Do I need a guitar teacher?


Another question to add to this is, is it sufficient to teach myself from a book, or YouTube video or something like that?


My answer to that is it depends on what your reasons for playing, how far you want to take things, what you want to achieve, how patient you are, the style or styles of music you want to learn and many other variables.


If you just want to kind of potter about with it, happy to do just whatever, and amuse yourself and so on, and really not too concerned about too many technical ins and outs, then instruction of some description from a teacher is may not be your thing.


If, on the other hand, you really want to accelerate your learning and playing (at pretty much whatever level you’re at, beginner through to advanced) then there are numerous benefits in taking regular lessons from a good teacher. Of course, don’t take regular lessons from a bad teacher!! 😉


Why is this?


There are a number of reasons, but here are just a handful…..


1. You don’t know what you don’t know


One of the first things that comes to mind for me whenever people ask me this question is that you don’t know what you don’t know! There are some good books and instructional videos out there I’m sure, as there are rubbish ones. Even if you’re using the best book in the world how do you know you’re interpreting it correctly or in the most optimal way for you?  And how do you know if the book or video has missed something? Or uses words or phrases that you’re not sure of?


2. A teacher can tailor things just for you


We’re all physiologically slightly different, so having a teacher to guide you in the pure physical mechanics of playing can prevent you from falling into bad habits (albeit unbeknownst ones) and/ or storing up potentially painful trouble later on down the line.


A good teacher will also have an armory of tools, techniques, studies, exercises and pieces to aid and supplement your learning – and to have fun with too!! Most importantly a teacher can help you to learn in the most effective way for you, not for the mass market.


3. A mentor can help accelerate your learning by helping you hone in on things you need to work on


Having a good teacher guiding you can also save you time and frustration. If a misunderstanding, sticking point or some other point of confusion occurs during your learning or playing your teacher will be able to help you sort it out and progress.


And, more often that not, it’s clear to a good teacher where a student needs a little further instruction or guidance on a particular technical or musical aspect where it may not necessarily be apparent to you (see point 1 above).


4. As human beings we’re biologically wired to learn from others


You know when you see someone fall over, or bang their thumb, you say “ouch”? Those are your mirror neurones firing up and simulating a watered down version of what that person is feeling in our own bodies. Our mirror neurons are what are responsible for us as very young infants learning how to use our bodies by copying what others do, how others move and these mirror neurones keep on working right throughout our lives.


So by not only listening and copying what a teacher is doing, watching and observing how movements are made to make those sounds can be a key part of the learning process. Apparently (and if you want to get technical about it), the same part of the brain (the right front insula) lights up in the same way when you’re aware of what your own body is doing and what another’s body is doing. If you’re making full use of your biological wiring and learning directly from a teacher it kind of stands to reason that it’s going to aid your learning.


5. A teacher can help cultivate not only your playing, but also your musicality, your “ear” and your sound


One of the key things a guitarist must always be striving for is the production of a beautiful sound – not many people want to listen to a thin, tinny sound right? A good teacher can ensure that your attention is always tuned into this vital element of playing guitar and aid you in the techniques (physical and mental) for physical production of your sound.


6. It’s fun!


Lessons are, by and large, enjoyable – who da thunk it?! (well, that’s a key aim in my lessons, anyway). Yes, one needs to work if one wants to progress and all that, but no one said the process had to be as dry as a dog biscuit and quite frankly reading from a book or sitting in front of a video can be a bit like that eh? Interacting with other real, live, warm-to-the-touch human beings is always much more fun! And whoever heard a book say “well done – that’s sounding great!”?


Are you committed?

Ooh the big C word – commitment! Mwah hah hah! Yes, this word can strike fear into the very heart of the otherwise bravest soul. Ok maybe that’s overdoing it a little….. So what does commitment have to do with playing the guitar, I hear you ask. Well, thanks for asking, I shall tell you.

The concept of “commitment” (which means to make a decision and to stick by it, it means to be fully dedicated, to fully apply ones self) features largely through various aspects in the journey of learning the guitar, mastering the instrument and performing with it.

We decide we want to learn the instrument. We decide to play a certain piece. Practicing. Deciding how we want a piece to sound. These all require commitment at one level or another.

Yes, very good. But why is commitment going to help me and my playing?

Ok, here we go.

The students that I teach, who from the very outset have made the decision that “yes, I absolutely want to learn how to play the guitar to the very best of my abilities” are the ones that tend to progress, learn and develop most quickly.

They’ve made that decision for themselves and stuck with it. They’re committed. Their actions indicate their commitment – they make time in their busy schedules for lessons to become a normal part of their life, they lock it in. They turn up for lessons week in-week out, they’re on time or early for their lesson, they’re not making excuses for no or little practice – they’ve done the practice (they also recognise that life happens sometimes and practice becomes challenging to squeeze in from time to time, but that’s ok in the bigger picture), they put themselves into uncomfortable or new performing situations in spite of feeling nervous.

And as a natural result of these committed actions they begin to see results. I’m not talking necessarily about setting the world alight and going from one grade to another in the space of a couple of months. I am talking about making noticeable and marked improvements week to week. And this as a teacher makes my heart sing! Knowing that you’re actually listening to what I’m saying and taking it on board is great!

And that’s a commitment too. Committing to take on board the advice from one’s teacher, committing to take on feedback and direction to help improve your playing, even if its not quite what you think or want to hear. You could choose to filter it out and say “nah”, or you could say “you know what? I’ll listen to what the teacher is saying, really listen, change what I can change and work very hard at it”. Might just work…….

We also make a commitment when we’re learning and playing a piece, and this particular gem I have to thank my own guide, mentor and super-teacher, Ben Dix, for. Decide exactly how you want a piece, phrase, bar or note to sound. Commit to it. Decide on exactly the dynamics you want and commit to it. The audience will feel a bajillion times more comfortable and settled with your playing (as will you) if you’ve already made the decision and said “yes, this is how I’m playing this”. The audience know where you’re going, and will go with you.

So commitment. Yup, can be scary sometimes, but what’s the alternative? As a rather famous sportswear brand say, just do it.