By: David Millar
In recent years fellow guitar teachers might, like myself, have come across an increasing demographic of people from an older generation interested in taking guitar lessons.
These are typically people (c50 – 60 years old) whose parenting years have finished now that their children have gone on to university or jobs. They may find themselves in the position of having no childcare costs, perhaps having paid off their mortgage and established a senior job with a commensurate level of income, and now finally have some free time to spare to pursue their own interests and hobbies.
Often they could have played guitar as a teenager or child, but gave up due to work or family commitments. However, now they have the time and financial resources to buy themselves a very nice guitar and start lessons (again).
Additionally, people of pensionable age (c60+) make up another group of increasing numbers who may be interested in starting guitar lessons.
Attracting Mature Guitar Students
As well as today’s current trend of advertising online, some conventional advertising methods such as using local newspapers, shop noticeboards, libraries, churches, golf clubs, community groups etc. can be quite effective to reach these particular potential customer groups.
You may wish to include some text in your advertising to state returning students, adult improvers, and mature students are welcome to enquire about guitar tuition. Word of mouth recommendations and offering lesson gift vouchers can also be successful ways of attracting mature students.
It is usually best to offer a short set of lessons on a trial basis before assigning a regular lesson place to a mature student. Some adult students may be a bit apprehensive about committing to regular full-time lessons at first, so having a planned trial period will allow some flexibility.
Some may prefer to attend fortnightly rather than weekly, some may have good availability during the day to attend lessons, and lesson patterns may not necessarily have to follow the academic school terms – so that is something to bear in mind to help fill quieter teaching times such as school holidays.
If you normally teach in 30 or 20 minutes lesson slots, consider offering 60 or 40 minutes, as lessons will feel less rushed to older students.
Keeping a flexible approach, but one that you control, will allow you to select the most suitable students for regular lesson places and make most effective use of your teaching time.
Some community centres or similar venues may provide space to enable you to offer small group or larger class lessons, so that might be worth considering as an alternative option to providing one-to-one lessons.
Some practical considerations for your teaching studio/environment include:
- Provide a space to hang coats, store walking aids.
- Open and close doors as older students arrive/leave – they may be less steady on foot and find carrying a guitar case and music books a bit more difficult to manage.
- Provide a slightly elevated area for opening guitar cases to avoid bending down to ground level.
- Provide an additional chair/table/stool adjacent to where the student sits for placing reading glasses, keys etc.
- Make sure your teaching area has adequate lighting, including a light on your music stand.
Some tutors may find teaching older students more challenging than working with young people. However, by refining your teaching skills and gaining experience it can be equally rewarding to teach older adult students. Here are a few things to consider:
- Older students tend to be more self-critical.
- Adult students in general tend to be more nervous.
- Weaker eye sight is a common problem.
- Motor skills may take longer to develop.
- Hands and fingers tend to be bigger – so choose a guitar with a wider fingerboard.
- Start and end the lesson in a controlled manner – they may be less time conscious and are inclined to chat socially for longer at the start and end of lessons.
- Expect many more questions than you normally get from younger students.
Although everyone has their own specific musical tastes, there is a wealth of guitar-based music from the 60’s and 70’s, which is usually very well-known by older students and easily accessed from music publications.
Some publishers, including RGT corporate member Mel Bay, also provide specialist books such as ‘Guitar for Seniors’ tailored for older generation learners. RGT Performance Awards also provide an effective way to structure teaching with a flexible approach to gaining certificates of achievement.
Additional Benefits for Tutors
Although teaching students from older generations can present specific challenges, tutors generally receive an immense amount of satisfaction when it works well; you get the feeling of enriching someone’s life in their later years.
Older students also usually have well-established connections in their local community and that can be beneficial for additional recommendations of your teaching (and performing) business.
And of course, as time moves on and you get older yourself, you may well start to relate better to older students and their musical tastes – particularly if, like an increasingly number of well-known professional guitar players, you carry on playing (and teaching) guitar into what would normally be considered retirement age for other occupations.