Jazz Guitar Thoughts by Chris Standring

Finding The Right Teacher

Finding a good teacher is not always easy, at any level. At the beginner level it is important to get on the right foot and as an intermediate player you need to know that your teacher really knows his or her stuff if you want to move forward. What it really comes down to is "Are you getting the right information?".

The big problem when it comes to music instruction is that it is not necessary to have any diplomas or awards in order to set up a teaching practice. Conversely, the best teacher may not have a degree in music, just a phenomenal talent for teaching.

The first thing to understand when finding a good teacher is that the best teachers are not necessarily the best players. And it certainly goes that great players are invariably not the best teachers, possibly because they are far too wrapped up in their own playing to be concerned about anyone else. OK, a generalization but a theory with legs.

So let's assume you are just starting out, an absolute beginner, so what do you do? Well, the first resource I would use is your own personal contacts. You may have a friend or cousin that also took lessons and he or she may be able to recommend someone. Music stores often provide instruction and you can also look in your local paper for private instructors. Even do a Google search. It's actually very easy to find a teacher, but can you count on them to feed you all the right information?

Let's assume you have a short list of teachers in you area. I think it is definitely in your interest to make sure that they are teaching simply because they love to teach. Not because they are waiting for their "big break". This is why I think it is important to find a professional teacher, not an aspiring pop star. So you might ask a series of questions:
  • How long have you been teaching?
  • What teaching qualifications do you have?
  • How many other students do you have?
  • Can you give me the phone numbers of two of your students?
This may seem harsh, but I just think it is so important to get the right person from the start. Why? because as a student you have no idea whether your potential teacher actually knows what they are talking about. So don't be shy to ask.

As an intermediate student you probably need to rely more on word of mouth to get the right teacher to take you forward. In your local neighborhood, especially if you have been playing a while, you are probably already hooked into who the teachers are so it may not be such a problem.

The other issue, aside from musical expertise, is that your teacher and you need to like each other. If you are to be successful studying together this is so important. I remember growing up that I would excel in the subjects where I actually liked my teacher. And of course I dreaded going to class with those teachers I did not like.

I am happy to say that I really liked all my guitar teachers except for one, and that person lasted just a few lessons. I got lucky with the others there is no question. But other students may not be so lucky. I have heard a number of times that students realized much later that they did not have a good teacher. So at what point do you decide to move on and find a new teacher?

If you have done the prerequisite research I mentioned then this should not be an issue. However, guitar playing is such a personal undertaking that finding the right teacher is relative to each student. What works for one, clearly does not always work for another.

Your teacher should care about you and take an interest in seeing you advance as a player. I think this would be the biggest red flag to me if I was taking lessons all over again. I would want to know that there was some nurturing involved. If you feel that there really is no connection between the two of you then I think this might be a factor you can use to determine whether you move on or not.

It's tricky. As a student you want the best teacher for you but you may not know if there is no barometer to show you.

I also think that many times the student is to blame for being a lousy student. I remember when I used to give private lessons that a few students would come back week after week and had not done any practice at all. I found myself explaining the same things over and over because we couldn't move on until the essential groundwork was covered. These students eventually gave up because they had no drive or ambition to improve. This can be very frustrating for a teacher. Other times extremely talented players would come for just a few lessons because all they needed was a little fuel to go off on their own and practice. They were literally sponges. These students are heaven for teachers!

So do the research, then take a lesson or two and see if that teacher is right for you. If you are serious about working at your instrument then you shouldn't be to blame for being a bad student. At that time it's simply a matter of finding the right person. Don't short change yourself.

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Read all about the great jazz guitarists here:

Bill Frisell Charlie Christian Django Reinhardt George Benson George Van Eps Grant Green Jim Hall John Mclaughlin Joe Pass John Scofield Kenny Burrell Larry Carlton Lee Ritenour Pat Martino Pat Metheny Tal Farlow Wes Montgomery