Studying with an experienced teacher is one of the best ways to really push yourself. But taking lessons is more than just showing up time. These guidelines will help you get the most out of your lessons:
Do Your Research
The world is chock full of guitar teachers. Depending on where you live, you may have a lot of choice in who you study with. Take the time to learn what you can about each prospective teacher. What is their background? What do they like to play? Who have they studied with?
If it’s at all possible, try to schedule some time to have a quick chat with them. Personalities matter so make sure you “click” with a teacher before committing to lessons. Dealing with personality-mismatches is no fun, no matter how good the teacher is.
Make a Commitment
Make sure you can commit to a practice schedule that supports progressing in your lessons. It’s lame for you and your teacher to hash over the same material each session because you didn’t practice the week before.
It’s one thing to just be too lazy to practice. If that’s the case, you probably shouldn’t be taking lessons in the first place. But for the rest of us, our schedules are full and our lives are busy. Make sure that you can carve time out of your schedule to practice. Oftentimes this means giving something else up.
Be Respectful of Time
Show up on time (or even a little early). If you’re late, you’re going to get charged the same. Make an effort to treat the time with your instructor as important. If you need to leave early to avoid traffic make sure it happens. Yes, occasionally things crop up that we can’t control, and that’s okay.
During your lesson you want to stay focused on the right subjects. There’s nothing wrong with being friendly with your teacher, but don’t blow half the lesson talking about last night’s football game (unless it somehow relates to the lesson). Remember it’s your time and money, so make sure you’re getting what you want out of it.
Make a binder to collect any and all materials your teacher gives you. If you find other related material elsewhere file it away in your binder. Keeping your material all in one place makes it easy to review things. They won’t get lost in little piles around your house.
Over time, with a little attention and organizational energy, you'll build the best guitar-method book you’ve ever read.
Being motivated enough to take lessons already puts you ahead of most aspiring musicians. But it helps to have more specific goals than just learning to play. These can range from the very precise (I want to to learn how to play the riff to Heartbreaker) to the more general (I want to get good at blues soloing).
Before you start looking around for teachers, take fifteen minutes to brainstorm a list of things you want to learn or skills you want to acquire. Make it as exhaustive as you can. Some items on that list may be short-term goals and others may be things that will take years. Don’t edit yourself, write them all down. Take that list with you when you talk to potential teachers and use it as a way to evaluate “fit” with them.
Be Open to New Things
There is an unlimited number of ways your personal musical path can develop. What you envision now may very well change in a few years time. It’s great to have goals, but if you feel like your attention is drifting to new topics, don’t be afraid to change your focus. You may start out wanting to play like Jimmy Page and then learn you really want to play like Wes Montgomery.
As you study with your teacher keep yourself open to new discoveries. You may find new things during your studies that you never dreamed of. I would say if you’re lucky enough for this to happen you’ve found yourself the ideal instructor!
Your teacher may give you homework that seems lame or unrelated. But keep in mind that they’ve given it to you for a good reason. Be respectful of their experience and assume that it’s worth spending time on. Sometimes you need to master the boring stuff before you can get to the “good stuff”.
Be an Active Participant
You’ll help your teacher (and yourself) immensely if you participate actively in your own learning. That means doing more than just showing up and being a passive sponge. When you review your homework let your teacher know which things were easy and which ones were more difficult. Ask questions to get at the underlying reason for things. Try to make connections between things that you learn.
Put It In Perspective
Lesson time is where you show your teacher how you’ve progressed and where you get the next challenge to work on. The real work happens in your practice time. Lessons don’t make you better, practice makes you better. Lessons show you what to practice. Keep this in mind.
If it stops being fun you should probably stop doing it. If you can’t embrace lessons with an eager attitude you’re wasting both your time and your money. It’s okay to take it “seriously” by setting aside time in your schedule to practice, keeping yourself organized and tracking your progress. But remember the real reason that you’re doing it in the first place.
Check Your Ego at the Door
Be open to criticism as a way to get better and don’t take it as an attack on your character. One of the important things a good instructor will do is identify your short-comings and help you address them. Some teachers are better at this than others, which is why it’s so important to get a feel for their personality and rapport you will develop with them.
Lessons aren’t a place where you’re told how great you are. If you’re looking for affirmations you’re probably barking up the wrong tree. A good teacher will be encouraging, but will also continue to push you to the limits of your abilities.
Dedicated study with a qualified instructor isn’t for everyone. But if you’ve ever thought about trying it out, keep these tips in mind and go find an instructor. You won’t be studying with them forever so don’t feel like you’re locked into a lifetime of musical obligation.
Photo credit: J.G. Park