One of the driving principles behind Start Teaching Guitar is that we can all learn from each other. This “Guitar Teacher Interview” series is a chance for us to hear from other guitar teachers around the world and hopefully get some ideas for our own teaching businesses.
This interview is with Alex Boyd, a guitar and drum teacher from Kansas City, Kansas area in the USA. To find out more about Alex and his teaching business, visit his website at http://www.olathemusiclessons.com
Guitar Teacher Interview
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where do you live? What’s your background?
I live in the southern part of the Kansas City Metro area. When I was younger I did some touring as a drummer. About 6 years ago I started playing guitar with the thought that being able to communicate to guitarists in their own language who make me more hire-able in the local club scene. And it worked! Being able to communicate by Roman Numerals and knowing some music theory made me a “go-to” guy for gigs. I got into teaching based on a lie :) I had a band mate that taught in a local school district. I asked if he could feed me a bunch of drum students and he said yes…to this day he hasn’t sent me a single student! But believing what my friend told me, I set out to find a place to teach near my friend’s school district. I told the story to the shop owner and he had a drum studio open and I was in.
Tell us about your guitar teaching business. Are you doing it part-time or full-time? How many students are you currently teaching?
I’ve been teaching for 3 years and it’s been amazing! Not only do I love teaching but being a good example for the kids to follow. A good number of my students have divorced parents and in a couple cases I’ve been their only male role model. I’ve helped kids that struggle with shyness and depression and I’ve seen them grow stronger and gain self-confidence. I’ve actually only been teaching guitar for a couple months and I’ve picked up a lot of students through that. I still teach drums 2 to 1, but I see the growth potential being much higher in guitar. I recently quit my day job so I could have more time to devote to promoting my business. I currently have approx. 31 students. I’ve heard that the average time a teacher has a student is 8 months. But I average 2 years easy. I believe the reason why I keep students so long is that I’m just a big kid myself and my goal is every lesson they leave with a smile on their face. I never get angry if the student comes unprepared and hasn’t practiced. I believe that instead of making my students practice, just make them associate their instrument with fun and they’ll practice for hours every day cause they’re enjoying their instrument. I think I specialize in giving my students practical advise on how to achieve their goals. It seems like most guitar teachers are training their kids to being able to play guitar in college, when most want to just play the latest Taylor Swift and Maroon 5 song. I’m also really good at doing duo lessons. I have 2 students who live right down the street from each other and they take lessons together. I have several parent and kid combinations and seeing the parents and child bonding over music makes me feel like I’m doing what God putting me on this planet for.
What’s been the biggest key to success in your teaching business so far?
My biggest success has been my ability to get students with no experience playing a full song before the end of their first lesson. And when the parent see this they’re sold! I’ve developed a method for drums, guitar and the ukulele that is so simple anyone can play a song in 5 minutes. I’ve found that a lot of kids hate playing guitar because their small hands can’t make those complicated shapes, they have no calluses and don’t have the physical strength to keep strings down for a long period of time. So I got this idea from a friend and have run with it, but it’s about taking basic chords and simplifying them to one finger. It takes the pain right out of playing because if a finger gets tired, they can switch fingers. This allows them to build up strength and calluses while they’re playing. It’s keeps the guitar as a symbol of fun and not pain. Once they’re stronger, we make the chords use two fingers, then up to three and beyond. I also introduce pentatonic shapes so they can learn an easy way to solo to any song they hear.
What’s been your most effective way of attracting new students?
Honestly, Craigslist. It’s very rare for someone to come into the store looking for a teacher and I’ve been too uninformed about other marketing practices. That’s why when I found out about Start Teaching Guitar I signed up immediately. The discussions are about how to treat teaching like a business and the new ideas for marketing are great. And Donnie is so uplifting and encouraging, that while I’m a guy that deals with depression and high anxiety, I feel like I could take on the world. So in the end, I’ve got my students through never losing them. Each student I get is a brand new student that I know will stay for a long time.
What’s been your most effective way of keeping your existing students from quitting?
Make music FUN! My goal is to make that half hour with me the best half hour of their week. I’m also great at getting kids who think they could never do it, playing a entire song in the first lesson by making chords easier and making drum beats easier. Like a quarter-note basic rock beat, without the high hat and then build from there. I also go to great lengths to get to know the parents so they know that I am fun and their kids are safe with me. Once the parents know you’re genuinely caring about their kids and the kids themselves are having the a great time and can actually perform at home for their parents, they’re sold for life.
What helps to keep you motivated to continue when things don’t seem to be going as well as you would like?
Donnie’s podcasts sure help. And my reputation as being a guy who keeps his students a long time. I feel like every time a make a gain in numbers it’s going to stay. In the last 3 years, I’ve only had less students in a following month twice. In May of 2010, I lost half my students (going from 12 to 6) but once school started, I got them all back. And October of 2012, yes this month, because I have two students who are moving away (one of which I’m going to continue lessons with through Skype once they get settled down).
What advice would you have for someone who would like to get started teaching guitar lessons for the first time?
Don’t expect that teaching at a shop will guarantee you students. Your job isn’t to sit in your room practicing until someone random walks in, but your job is to bring people into the shop who wouldn’t come in otherwise. And teach the kids what they want to learn. Not everyone’s goal is to become a classic rock lead guitar player. There is a giant market in teaching kids Taylor Swift and Maroon 5. And they all have phones they use to text everything to all their friends. When they walk out of their first lesson already able to play “Payphone”, you know they’re gonna tell their friends. And get to know the kids and their parents; be personable to them. The parents will always pay you on time if they like you and care about you.
Can you share one tip that has worked for you to help your students get better results on the guitar?
I had a student who was taking guitar lessons from me and her sister was taking piano lessons with another teacher. The father went through some financial issues with the IRS as he’s a business owner, and you can owe a lot of taxes to the government when no one is taking it out of your paycheck. So he wanted to start doing every other week with his kids. I thought the only reasonable way out that worked for the other teacher, myself and the family was for my student take lessons from the piano teacher who also teaches guitar. I talked to the parent the other day, to find out how the financials are doing and to compare how my teaching differed from the other teacher’s. He told me that his daughter had a lot of fun with me cause she was playing music the first lesson and she has grown frustrated that she hasn’t been able to play a song since, because she’s struggling to make a simple D chord. I know I’ll get her back and soon.
Well, that’s it for today’s Guitar Teacher Interview. If you’d like to be considered for a future interview, enter your name and email address below to join the Start Teaching Guitar community. I send out occasional interview requests to this mailing list.
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