Inspiring Guitar Students in the Teaching Studio

By: Lin Flanagan

In this in-depth article, Lin Flanagan presents his personal approach to motivating pupils and making sure they’re keen enough to keep coming for lessons.

Individually, some of these points may at first seem somewhat irrelevant to the title of this article, but their collective purpose is to create a good learning environment in order to spark inspiration both in students and teachers alike.


Working With Scared Guitar Students

“Students self-confidence can be very fragile.”

Many students feel rather nervous on the drive to their weekly guitar lesson and are subject to mixed emotions. On the one hand, they thoroughly enjoy their lessons.

They can also be terrified of failure, and making a fool of themselves in front of someone, causing their self-confidence to be very fragile indeed.

It is all too easy to forget what it’s like to try to do something new and difficult in front of somebody else, such as playing guitar in front of an experienced tutor.

If you have never experienced the terror of sitting in the “other chair,” try it. Find yourself a teacher and see how you feel. Adults can be far more nervous than children.

They can have more hang-ups. Try to get them to relax and forget about their nerves. After the first couple of minutes of sheer concentration, they tend to forget about any nervousness.


Be in Charge in the Guitar Lesson

Don’t be shy! Two people sitting in a room together for an hour with each one afraid to say “boo” to the other is disastrous.

The student must feel relaxed, but as well as not being scared witless, they should feel that you know what you are doing and are taking them in the right direction.

A short chat at the start of an hour’s lesson will help, but after that take the lesson (not the student) by the scruff of the neck and try to avoid too much social chit-chat.

Have respect for their money. It is likely that it took them longer to earn the cash for the lesson than it will for you, so be professional.

They are paying to learn an instrument not discuss your marital problems. Some students tend to go off on tangents.

That is to say that their minds are easily distracted by transcriptions in magazines, and other things, that may be beyond them at the present, rather than spending their time working on the progressive and educational stuff that you’ve given them.

Without doing the hard graft on the stuff you’ve given them, they will always struggle on the magazine transcriptions.


Be Honest With Guitar Students

“If you don’t know the answer – look it up.”

If you are asked something that you don’t know the answer to, then be honest and say so.

“I don’t know – I’ll see if I can find out during the week for you”, will not only be more helpful, but will develop the trust of a student.

Do some research either from a good book or from another teacher who you can trust to give you the right information.

Hopefully, you’ll learn something too, and of course, always credit your sources.


Enthusiasm When Inspiring Guitar Students

Inspire through genuine enthusiasm for music (not just the guitar or one genre of music).

Try to avoid coming across as an anorak though. Whilst being passionate about it, keep it in perspective. It is after all only playing the guitar.

That way when a student becomes frustrated with an exercise or piece of music, it shouldn’t be the end of the world.

Remember, it’s supposed to be fun, or at least enjoyable (for them, not just for you).


Teach in Guitar Lessons, Don’t Perform

“Enable students to think for themselves.”

The only times a teacher should need to use a guitar are for accompanying, or demonstrating a particular aspect of technique or a song after the student has tried the exercise themselves.

If everything is played to them first they will never develop the confidence to have a crack at things off their own backs.

The aim is to enable students to think for themselves and not to be totally reliant on the teacher. The latter way, they have learnt nothing except how to reiterate like a parrot!

When you demonstrate the piece after the student has had a go, be realistic.

Play it slowly at first so that they can hear that you are playing the same piece that they just did.

If necessary, slowly speed it up to the tempo of the record so that they can trace the relationship through to the end.


Be Organised in Guitar Lessons

“Teach things in realistic stages… moving progressively from one target up to the next.”

Be organised both in a business-like manner, but also in your teaching structure. Do things in stages rather than aiming for the final product at the first attempt.

Be realistic. Have a well structured teaching plan, whereby topics progressively gets more advanced. The most important thing is to do things in stages!


Addressing Mistakes in Guitar Lessons

Encourage students to accept the odd mistake light-heartedly and try again. Likewise, when you are demonstrating something and goof, laugh it off genuinely and don’t be annoyed if the student has a smile on his face.


Developing Guitar Practice Habits

“I’m practising for hours but not getting anywhere!”

A teacher can show a student the right and wrong ways of doing things, but the real work is done by the student during their week’s practice.

This is where the rot can set in, because left to their own devices for a week, most students would be quite happy to practice whilst watching television. Big mistake!

One is far more likely to progress quicker and further in a quiet room for twenty minutes and concentrate on the aspects mentioned during the lesson, than three or four hours of lazy, zero concentration and effort in front of ‘soap t.v.’.

This is where students become disillusioned, thinking that they have done three hours of practice, but do not seem to have progressed anywhere.

Practice needs to be taken reasonably seriously. I tell my students: “It’s not the amount of time spent practising, but what you do during that practice that is important.”

When working on a particular exercise, the student should not just plan on getting from start to finish, but work on all of the ‘dodgy bits’ that were pointed out during the lesson. That is where the progress is to be made.


Relate When Inspiring Guitar Students

Use analogies, where necessary, to get your point through or to make it easier to understand. “If I walked into your job tomorrow, I’d find it difficult too”, or “Try not to look at the guitar when you’re playing.

Keep your eyes on the page. After all you don’t look at the gear stick every time you change gear do you?”

Though perhaps “If you drove a car the way that you play the guitar you’d be dead by now” is perhaps a bit strong!


Inspiring Guitar Students Summary

“Before you can inspire someone, you need to earn their respect.”

OK! So what on earth has a lot of this to do with inspiring students I hear you ask.

The message that I am trying to convey to you is that so many bases need to be covered.

Before you can inspire someone, you need to earn their respect.

This means being well organised, sympathetic, communicative and all of the other things that we have just talked about – in other words, be good at your job.

It’s not enough just hoping that your enthusiasm will rub off on them.

Some things here you may think are obvious, but it’s not so easy to put it into practice all at once.

Remember, teach things in realistic stages, moving from one target up to the next as each one is accomplished & use analogies.

Like everything in life, improvement comes with practice, so be patient with yourselves as well as your students.

Share or exchange your ideas with other teachers, but always try to convey your own personality, so that you have your own style.


Final Words About Inspiring Guitar Students

By the way, these are not necessarily “the right way” of doing things when inspiring guitar students.

This is just my individual approach to teaching and inspiring guitar students.

If you have your own ideas, great! Incorporate what you pick up from others into your own style. We can all learn from others in many different ways.


Do you have unique ways that you inspire guitar students in the teaching studio? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments section below.

2 thoughts on “Inspiring Guitar Students in the Teaching Studio

  1. Liked the article. I would add that it is vitally important to be inventive with your teaching methods. On many occasions I have used analogy, juxtaposition, humour, sketches, and sometimes seemingly unrelated things to get across a learning point.

  2. Very good article. as for small talk or a chat, I would add that sometimes kids get really worked up if they fail to play something. that’s the time for a tiny bit of small talk – even about something to do with music (I usually tell them something funny that happened to me). after 2-3 minutes you go back to play the piece and the kid is usually more relaxed

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