This week I've been reflecting a lot more on teaching and some aspects of it which I've been learning myself and enjoyed seeing in different aspects. So rather than a totally new blog this week, I want to re-hash/add to an older post, which I hope will be ever-growing, about some practical tips for teaching the guitar. So the first 5 points here are the ones I've added for this week.

1. Pick your battles

This one always comes up with scales and also chord changes. With beginner guitarists and self-taught intermediates, there are usually a million things (slight exaggeration alert) that you can tell them to correct or focus on. Be sure though, that you can gauge just how many they can effectively focus on at one time. So pick your battle, what's the most important? What's most achieveable? What's the one or two things they can fix or improve on so that you can more easily move on to the next?

2. Hand position

This one I find very interesting and is much more applicable to teaching kids and young teenagers. It's their hand position when they are NOT playing. Now I only have a sample study on this (my own students), but I have found a significant difference in improvement between students who leave their hand holding the neck when they aren't playing, and those who leave their hand totally relaxed on their leg. Also the difference comes between those who, when they make a mistake or forget the next part of what they're playing, leave their hand poised ready to play, and those who move their hand away. Usually these are the same camps of people.
This is a hard thing to drill into students but something I really believe is of great importance and something that really affects the students' practice time when you aren't around (which is most of the time).

3. Enjoyment

It can be easy as a teacher to take control and put them in the direction to improve, and this is a large part of the job. But the students know better than you what THEY want to get out of learning guitar, they just may not know how to get there. So be sure not to be so focused on seeing improvement from exercises and songs that you know work, to neglect teaching them the songs that they would like to learn, even if they are quite easy, you'll see a lot of improvement if they can learn some things they really enjoy for themselves.

4. Easy wins

One thing I often do with teaching is give students pieces and materials that will push them and challenge them. With this they see great improvement as they take on new challenges, however, sometimes they can only really conquer the material to about 80%. At this point we are left with a house to either spend a lot of time on really nailing it 100%, or move on and as they progress they can revisit that and get it to 100% in much less time than if they had just focused on that.

I usually like to choose the latter, as I find it's much more efficient. HOWEVER, this can compromise the student's sense of achievement, which can obviously lead to demotivation etc.

It is still our responsibility as teachers to challenge our students and force them to grow and use their time effectively, but it's also important that we grow their confidence and sense of achievement. So be sure to give them some easy wins. Pieces they will enjoy and make them realise that actually, they ARE good at the guitar.


5. Encourage them to go learn themselves.

This may sound like you're working yourself out of a job, but you're just making your time with them more efficient. Once they have some skills down, let them know that there are many songs they can work out for themselves with the copious amounts of resources on the web. Not only does this provide a stronger sense of achievement, but also rather than showing them every aspect of a 4 chord song, you can just help them with the parts they really need or focus on songs they can't do without your help, OR skills that can further develop as a musician.

6. Ask them to assess how they did


This is one of my favourites. After they play something, ask them how they thought it was - what was good, and what could have been improved. This is really important they are able to fairly evaluate for themselves how they did (including positive points) and get them actively listening and thinking about what could be better.


7. Be clear about your plan


People don't want to apply themselves to something for which they see no meaning or benefit or if the methodology is seemingly random. So it's important that students know what you are going to do and why. I will often tell students my plan for that lesson as well as why I'm teaching them whatever new material I'm teaching them. For example "today we're going to look at these scales, work on these chords, learn these new chords and then work on this song." Or "we're learning bar chords because that will allow you to play chords in every key and so will allow you to play a vast majority of songs". Something simple like that allows students to look forward and see a bigger picture.


8. Know when to move on


Sometimes as teachers students can surprise us by getting things quickly we thought they would have struggled with, so we like to push them. But if they aren't getting something, you need to know when to move on. It may just be because it will be more achievable when they have improved a bit more. Don't get stuck spending a third of a lesson trying something they clearly aren't up to yet. It's not the best use of time and really just serves as discouragement.

9. Do everything at least twice


Practice makes perfect, and generally students can have some nerves or may just be rusty when they try something in a lesson. Either way, it's always important to try and improve on something you practice, not to mention how much more it solidifies things into your memory etc.


10. Let them work it out


One of my key points last week was that you should think of yourself as a guide. So don't intervene every time they are about to make a mistake or are a bit slow. Remember, since you're only there for a very small portion of their week, they need that ability to do things for themselves, and you need to know what they're capable of doing themselves so you can assign them practice accordingly.


11. Don't neglect small talk


A couple of minutes of small talk can really go a long way. The relational aspect of tutoring is very important as it's quite easy for students to feel nervous. You want to create an environment where they can be comfortable and confident. Nothing does this like a short, friendly chat, it's a great investment of time as that 2-5 minutes can make the next 28-58 minutes much more productive. Obviously don't overdo it and be professional.

12. Be available


Not everyone is able to do this, but with adult learners I always encourage them to let me know in the week if they need some extra guidance with something. It will generally only take 5 minutes of my time, but has a massive impact as they now practice efficiently and correctly.


13. Prioritise

A general consensus is to do skills first, then a song at the end. This is for good reason and what I'll generally do. However sometimes it's much more beneficial that the student would spend more time working on the song and it may be worth doing that first. While you aren't neglecting the skills, you don't want to be bound by a formula.


14. Remind students of their improvements.

Often it's hard to know for yourself how much you've improved, both because you've been in amongst every gradual step, and also because of self-doubt. So it's very important that we remind students how they've improved. Be specific!

I hope this has been helpful to you, not only if you're a teacher but also if you are learning yourself.


Feel free to add any more you think are vital in the comments below. But don't forget to like, share, subscribe and contact me for enquiries.