After opening a Pandora’s Box with my post on if remote guitar lessons work well, I wanted to share what to consider when choosing a good music teacher. Like any relationship, it all depends on how both parties get along. As a guitar instructor, I cannot speak about what it is like for other musical disciplines. Still, I see five main elements of any good teacher/student relationship: communication, style, values, expectations, and experience.
Many great musicians are poor teachers, and many average musicians are great teachers. Teaching is a skill like any other. Look for someone who is structured, goal-oriented, efficient with lesson time, and open-minded. Good teachers will be open to student feedback and ways of improving communication.
Consider the website of your prospective teacher. Do they even have one? Are there examples of them teaching? Is their website copy thrown together with buzzwords, or is it honest and thoughtful? Working with a good instructor should be both enjoyable and challenging, but no matter how good they are, they cannot read your mind. As a student, you need to share how things are going. Find a better teacher if you get dismissive responses when you voice your thoughts. Good instructors have the wisdom to address problems from multiple angles, and they understand that your lessons are about you, not them.
What kind of teaching style and personality works for you? See if the lessons you are considering are tailored to student interests. Are they? Or are they cookie-cutter? Do you want an explorative teaching style or set songs and exercises? Or would you prefer a teacher open to both? What students are they trying to attract? Would you want to be influenced by this person over the long term? Can this instructor bring out the best in you?
Consider your learning style. How much structure do you need? What has worked for you in the past, and what has not? Where is the balance of broccoli and chocolate? What learning approach would challenge you and keep you inspired? Do you want homework assignments, or would you prefer to float freely exploring at your own pace? Get a sense of how you like to travel, and then find a teacher who is excited to help make it happen.
Find a teacher willing to work as hard as you. How committed to your success will they be? What overall impression of their character do you get? Do you want lessons from a touring musician with lots of wild stories who may not be around consistently and might only be looking to supplement his/her income, or would you prefer a teacher who is available for a more invested relationship? Do you want a mentor or someone who can inspire you from time to time?
A few things are required from you as a student. How often do you want to take lessons? Weekly lessons are the norm and initially provide a good level of student accountability, but every other week can work for highly-motivated types. If you commit to lessons, then be willing to commit to regular practice; at least five days per week is where the momentum builds. If you have little time available, be open to working within the time you have. Consistent practice will give much better results than longer, infrequent sessions, so have the time in your schedule before jumping in. Talk with your teacher about what kind of progress to expect early on, and stay realistic. A good teacher can give you a practical, enjoyable routine while keeping you focused on enjoying the journey.
Consider character and professionalism. How experienced is the instructor, and is this observable? How do they relate to you? Do they appear genuinely focused on your goals? Are they supportive or inflexible? If you couldn’t meet your weekly practice target, would they react with judgment or constructive solutions? Are they pursuing their growth on a personal level, or do they come across as the all-knowing guru with the magic method? (Red flag!)
If you are a beginning player, then you must show up with an open mind, communicate your thoughts, and give your best effort. If you have prior playing experience, you should give your teacher a few lessons to get a sense of your background and goals.
Being able to convey lesson concepts effectively makes a good teacher, but knowing how to identify and manifest a student's potential makes a great one. I aspire to the latter and approach teaching openly, relying on student feedback to guide us. My lessons are relaxed, organized, and creative. Before the Pandemic, I began using Google Drive for live online collaboration as an additional framework. Every student has a folder for practice routines, notation, and video demonstrations. Having these materials available has helped all my students significantly improve.
Zoom is my preferred app for remote lessons because it offers the best video quality and stability. My audio goes direct via professional mics and guitar amp emulation. There is no need for you to have anything fancy, just a well-lit, quiet room and a guitar. My remote lessons feel more like musical podcast hangouts than office meetings.
As always, sharing what I love is an honor and privilege, and I hope my thoughts have provided some insight. If you would like to learn more, please reach out here.