The 7 Biggest Mistakes Guitar Teachers Make

How can you help students accomplish more in less time?  How can you eliminate obstacles that get in the way of effective teaching?

There are many roadblocks a teacher may encounter, but some are more significant than others.  If you want to take your teaching to the next level, it is especially important to avoid the following mistakes:

  1. Not Caring About Your Students.

If you teach solely for the benefits that you receive, you should stop teaching. While teachers, like other professionals, should be paid for their work, it is important to focus on serving students and giving them much more value than you receive. If you lose sight of this, you are missing a vital element of the teaching profession.

  1. Playing Guitar Poorly.

Guitar skill goes hand in hand with effective teaching. Your students will emulate you, and you are a role model for their playing.  In our educational system, it seems as if K-12 teachers are expected to excel at teaching even if they do not master their content area while university teachers are expected to excel in their content area even if they do not teach well.  I believe that teachers at all levels should master the content as well as the teaching and learning process.  Keep growing and developing your skills so that you can keep leading your students.

  1. Not Enjoying the Guitar.

If you do not enjoy the guitar, then your students are not likely to enjoy it.  If you begin to experience burnout, ask yourself “What attracted me to the guitar in the first place?” Reconnect with those elements that kindled your passion, and help your students to do likewise.  Also, discover new artists who inspire you and new reasons to enjoy the guitar.

  1. Not Giving Students What They Want.

Students enjoy the guitar more when playing music they like.  It is important to ask students questions like “What do you want to get out of guitar lessons?” and “What are your favorite songs/pieces?”  Then, help students accomplish their personal goals in playing guitar.

  1. Not Giving Students What They Need.

What students need is not always the same as what they want. Sometimes the knowledge and skills that will be most useful in the long term are not important to students in the short term. A good example is note reading. Most teachers realize the value of this, but many students do not.  It is important to balance what the student enjoys now with the skills they will need in the future.  If you can teach both at the same time, you are on the path to success as a guitar teacher.

  1. Communicating Poorly.

If you have all the knowledge in the world but cannot convey it to others, you will struggle as a teacher.  Good communication involves speaking effectively about what you know, and it also involves asking a lot of questions and listening carefully to the student.  You need to discover not only whether you have shared the information but whether the student has received and applied it.

  1. Not Helping Students Learn Independently.

While students benefit from having a teacher over a period of years, they eventually reach a point where they no longer study with a teacher. If you train your students to think critically, ask questions, and solve problems, they will develop into independent learners who can move forward without your guidance.  Instead of feeling threatened by this, you should celebrate it as a sign of a job well done.

If you are making some of the mistakes listed above, identify what steps you need to take to grow and move forward.  Over time, as you improve your teaching, you and your students will reach new heights of achievement.

Question: What did I miss?  What mistakes do you see guitar teachers making? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


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

  • Justin Schroder

    Another ‘Mistake’ by guitar teachers can be failing to prune one’s student roster. Nothing sucks the fun out of teaching more than a student that refuses to learn what they claim to desire. Well, I guess there is a tie between that and the great student who’s parent decides to treat the price of learning music as if it were a phone bill.

    • I think the challenge for the teacher in those cases is finding ways to inspire the student and parent with the value of music. In some cases, they can be convinced that music is worth the practice time and money needed to get the desired results. In other cases, the teacher may reach the point where he suggests that the student’s time and money can be better spent in other ways. This may seem to be against the teacher’s best interest, but it is a demonstration of integrity.

      • Justin Schroder

        I’m referring to the student who stays for months and remains unable to play as well as they could with regular practice time. Sometimes I think there is a false belief of progress when the student progresses during a lesson further than they regress during the week without practice time. I find it funny when I ‘receive’ a new student that learns in two months time what most of my students take six months to achieve. A refreshing moment of: “Oh, so what I do for others is valid if put to use!”.

        • I remember I once asked my graduate school guitar professor how you motivate students to practice. “Pay them!” was his answer, only partly in jest. In some cases, we can find pay for students who practice; we may have access to a scholarship program or another type of reward system. Most of the time, we simply try to convince students of the intrinsic rewards of practicing, but as you say, some students will persistently refuse to take action.

          • Justin Schroder

            Agreed, and when running a private studio, the pressure of recitals is usually a strong motivator. Otherwise, we can only depend on the student’s love of music and guitar. Frankly, who needs more motivation than that?

          • I find participation in an annual judged event, such as the National Federation of Music Clubs Festivals, to be very motivational for my students.

          • One other point is that progress is not our only product. It is an important one, to be sure, but there are many other things that we teach in a music lesson. It is interesting to me that not all parents care so much that their children become strong performers – they would like that, to be sure, but I have some who just want their child to have a positive exposure to the arts, to learn how artists think and solve problems, to learn about beauty and its many forms. Hopefully these will translate into students being interested enough to focus and progress in their performance skills, but it is not always the case. Would I ‘prune’ my roster? Only if nothing was happening with the student at our lessons, and that doesn’t usually happen.

          • Another good point. In most cases, I think that progress in playing the instrument is the primary goal of lessons, which will have the byproducts of positive exposure to the arts, beauty, and thinking processes of an artist. Nonetheless, there are some students who enjoy lessons in spite of making little progress. I had one parent tell me that lessons had done wonders for their son’s confidence and learning skills in other areas even though he made very slow progress on the guitar over an extended period of time.

          • I can certainly believe that, Sean. It’s not the norm, but it does happen. I’m glad (as I am sure you are also) that you stuck with him over that long period of time.

          • Agreed!

          • Adjudicated events provide a nice supplement to recitals. They can elicit an added level of motivation because of the clear goals involved.

          • Nice article, Sean!
            Here’s a thought – Students learn at different rates even when they practice every day. Teachers need to realize this and hang in there with students who don’t meet the ‘average-or-better’ rates of progress. This can take time, especially with the occasional student who has fine motor control challenges. A good teacher knows there are many paths up the mountain, and will be able to change approaches until something works.

          • Jim, it is a good point that different students learn at various rates and in various ways. The teacher needs to be patient and be able to differentiate instruction to help each learner.

    • Todd Tipton

      I am not suggesting a specific answer here. However, I am reminded of a particular student I had many years ago. I was teaching in a music store to put myself through undergrad. I had one particular student that, by most people’s guesses, certainly needed to be pruned. I tolerated the situation frankly because I needed the money. Many years later, I found out this student looked forward to the lessons, was the highlight of his week, and that I had inspired him to love music and guitar in his own unique and modest ways. He still plays music today. I have no idea what would have happened to him if I had pruned him. I can’t say that I enjoyed the lessons either. What I CAN say is that experience gave me a change of perspective for future situations. People are in my studio because they want to be. Every situation is unique, and there is no doubt that an occasional student needs to taken off my roster. However, I am reminded of my past experience when dealing with such a delicate situation.

      • David Hoge

        Wow Todd, that is great! I had a student (many years ago) who played the same song (that he wrote) for me week after week after week. He didn’t want to play anything else. So instead of forcing new music on him, I would ask him to play his song. We got along fine, but he didn’t seem to be progressing. Eventually, he stopped his lessons with me. Later I found out he had a band and was known as being an awesome guitarist (by his peers). My point is that I might not have been the best teacher for him, but at least I didn’t break my number one rule of never saying or doing anything that would make someone quit music altogether. That is a heavy burden to carry. 🙂

      • Great points, Todd. I usually ‘tolerate’ prune-able students because I don’t want to hurt their feelings and delude myself into believing it isn’t because of the money. 🙂

        Some of my ‘worst’ beginning students put in hours of effort and became good players; some professional. However, I’m really referring to the 10-year old boys who absolutely refuse to play their instrument. Ever.

        One never knows which student will become the one you describe.


      • Jennifer McCoy Blaske

        That’s awesome, Todd. We never know as teachers what is going on, or what will happen in the future. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • Students learn at different rates even when they practice every day. Teachers need to realize this and hang in there with students who don’t meet the ‘average-or-better’ rates of progress. This can take time, especially with the occasional student who has fine motor control challenges. A good teacher knows there are many paths up the mountain, and will be able to change approaches until something works.

    • Being patient and changing approaches as needed are both important.

  • Paul Hoogeveen

    Exercise patience! As I’m sure we’ve experienced in our own practice, players often experience periods on a “plateau” –whether it be within a specific piece of music, or a particular technique–before moving upward. Impatience feeds student frustration. Now of course, if a student is not practicing, they need constant encouragement to do so, but this goes back to helping them stay connecting with their passion and encouraging them to work independently.

  • David Hoge

    Great blog post Sean!

    My number one rule is to never say or do anything that would make a student quit playing music. That is a heavy burden to carry. 🙂

  • Brett Allen Birchard

    Excellent points Sean!!!! It’s very encouraging as I will be starting to teach my first student in few weeks!!!!

  • Reli Suyskens

    mistakes all being “the biggest” , apart from probably another seventy
    (?) a bit less “biggest”, are too many roadblocks for me to even get to
    read this academic article on the subject. The subject of course about
    motivation. For instance the first issue: how to accomplish more in less
    time? Why less time? Real passion makes no issue of time. A suggestion
    for teachers themselves: keep only the real passionate students, even if
    this brings less money in the pocket.

    • Cranky Crab

      I’m guessing you don’t make a living at teaching.

      • Reli Suyskens

        You are indeed just “guessing” and you are also guessing wrong. I “guess” you have problems handling a critical note on your “selffullfilling testimony of important teacher-ship”. I also guess you are one of the many teachers who spent lot of “intellectuality” to spelling out how to and when to and to whom to and how much to teach to their students. This preoccupation with spelling out “the metier”, specially in the field (your field appearantly!) of motivation, creates a feeling of importancy for “the teacher” himself. This “me and my students” thing, this “Mi Toe” status quo of being among “the masters”. I have a different approach, of wich a simple principle is sufficient: working and studying on music can only be fruitfull and honest if it comes from intrinsic motivation, both for student as well as for teacher. Don’t make so much “intellectual” fuzz about it. If it is right it goes without all these suggested problems you mean to adress to in your “seven biggest mistakes” article. In wich you pretend to teach the teachers by the way, ranking yourself… But i guess you teach for a living indeed. For that reason however you can choose any profession.

        • Reli, as a clarification, Cranky Crab did not write this article. I did. I welcome critiques of my articles, but I have a difficult time understanding your critique. With which point do you disagree? Caring about students? Playing guitar well?

          • Reli Suyskens

            Hello Sean, of course i understand that i replied to the reply of Cranky Crab who was just “guessing around” a bit. Your almost retorical questions suggest that i could not disagree with you without not caring about students or not caring for playing guitar well. Of course you have a difficult time understanding my critique. Wich is simply to say that all this thinking of you on the subject of caring for students motivation is too much of making yourself important as a teacher. You, almost desperately, want to be “a teacher”. I have great distrust for this attitude, and i suspect lot of this so called engagement to be a substitute for indeed being a good player and a natural example for students with true, intrinsic motivation to want to learn and work themselves to become good musicians. I prefer more of the thing Frank Zappa said: “Shut up ‘n play your guitar”. True for both teacher as well as student. With best regards, and, like you, positive intentions.

          • pete

            I have experienced 4 teachers and paid them lots of money.
            3 of them were very little help to me 1 of them was the kind of teacher this article is proposing. Without going over every point in detail I’d just like to say I think it’s spot on.
            Frank Zappa was an interesting and highly skilled musician and I believe he was very interested in music for everyone as a paticipatory activity.Shut up and play your guitar is just taken out of context and is a ridiculous response to a guy who is trying to demonstrate how a poor teacher can ruin the aspirations of potential musicians.I am very highly motivated and spend a large part of my free time trying to make progress. If I didn’t I’d have given up many years ago because my first three teachers did not possess the qualities or skills presented here.I presume there are many thousands like me and we need the kind of teachers he describes.

          • I’m sorry you had three teachers who did not help you make progress. I’m glad you found one who helped you. Keep making music!

  • Cranky Crab

    No offense, but Falwell is a piss-poor representative of you your school. Or maybe a perfect one. What a racist dick.