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!”?



No pain, no gain – or not when playing classical guitar


At no point ever, ever should there be any pain involved in the playing of classical guitar – not when first learning, not when progressing up through your grades, not when performing at the highest level, not ever.


If you experience pain creeping in at any point, either during practice/ playing or immediately following, then this is a sure signal that something aint quite right. The body is a smart thing and the message that pain is giving us is telling us something loud and clear – “you’re not doing this correctly and if you carry on doing this in this way you’re going to bugger me up. Then you’ll be stuffed.” Or something like that anyway.


So, it’s a hackneyed old saying, but you really should listen to your body.


Unlike marathon runners or kickboxers or any sporting person-type analogies we may care to use from time to time when talking about learning and playing guitar, if we experience pain whilst playing this isn’t “weakness leaving the body” (or some other similar macho or “brave in the face of adversity” type saying), we should not push through it and it’s most definitely not about how much more you can take, pushing, pushing and pushing just a little bit more. This is most definitely where the analogy between the pursuit of sporting excellence and classical guitar mastery ends.


Pain, be it muscular, skeletal, tenderness, soreness, sharp or dull, when playing or practicing guitar should never ever be ignored. I can’t stress this enough!


All manner of causes


The cause of a pain could be all manner of things – poor seated posture, habitual and unconscious muscle tension, “trying” too hard and straining muscles, excess pressure, conscious excess muscle tension, poor left and/ or right hand technique, focus on fingers and hands over and above how the whole body is involved in playing, poor physical condition, even psychosomatic responses to feelings of inadequacy and nervousness and so on.


As pain can be the result can be the result of all manner of things, it can also present itself in numerous different ways in different places from one person to the next – we’re all made up slightly differently after all. We may experience pain in that big, fat juicy muscle in our thumbs, our fingers, our hand or wrist – those are common ones where poor posture and excess tension and pressure can combine to cause problems. Then, of course, as guitarists we may also experience pain in the neck, shoulders, jaw, head, upper back, lower back, hips, knees….. the list could probably continue!


So, as you probably may guess I can’t help you cure your specific aches and pains and so on in all these places in the space of 500 word blog (I can help you explore each of these areas in greater detail if of interest though?). What I do invite you to take away from this though is:


If it hurts, stop playing right away!


Believe me – it’s more trouble than it’s worth to continue down the path of pain. Your body is giving you a signal that you need to change something with your posture, technique and/ or approach.


Take a really good hard look at how you’re playing and ask yourself what needs to be done to rectify the situation. Well in fact this may be difficult for you to do, as it may not be obvious to you as to the cause. An objective outsider view may be required – it may be easier to talk in greater detail with your teacher about the issue if you have a teacher. If you don’t have a teacher, this may be a good time to get one. If you have a teacher perhaps seek additional advice too – other teachers, other guitarists, or physical therapists such as Alexander Technique teachers or physiotherapists.


In other news….


In other (if somewhat slightly random) news, a website by the name of Coupon Audit (a new one to me, I’ll admit) has been putting together a series of “Top 100 Blogs” under various topics – gardening, craft, health and so on. The folks there have put together one for guitar and, lo! Classical Guitar n Stuff made it in there, to the lofty heights of number 37! Check out the list here:


Ooh and some other news….


There will be a very exciting announcement headed this way shortly about some plans for the blog coming up in the near future. Watch this space!