How to Make a Living Teaching Guitar

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!

Have fun,


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!

Comments 18

  1. And good advice it is too! I’ve been checking out your website for inspiration! It’s really well put-together and you have a lot of great teaching material.

    Did you prepare much of that (online instructions, teaching guides, jam tracks) before you started teaching for the first time, or did you develop most of it as you went along?


  2. I’m glad you like the site, Jeff!

    I developed all this stuff as I went along. All the chord charts are songs requested by students, and most of the jam tracks were recorded to help a specific student with learning something. So even though it looks somewhat comprehensive, it’s really just a hodge-podge of things my students have needed.

  3. Matt, 3pm and later is prime time for lessons–that’s when younger students get out of school, and adults are usually available 5pm on.

    It took a long time to fill my schedule earlier in the day, and I still work later than I would like (two days a week I work ’til 8:30pm) because I have students who can’t meet any other time.

    But a typical day’s schedule for me is hour-long lessons at 10am, 11am, 2:30pm, 4pm, and 5:30pm.

  4. First of all, thanks for this forum. It helped me out with a lot of questions. One thing I’m struggling with internally is the question of what kind of price-point to choose. Any suggestions?

  5. Hey Nathan,

    I started at $40 because that seemed to be the standard rate in Seattle, and that’s what my buddy charged. When I filled my schedule, I raised it to $50. Right around then my website started bringing in tons of students signing up on my waiting list (~5 a week), so I raised it to $60 for a few weeks, then $80. I could probably charge double that, but I don’t want to be that exclusive.

    So you could do it that way–keep your rates low (match the rates of other teachers in your area) until you get a waiting list. If I did it again, I’d probably start at $60. People place more value on things that cost more, and your attitude toward your work will change too. You’ll take it that much more seriously.

    Just make sure you’re setting yourself apart from other teachers–by being well prepared, etc.–to justify your high rates.

    Incidentally, I’m scripting a DVD right now on how to go into business teaching guitar. Keep your eyes peeled! If you want to be notified when it comes out, subscribe to my newsletter.

    Hope this helps,


  6. Would be interested in knowing more about your teaching guitar system. Please notify when you complete your DVD, or advise if you have other material please advise. Thanks.

  7. Please send me a copy of your newsletter when
    you complete your production of. Have taught beginner’s guitar in the past through an organization, but now would like to do my own thing. Thanks

    Waleed Muhammad

  8. Ive been out of a job for a while now after being made redundant , this site has given me more confidence to start teaching guitar . still not sure how to start out though , what would you actually do on your first time teaching?

  9. Teaching guitar for a REAL living is extremely difficult! Students drop off left and right and are very undependable. It is an okay way to make some extra pocket change, but don’t be thinking you’ll get rich doing this…… sad but true…

  10. Hey Rob,
    I’m about to start teaching my first student. I don’t really have any teaching-experience except being taught. I got some chord progressions and scales but I don’t really know how to start.
    Any advice?
    Grtz, Janik

    1. Post

      Hi Janik,

      How exciting! Here’s a brief list of what I’d recommend. Much more info in my book.

      1) Talk to your student to find out what their goals/dreams are, and what kind of prior knowledge of music they might have. This information will help guide everything you teach them.
      2) Introduce them to the parts of the guitar, the fret numbers, string numbers, and finger numbers, so that you can communicate as you teach them.
      3) Show them how to hold the guitar and fret a note.
      4) Teach them a VERY simple melody or riff on the 1st or 6th string. My favorite is “Smoke on the Water” on the 6th string, starting with an open E. Your goal is to give them a real piece of music with which to practice fretting notes, and to give them a sense of accomplishment right away. There’s no danger of making it too easy. The danger is giving them something too hard, which will frustrate them.

      Good luck! Let me know how it goes.


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