Parent article: Guitar Lessons 101
There is a lot to know and learn about teaching.
It’s why that, in order to teach at a public high school or college, you need to obtain a teaching degree in addition to whatever else you might be specializing in.
When teaching guitar, a lot of the principles that are adhered to by teachers can be applied as we develop lessons and a curriculum for our guitar students. We don’t need a degree to teach guitar but, we can learn how to craft a good guitar lesson plan.
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The Guitar Teacher Lesson Plan
Speculation suggests there aren’t a lot of guitar teachers who actually think of lesson planning as a part of what they do.
Guitar is a relaxed instrument.
It’s one of the more casual of the musical disciplines.
Guitar teachers, having once been students themselves, are more likely to wing it instead of using a structured lesson plan.
I would argue this is a mistake for one main reason:
Learning guitar works best within a structure.
Like earning a degree in physics, developing skill on the guitar happens best under a certain structure. Moreover, a structure that does not take away from the creativity and the fluidity of the instrument.
The importance of structure is seen in the fact that the creative energy of the student is most successful within guidelines.
Setting up guidelines and a pathway of learning is where a guitar lesson plan becomes useful.
Conventional Education Methods
Guitar teachers can glean a lot of valuable information from conventional education methods, especially when it comes to planning our guitar lessons.
To that end, we’ll go through several key components of classroom lesson planning use it to develop our own guitar lesson plan.
Each phase plays an important role in helping the student learn.
And while we don’t need to adopt the entirely of the classroom model, these bullet points are helpful.
Guitar lessons have a couple different objectives:
- The objective of each individual lesson.
- The long-term objectives.
The individual lesson objective is what you want the student to learn in any given hour long or 30 minute session.
Long-term objectives are where you want your student to be (or where they want to be) in several months, years or after a certain number of lessons.
A long-term objective should provide the arena for the lesson-by-lesson objectives.
This means you need to establish long-term goals and objectives before you move into the phase of planning your objectives for each individual lesson.
Part of the problem is that long-term objectives can be tough to nail down.
A student might not know enough to set those goals for themselves. Yet, even the most broad hopes and aspirations can be used as measurable long-term objectives.
Setting the objectives on your student’s behalf isn’t preferable but, since it helps you plan lessons, you might need to jot something down and take your best guess.
Here’s a summary of the objective approach:
1. Establish long-term objectives: Either from you or your guitar student, this is a conversation ideal for the first lesson/meeting, so you can get to know the student and get a feel for what they want to accomplish.
2. Use the long-term objectives to plan individuals lessons: For example; if your student wants to be a rhythm guitarist and work for a recording studio, use that information to teach and focus more on barre chords, timing and maybe even walking through some recording practices and software if you have knowledge and access to those things.
Increasing Curiosity about the Guitar
The way you present and discuss objectives should encourage your student’s curiosity.
Of course, this is highly dependent on the attitude and interest of each individual student, which will be widely varied.
However, in your presentation of guitar and the related objectives, the curiosity of your students should be increased.
How exactly does that happen?
Here are a few things that I’ve found to work:
1. Present a form of motivation: Most students (particularly beginners) are fascinated with other people’s guitar playing. Use your own ability and guitar playing to demonstrate certain concepts and objectives. Seeing you play will increase their curiosity and interest in being able to play it as well.
2. Talk about what you can accomplish with the instrument: This ties in loosely with discussing objectives, but in that discussion you want to highlight what you can do as a skilled guitarist and the kind of musical opportunities that will open up to you when you get to that point.
Establish Familiarity with the Basics
Part of establishing objectives involves getting a student familiar with the bare bones concepts; holding a guitar, the pick, what each part does, strings and similar topics.
Once your clear the field of the more menial concepts, you can start to narrow in on a niche or focus for your student.
Yet, not all students start from ground-zero, so in many cases you can skip right to more advanced material and make a quicker push towards a definite objective.
Be prepared for either scenario.
I don’t like the term “pre-assessment” because the activity it denotes is an ongoing process that often occurs in the middle of lessons and on multiple occasions.
All it means is that you’re monitoring how your student is handling topics and deciding whether it is too easy, difficult or ideally challenging for them.
Once you’ve made that determination, you might have to adjust if you feel like your student is either not being challenged or being overly challenged beyond what is helpful to them.
It’s difficult to tell exactly when you need to adjust. It’s a sense that you’ll develop as you get to know each of your students individually.
One of the most prominent signs is simple boredom.
This is the most typical reaction of a guitar student, either when something is too easy or too difficult.
You’ll need to train yourself to recognize when a student is struggling and frustrated or when they’re coasting and you’re explaining something they already understand.
In most cases, they won’t come right out and tell you.
The Shyness Factor
Guitar students are often fairly shy and withdrawn during lessons, particularly in the earlier lessons before they get to know you.
Once a student gets a few lessons under their belt and feels comfortable with you, they’ll probably open up enough to allow their frustration to be expressed or to simply tell you when you’re covering something they already understand.
Until then you might have to ask questions and just try and read them as best you can.
Your ability to motivate your student is most directly related to your own motivation and enthusiasm about the subject matter.
A nice additive to that enthusiasm is the ability you have to inspire with your own guitar playing.
The best guitar teachers I ever had made me want to play and get better, just by watching them play.
Yet, some students aren’t easily motivated and there’s little you can do about it, aside from staying upbeat and interested yourself.
The issues that arise for an unmotivated student are fairly predictable.
Such students tend to not advance quickly and are likely avoiding the guitar nearly 100 percent of the time they’re not having a lesson with you.
These are usually younger kids who aren’t really interested in the guitar but, for whatever reason, have ended up in your musical care.
So when I say “motivation” I’m not trying to convey that you’re entirely responsible for motivating these students. If they’re not even taking basic steps on their own and allowing themselves to be motivated, there’s little you can do.
Instead, I’m referring to your ability to facilitate and maintain the motivation that might already be present in a guitar student.
The Hierarchy of Motivators
While motivation must originate with the student, you can help sustain that motivation and keep them interested in the material you’re covering by your own teaching habits and styles.
To do that, it helps to understand educational motivators called “the hierarchy of motivators.”
#1: Subject Matter
The topics and concepts are to be intrinsically motivating, even if they’re boring.
It’s up to you as the teacher to bring those concepts into a new light and add an element of application or intrigue that might not naturally be there.
#2: Instructor Enthusiasm
The bottom line is that your approach is contagious, regardless of where your student starts.
A good teacher is interested and excited about what they’re teaching, which almost always translates into motivation for the student.
#3: Focusing Events
In the case of the guitar, learning to play a song, watching a live performance of your student’s favorite band or anything that helps them focus in on what might have actually motivated them in the first place, could be considered a focusing event.
These are good to incorporate into your guitar lesson plans regularly, even if you don’t see a lack of motivation.
Sequencing refers to ordering and prioritizing lesson topics and concepts.
Thomas Van Hoof, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut Schools of Nursing and Medicine, defines sequencing this way:
Sequencing is applying an explicit logic to the order of activities to maximize learning outcomes.
This is the planning part of your lesson plan, where you decide how to order topics and then how to transition in and out of those topics, both within and between lessons.
This is one of the more involved aspects of providing guitar lessons, mostly because of how many different ways there are to do it.
So if you want to read a little further, here are a couple articles I would recommend:
Sequencing can happen both before and during the course of lessons with a specific student.
Even with an established sequence of topics and concepts, you’ll have to adjust on the fly and re-work your plan as your student progresses.
As a guitar teacher, the best practice is to know the conventional sequence of guitar topics and lay that out from the beginning.
Then, as a student’s situation and development on the instrument changes, you can adjust the sequence accordingly.
Finally, we get to the fun part.
Too often, when you collect all of the teaching that’s available to aspiring players, you get a lot of topical information with little applicable instruction.
As a guitar teacher you need to be able to explain to your student how to apply and use the information you’re giving them.
For example, you can teach open chords and your student can memorize them.
Applying them would mean teaching your student about transitioning between those chords, working them into chord progressions or actually using them to play songs.
You just want to do something with the information.
A lot of guitar teachers will cover a topic and then simply move on to another topic, and their lessons end up looking like this:
Open chords / barre chords / power chords / jazz chords
And so on in that manner.
Instead, order it this way (think about this for sequencing):
Open chords / chord transitions / song writing / focus event (song that uses those chords)
Barre chords / barre chord transitions / tabbing out barre chords / focus event
Instead of jumping from topic to topic we space each topic out, cover applicable concepts and then take the student through ways to actually use the information about open chords and barre chords.
It’s a good example of why sequencing is so important for getting things like application into our guitar lesson plan.
Evaluation and Follow Up
Your final task is a simple one:
Evaluate and follow up with your student on the things they’re learning.
Typically there are no tests or exams when it comes to guitar but, you can use objectives and application to gauge your student’s progress and help determine how well they’re developing.
As a guitar teacher, it’s crucial to keep in mind that every student learns differently.
I’m not a fan of the 25-30 person classroom because I don’t think people learn effectively in that model.
These lesson planning tools, as you might have noticed, are all dynamic, meaning they’re used and implemented differently based on the student and situation.
Objectives, sequence and application will always be different from student to student.
They leave room for a unique approach.
If you have the opportunity to teach someone guitar one on one, or even in a small group, take advantage of these dynamic educational principles.
They’ll provide structure while allowing your student’s interests and creativity to flow within that structure.
If you can do that well, it’ll be the difference between being a great guitar player and a great teacher.
Your Thoughts and Comments
Have something you’d like to share?
Maybe a question you’d like to ask?
Feel free to get in touch with me directly.
Otherwise, Twitter and the comments section are great places to connect and share thoughts on the material.
See you there.
- Van Hoof, Thomas J., “Result Filters.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2016. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19097460>.
- “Sequencing in Teaching: Definitions and Examples.” Study.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2016. <http://study.com/academy/lesson/sequence-of-events-definitions-and-examples.html>
Written by Bobby on Lessons and Music Theory
Tink McGathy says
This article was really helpful as I’ve attempted teaching guitar but never felt like I connected with the players well enough to keep them interested. Part of me wants to blame myself for not being a better teacher. The other part wants to blame the student for not being disciplined enough to practice during the week.
Thanks for sharing, Tink. This also depends a lot on the age range of the student. Either way, glad the piece was helpful.
Speaking as an undisciplined Student beginner of the guitar, this is an excellent article and made me realise I need structure to the lessons I receive.
I am now retired and just about to start taking lessons with an experienced tutor. Will be looking for at least some of the points you mentioned in his approach to teaching me
Bobby Kittleberger says
Thanks, Ian. Glad you found it helpful.