the best practice there is.
When you’re under pressure to perform, it’s easy to freeze up or choke. But if you can pull off everything you can pull off in your bedroom on stage, you’re inching infinitely closer to mastery.
Prospective employers will be impressed by someone who has live performance experience, even if it isn’t extensive.
It shows that you can learn parts, play well with other instruments and hold your own on stage. It might even speak to you having a good ear for picking up riffs, licks and melodies (and, by the way, ear training is a worthy topic all its own).
So, go out and play some open mics or the local circuit to gain some experience.
Build your portfolio
A guitar teacher’s portfolio is made up of many of the components we’ve already discussed.
Here I will show you the kinds of items you can add to your resume or even your teacher website:
- Your teachers. Who have you taken lessons with and for how long? You can keep adding to this list by taking lessons with locally established teachers, even if it’s just spot lessons.
- Articles you’ve read. There are a lot of great, thorough how to play guitar guides out there and keeping track of which you’ve worked your way through can be beneficial.
- Books you’ve studied. What books have you studied? Only include books you understand completely from top to bottom.
- Courses you’ve taken. Only include courses you’ve fully completed. You can also include your education, if relevant.
- Musical styles you can play. You could include a list of primary and secondary genres you feel comfortable playing.
- Music you’ve released. A list of musical releases you’ve participated in – singles, EPs and albums.
- Shows you’ve played. One-off gigs, mini tours, tours, festivals, and radio appearances and so on.
- Blog posts or articles published. Do you have any relevant blog posts or articles that have been published? List those out. Guest posts are okay too.
- Information products you’ve published. Something else that can build your authority as a teacher (and generate more income) is creating and launching information products, like books, eBooks, courses and so on. List these in your portfolio, if applicable.
I would be impressed by any teacher who can demonstrate their worth based on their experience and hard work, and I think most students or employers would be too.
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Develop a curriculum
Ultimately, you will be customizing curriculums for all your students.
This is something a skilled teacher knows how to do, to keep her students engaged and motivated over the long haul.
So, we aren’t necessarily talking about creating a set-in-stone curriculum for your students at this point. This is more about developing a skeleton framework, so you know how to progress through each lesson.
After all, all your students will progress at a different pace. You can inspire them, but what they do with each lesson is mostly up to them.
And, you need a plan for your lessons. You can’t just play it by ear.
For instance, even if you think most people should be able to master open chords within a small amount of time, you’ll find that in many cases you will have to work up to it.
Here’s an example of a curriculum with a gentle learning curve. Believe me when I say it takes many students months if not a full year just to get through this amount of material:
- Guitar anatomy – the names of the different parts of a guitar.
- Finger exercises – basic exercises to strengthen fingers.
- One string scale exercises – how to play the major scale on one string, on every string.
- Single note melodies or riffs – playing songs one note at a time.
- Double stops – how to play a riff using two strings at a time.
- Triads – how to play a riff using three strings at a time.
- Power chords – how to play a song using power chords.
- C major and A minor scale – using four strings.
- E minor pentatonic scale – across all six strings plus riffs.
- Open chords – A, C, D, E, G, Am, Dm, Em.
- Songs using open chords – some Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Steelers Wheel or something like that.
- Barre chords – starting with F and gradually moving into more complicated shapes like Bm.
- Memorizing notes on the fretboard – specifically, the E string.
So, there’s an example of a basic curriculum (from beginner to intermediate). You can take it and run with it if you like. Or, you can modify it based on your own hunches and observations.
A potential student or employer will be pleased to see you’ve done your homework, and if you show them a detailed curriculum (does not need to cover all the way up to advanced players), they will be more likely to want to work with you.
Apply for work and be open minded
There are a variety of ways you can offer lessons, whether it’s from your own home, in the homes of your students, online, at a guitar store or studio, at church, at a school (usually requiring more formal education), or otherwise.
If you’re a new teacher with no established track record (besides your work portfolio, of course), I assume the first place you’re going to apply at is local guitar stores. This is how I got started.
No matter what job, if you can get a referral from someone who already works at the store, you will greatly increase your chances of being hired. I got several teaching gigs this way.
There’s nothing complicated about this process. You can drop in at local guitar stores at a time that makes sense for you and drop off your resume.
If the person you talk to knows what’s going on, they will probably tell you “there are no openings for teachers”, “we might be looking for someone”, “we could use a substitute teacher”, “play me a few songs” or otherwise.
If there are no openings, fine, at least they know who you are and have your resume on hand just in case.
If there is an opening, and you’re hired on, there’s a good chance you’ll start off with just one- or two-night’s worth of students – probably not enough to earn a living, but an okay side income. As you prove yourself, you should be given more.
Also, I’ve worked as a substitute guitar teacher before and I must tell you it can be a sweet side hustle, depending on the studio. I happened to get in with the highest-paying one in town.
As you gain experience, you’ll be able to tap into more opportunities, command higher fees and choose who you want to work with.
Guitar teachers don’t have it easy by any means.
Working full-time often means teaching 40 to 60 students (or more) per week, and giving each one your full attention as you’re teaching them.
But some guitar teachers absolutely love it. They even told me they couldn’t believe they got paid to play guitar all day.
You won’t know whether it’s the right career for you unless you give it a try. So, gain the experience necessary to be hired and give it your best.
David Andrew Wiebe is a professional guitar teacher, musician and staff writer at Music Industry How To. Still regularly recording music, his latest EP ‘No Escape’ is out now.
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