How to Teach the Best Guitar Classes that Students Love

David Hoge teaches 15 hours a week of group guitar classes and makes a good income doing it. He loves going to work each day, and his students love to learn. But it was not always this way. He encountered many obstacles and frustrations along the way. He recently shared 6 lessons learned the hard way through 40 years of guitar teaching experience.

David began teaching guitar while he was a student of John Sutherland at University of Georgia. David went on to work in music stores in Florida for many years, doing retail and teaching privately. He enjoyed the mutually beneficial relationship of having a teaching studio in a music store.

But David became frustrated with certain aspects of teaching privately. He found 30-minute lessons went by too quickly and that it was difficult to keep them running on time. Dealing with makeup lessons was a huge hassle. He developed a waiting list but did not want to make students wait. He wanted young people to start learning whenever they desired.

He began dreaming of starting a new kind of guitar studio, one focused on group classes. He found the right location, next to a new music store that was about to open. He took the plunge. Here are 6 lessons he learned:

      1. Consider Student Preferences – In a single week, he transitioned all his private students to group classes. On the second day of teaching in the new format, a kid in one class yelled out “I’m bored!” David left the studio in a daze, feeling that he had made a huge mistake and wondering if he should go back to teaching private lessons. After spending that night agonizing over what to do, he went to class the next day and asked students what music they wanted to play. He then went out and bought sheet music for everything they named. He required his students to white out any objectionable lyrics and to focus on playing the guitar parts. From that day onward, he has kept racks of sheet music of all styles around the walls of his classroom.
      2. Rotate Attention – He tried different approaches but found the best approach was walking around the class working with each student individually. Each student practices a different piece, and he gives each one a brief lesson or word of advice. He occasionally takes 1-2 minutes to teach the whole class a topic and then goes back to individual coaching. At the end of class, he has a mini-recital where anyone who wants to play for the class can do so.
      3. Employ Student Assistants – David noticed it was difficult to monitor every student during every class period. He realized the solution to this problem when he observed taekwondo classes where advanced students served as teaching assistants. He adopted this model. When a student reaches a certain level of learning, she is given a T-shirt and offered the opportunity to serve as a teaching assistant. While the taekwondo teacher did not pay teaching assistants, David decided to do so. Students can earn $9-$15 per hour, but they only work 10-40 minutes per week. They earn less than $600 per year, the jobs are not dangerous, and they are not taking a job away from anyone else. According to David’s accountant, this complies with tax regulations and child labor laws. If you want to create a similar arrangement for your students, check with an accountant to confirm compliance with laws in your location.David’s teaching assistants are excited to earn money and gain experience. Many of his students are able to get other jobs by mentioning on a resume the work experience in David’s studio. One of his former students, James Adam Shelley, mentioned his experience as a teaching assistant on his application to Berklee School of Music. Shelley has gone on to become one of the founding members of the successful band American Authors.
      4. Post Incentive Charts – To motivate students to make progress, David puts incentive charts on the walls of his studio. On these charts, students can record each piece they have mastered. These charts are structured around the FJH method books that David has co-authored.
      5. Maximize BrainBased Learning – David’s wife Pamela did her Ph.D. dissertation on brain-based learning. David gained many insights from her research, which indicated that the brain learns most effectively when the following elements are in place:
        • Choices: He allows students to choose from a wide variety of pieces in group classes.
        • Hydration: David keeps water bottles on hand to share with his students.
        • Frequent Breaks: Each student can take breaks as needed while David is working with other students.
        • Attention Span: David doesn’t expect an elementary school student to listen to him for more than 10 minutes at a time.
        • Positive, Supportive Environment: Instead of having a big stressful recital at the end of each semester, David has a “mini-recital” at the end of each class. Students are encouraged to perform but never forced. David tells students that if he ever forces them to perform, they can pour ice water on his head. He gives pieces of candy and other small rewards to students.David and Pamela Hoge
      6. Create a Generous Business Model – David believes that if you offer a high-quality product at a fair price, you will never lack for business. He offers students a two-week free trial period. He does not require a contract. When his rates change, current students are grandfathered in, so their rates never go up. He is currently charging $90/month for the first child in the family, $50/month for the second child in the family, and $0/month for the third child in the family and beyond.He currently teaches 15 hours of classes per week. He lets students come in for as many of those 15 hours as they want. With this policy, there is no need to worry about students running late or missing lessons and needing makeups. He teaches around 60-65 students per week in his 15 classes. The number of students who show up to a class on a given day may range from 4-20. During the summer, some students come for all 15 hours of classes each week.David supplements his teaching income with royalties from his publications with FJH Music. He also earns income from having designed the first accredited online middle-school and high-school guitar courses for Florida Virtual School. These are being licensed outside the state of Florida as well.

If you are feeling frustrated about certain aspects of your guitar teaching, drawing from David’s experience can help take your studio to the next level.

To see David’s publications, visit the FJH website. If you wish to contact David, you can do so through his personal Facebook page.

Question: Which of these strategies are you most excited about implementing in your teaching? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Chad Henry

    Im not excited about any of these strategies, but I’m an adult student not a youngster. I’d rather work with a teacher that has a syllabus, but who also lets me bring in work I’m interested in learning, to see if I’m ready for it or not. He teaches 15 hours of classes a week? Are these one-hour segments fifteen times a week? Sounds like he has something that works for him but would not for me. And it sounds like class would be NOISY, with a lot of kids all playing different stuff–how could a student concentrate?

    • He teaches 15 classes per week. Each class is 50 minutes long, to allow 10 minutes in between for one group to leave and another to come in. When I observed David’s classes, I found that he kept the noise level moderate and that students learned to focus on what they were doing even while others were playing. David’s group class format works well for him and his students, and I find it a noteworthy approach for other teachers to consider. Although David stopped teaching private lessons entirely for a period of time, he later resumed teaching private lessons and currently teaches a few private students in addition to his group classes.

      • One suggestion regarding noise spillover: You can have all students place a piece of cloth or sponge under their strings when you are not working with them. This greatly reduces the noise level when teaching group classes using the series of private lesson approach. For more suggestions regarding various approaches for teaching group classes, see this previous post:

        • David Hoge

          Chad, you are absolutely correct! It works well for me and most of my students, but it is not something that would work for everyone. 🙂

  • Michael Kent Smith

    In 2005 I spent a month in Jeréz de la Frontera in the South of Spain studying Flamenco guitar. The teacher I studied with used a very similar concept. I had never seen anything similar before (even though I have spent 25 years as a guitar instructor here in the US) but I really thought it worked well. If I had the physical space, I’d try to do something similar.