Update: This article inspired a two-year project writing a book on the subject. Check out Rob’s Totally Awesome Guitar Teaching Handbook.
Someone over at Guitar Noise asked about specific steps he could take to start teaching guitar. Here was my response—a little rambling, I’m sorry, but that’s what blogs are for, right?
I’ve been teaching guitar full-time for four years. My first few students were passed on to me from a friend who teaches guitar and didn’t have room in his schedule. I also started teaching in an after-school program at a local private elementary school, showing third-graders how to play “Smoke On the Water” while they waited for their parents to pick them up.
But the way I filled my schedule was by 1) Getting a good logo, 2) Building a website with the logo on it, and 3) posting hundreds of flyers with my great-looking logo and URL all over the neighborhoods near my place—in coffee shops, gyms, stores, and on telephone poles.
A professional-looking logo immediately sets you apart from 90% of other guitar teachers. It shows potential clients you’re serious about your work. I got mine done for $200, but I would have done it even if it’d cost $10,000.
Now, my website brings in most of my clients. If you’re into computers, study up on search engine optimization. Most guitar teachers don’t use websites, and those who do still don’t do much to make their websites attractive to people searching for “Guitar lessons in Austin.” Try Googling for a guitar teacher in your town, and see what comes up—nothing that you couldn’t compete with, I’ll bet.
I’ve done other things that prepared me to teach guitar, like getting a degree in education and teaching in high school. But I think the most important thing I’ve done to make the business work—to set myself apart from most teachers—is simply to communicate my enthusiasm for teaching. For example, so often you see teachers say “I only take motivated students” in their ads. First of all, all people who contact you for lessons are motivated in some way, but no beginner knows for sure if they’ll continue to be motivated—it depends on how things go in the lessons. Secondly, the message I get from “I only take motivated students” is, “It’s your job as a student to keep me interested in teaching you.” Who’s paying who?
Instead, I tell my students, “Learning a new instrument can be discouraging. I’m going to do what I can to make this fun and not-too-hard.” Of course, the student will get more out of lessons if they practice a lot, but they know that. And I don’t mind teaching students who rarely practice. For some of my clients who are overworked during the day, their guitar lesson is a rare opportunity to relax. If I can help them take their mind off their worries by showing them how to play “Brown-Eyed Girl” for the 5th time, I’m honored.
Finally, as far as your own guitar skills go—just be clear with your students about what you’re good at teaching. When I began teaching, guitar was just a hobby for me, so I worked just with beginners. Now I have some more advanced students. Nothing like teaching to make you practice harder!
Some day, maybe I’ll write a book on this topic and make millions. Hmmm…then I’ll write another book called “How to teach people how to teach guitar.” Somebody call Oprah!