July 25

My Guitar Instructor Is Unorganized. What’s The Best Solution?

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Hi Rose-Marie,

Thanks for writing me. I can relate to your dilemma, and yes I can help.

First let me say that what you’ve described is fairly common. I’ve had several guitar instructors like that in my youth. I remember thinking maybe there’s something wrong with me because I couldn’t see where it was going.

Now as School Director and owner of Starland School Of Music in the SF Bay Area I have to deal with this all the time… as an employer. It’s very clear to me that being a very competent musician does not automatically make for a good teacher. In fact there are many more musicians that do NOT have either the teaching temperament or skill to be good instructors than ones that do.

That said I think of guitar teachers in a category of their own. Unlike piano where many parents give their children traditional piano lessons as a child, most of us guitar players have learned much on their own by piecing together lessons from YouTube, friends, method books and unorganized, untrained instructors that “wing it” from lesson to lesson. In other words we learned in an unstructured way and have no models to emulate.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way. There is. But as an employer I can’t depend on finding guitar instructors with the teaching temperament that have stumbled on a systematic way of teaching guitar. There would be too few people to hire. Fortunately I found a way to deal with this, in part thanks to my daughter, when she was 9,  asking me to teach her guitar.


Are You Hiring?

So why am I telling you all this? When you take lessons you have essentially “hired” a guitar instructor. You are doing at least some portion of what I do when I interview instructors for a teaching position.

Ideally you would interview many potential instructors to determine if they have the teaching temperament AND skill to get you where you want to go.

Often people tell me they are looking for a good personality fit, but I think that’s overrated. Some of my best instructors were not my “buddies”, but they made a big difference in my life.

If you hold out for an instructor that 1) is a competent musician, 2) has a natural teaching temperament 3) has a solid teaching system and training on how to teach, and possibly has a personality you like… well, guess what? “Them is slim pickins”… possibly slim to none depending on where you live.


What To Do?

I know this doesn’t sound encouraging, but remember my livelihood and those 34 team members at Starland depend on me to solve this. My solution was to develop a powerful guitar learning system and teacher training program.  Then I hire guitar instructors that have the musical competency, teaching temperament AND realize they could do better and are open to training.

My instructors use my step-by-step system not to replace what they know, but in addition to their experience and knowledge. It’s a “bag of tools” that they’ve learned how to use. It also gives them a map to follow so their lessons are progressive and build one on the other.

To be honest I wasn’t originally motivated a lack of trained guitar instructors. What first made me step back from my teaching and decide to take the time to develop something better was when my 9 year old daughter asked me to teach her guitar.

I was considered a good guitar instructor and had 60 students, but I knew I could do better. I wanted to give her the best of what I could give so I asked her to wait three months while I organized what I was doing. I began working on a system that was organized around the idea that I could not only help her to learn guitar, but could help her learn a way of thinking that would help her learn anything she wanted to learn and be successful at whatever she undertook.


Space Is Limited



Of course one way to take advantage of the work I’ve done is to sign up at Starland for guitar lessons with one of my trained instructors. Unfortunately there are two possible problems.

Most beginners would need to travel to weekly lessons, and most people reading this are not be close enough to the Starland facility to to be practical.

The second issue is at some times of the year spaces for lessons are full and new students are put on a waiting list.


Enter The Internet

Seeing where this was going years ago I began developing an internet guitar learning system based on the Starland Guitar Learning System. It actually was more difficult than I originally thought it would be because I depend on live instructors to provide a lot of “connecting tissue”, feedback and course correction for the student.

After years of recording videos, adapting and refining I released my online system and dubbed it Real Guitar Success. It’s working beautifully now and I have students all over the world.

Now here’s the million dollar question.


Does It Take The Place Of A Live Instructor

I’ve done a lot of work to give students the information to decide where to start and when to move on to the next lesson within Real Guitar Success. The program includes step-by-step lessons, motivation, ways of thinking to help the student to be successful, lots of exercises and advice on practicing. I’ve even created a step-by-step course called The Beginner's Journey to get beginners started in the right way.

I often receive emails of how much online students are progressing and how much they appreciate the lessons I’ve created. Yet I have to admit, for all my work, there’s still two things I can’t do online.

I can’t reach through the computer screen and correct you if you’ve got it wrong. I’ve tried it and just can’t seem to make it work... at least not yet 🙂

And I can’t see if you’re practicing. More importantly I can’t provide the accountability that a live instructor can just by the fact you will have to go to your lesson and show what you’ve done. That’s powerful.

Someday I may may solve these two limitations, but for now I have a suggestion.


Train Your Own Instructor?

Well not exactly, but maybe there’s a way to combine the advantage of my systematic approach with my online system along with having lessons on demand AND a live instructor. I’m suggesting you enroll in my Real Guitar Success program and find a local instructor and attend weekly lessons.

Read my post “How To Hire A Good Guitar Instructor” and began process of interviewing for the right instructor. I’ve included instruction on questions to ask and what to look for. You’ll need to find someone that doesn’t have an ego issue and is willing to help you with what you’re working on and perhaps add songs and additional material that’s in line with where you’re at.

If done right it would work out similar to what I do when I hire and train instructors in my system.

I look forward to reading your comments below.

Tomas Michaud

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