After opening a Pandora’s Box with my post on if remote guitar lessons work well, I realized what needs to be considered when choosing a good music teacher. Like any relationship, it all comes down to how both parties get along. Being a guitar instructor, I can’t speak on what it’s like for other musical disciplines, but 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 that needs to be developed like any other. Look for someone who is structured, goal-oriented, efficient with lesson time, and open-minded about how that time is used. Good teachers will be open to student feedback and ways of improving communication.
Consider how a prospective teacher's website looks? 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 can't know what you don't tell them. As a student, you need to share what is and isn’t working for you, and if you get dismissive responses when you do share then find a better teacher. Good instructors have the wisdom to address problems from multiple angles, and they understand that it's 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 own 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 real musical 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? What kind of accountability and structure will they provide you? 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 just someone who can inspire you from time to time?
This article addresses what you should expect from a music teacher, but there are a few things required from you as a student. How often do you want to take lessons? Weekly lessons are the norm and provide a good level of student accountability in the beginning, 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 really builds, but if that doesn’t seem reasonable, be open to working within the time you have. Consistent practice will give much better results than longer, infrequent sessions, so have the time carved out 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 will be able to give you an effective, 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 truly 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 own growth, or do they come across as the all-knowing guru with the magic method? (Red flag!)
If you are a beginner to the craft, then all you need to do is show up with an open mind, communicate your thoughts, and give your best effort. If you have prior playing experience then you may want to give your teacher a couple lessons to get a sense of your background and goals. We get particular as we get more experienced, and sometimes outside perspectives are exactly what we need.
Being able to effectively convey lesson concepts makes a good teacher, but knowing how to identify and manifest the potential of a student makes a great one. I aspire to the latter, and approach teaching with an open mind, relying on student feedback to guide us both.
My lessons are goal-oriented, relaxed, and direct, and I am highly organized. Just prior to the pandemic, I began using Google Drive for live online collaboration as an additional framework. Every student of mine has their own personal folder for practice routines, notation, and video demonstrations. Having these materials available has really helped everyone succeed.
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, it is an honor and privilege to share what I love, and I hope that my thoughts have provided some insight. If you’d like to learn more or discuss taking lessons, you can reach out here.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you find what you're looking for! - Coire