Sure You Can Play, But Can You Teach?


Start Teaching GuitarThere are lots of people out there who call themselves “guitar teachers”, but all teachers are NOT created equal. Just because you might be a great PLAYER, that doesn’t automatically make you a great TEACHER!

There are 2 kinds of guitar teachers: GOOD ones and BAD ones…

If you’re a good guitar teacher you will LISTEN to your students, tailor the lessons to THEIR needs, and do whatever it takes to help them get RESULTS.

If you’re a bad teacher you will probably RUSH your students in and out of the lessons, be all about taking their MONEY and will OVERWHELM them with a bunch of information that they probably don’t want to learn in the first place.

So basically, a good teacher is all about what the student needs…a bad one is all about him or her self. It all comes down to your attitude.

Since you hang out at, I think I can safely assume that you want to be a good teacher. Not only will that help your students out, but it will put more money in your pockets, too.

What do you think makes a guitar teacher good or bad? Post a comment and let’s talk about it!

Image: Daniel St.Pierre /

Sure You Can Play, But Can You Teach? was last modified: November 14th, 2012 by Donnie Schexnayder


  • George Tselios

    hello donnie,in my opinion some things that make a good guitar teacher is his ability to maintain each students interest not only for music but in general,to ‘read’ the student and know how to treat him/her,to give continuous motivations to play and create new stuff …and some other things of course,nice to talk to you really i appreciate..!

  • I agree 100%. I just found your website and have been doing many of the things you suggest. They really do work. It is ALL about what your student wants. Successful business people help their customer with what they need. One of our mottoes is “learn the music you like.” It’s not only good business but the student will practice more if they are playing music they want to learn rather than something they don’t know or like.

    The other quality of a good teacher I think is being friendly and relate-able. People buy from you because they feel comfortable with you (period). I joke that we are like hairstylists at times. People don’t come just for the haircut. They come because they like us as well. Likeability is huge I think.

    • Thanks, Joey! I’m glad to hear that the STG info is working for you.

      I guess we are kind of like hairstylists, a little bit. The same relational components definitely come into play…hopefully less drama and gossip, though. :)

  • Inna

    I think that teaching is a reciprocal process. There are bad teachers, but usually there is a mismatch between a student and teacher. I myself was a lecturer for maths and computers; and I know that I am a bad teacher for someone who does not work hard, that led me to escape teaching. Though I know that I am great for small groups of advanced and hard working students.
    Now I am an adult student learning to play a guitar (starting my 4th year). I don’t consider myself a good student, as I am tired after work and playing maximum 1 hour per day and I feel that it is not sufficient, but this is a reality. As well as I don’t know basic music theory and it seems i am not very talented in music, though I like it a lot.

    The last year I started learning with a new teacher whom I like a lot. But I liked my first teacher as well, the only reason for a change was him moving to another city. Honestly, it could be great if there was a way to combine them in one person.

    The first was very strict with me and I really worked hard, but I felt that I have problems and did not know how to resolve them. My current teacher is working hard on fixing my problems, working with me a lot on techniques and exercises; but he is not very strict.
    In a way, I am using this and I don’t do my best; though I feel improvements and enjoy my guitar and lessons.

    In summary, to be a good teacher is an art and it has to be in your blood and genes ……. But the purpose of teaching someone is a way to show a person how he/she can develop on their own, it is not only to feed someone but to teach him to hunt …. :-) It could be great if someone could teach me how to be a good student ………:-(

    • Thanks for the great comment…it’s cool to hear things from the student’s perspective!

      I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself; natural talent isn’t everything. A good teacher will know how to set personalized goals for you and protect your motivation so that you keep making steady progress…and feel fulfilled about what you’re learning.

      I think there are only two things you need to do to be a good student (once you find a good teacher):

      1) Do everything the teacher tells you

      2) Communicate effectively with the teacher

      If you keep doing those 2 things, and you actually like to play the guitar, and you don’t give up, you can become a great guitarist.

  • Man, teaching guitar is way different than playing. I have a really hard time getting out of my mouth ( to teach) what is in my head. But I have an easier time getting what’s in my head, out on my guitar.

    • Thanks for the comment, Steve. Yeah…I think we could all say that, but it definitely gets easier over time.

  • First off, great site Donnie. Its nice to find quality material for the guitar teachers out there. I started teaching about nine months ago and what was intended to be a casual thing with a couple of students has turned in to 17 students and teaching 4 nights a week. Its fun and certainly challenging as well. I never agreed with the customer is always right mantra but certainly try to tailor each student’s lessons with what they are interested in. I do give them things outside of that though to expose them to different techniques and types of music. I think it makes them more of a well rounded player then. For the most part, its had a favorable reaction. With that said, I think you have to be a responsible teacher as well and not let the student dictate the lesson. There is a reason they are the student and you are the teacher. Some of the things they want to play are not appropriate for their level or they argue about theory etc etc. I have no problem telling them no. I actually had a student last week who refused to tune his guitar! He would have sounded pretty good if the thing was in tune but it sounded like garbage. I flat out told him- you need to tune! My point to all of this is connect with the student, understand their needs and goals but maintain your position as the instructor and be responsible.

    • Thanks, Scott! I don’t believe that “the customer is always right”…but I do believe that the customer always needs to be happy, or they won’t be a customer for very long.

      There’s a big difference between the two…sounds like you’ve already figured that out! :)

  • Hey! You know, I’ve been studying how to be a better teacher for over a year now…but for some reason, I still have poor results with my students.

    I listen to their needs and their struggles, but then I feel like I am rushing them… I feel like I overwhelm them, and I don’t intend that.

    I also get a lot of students who don’t practice. I think it’s because they’re not interested in the songs I show them. I ask all my students what their top 10 favorite songs are so I can pick a few that are in line with what they need to learn. I show them some at certain times. I also show them other licks and songs that I already have prepared from earlier students, which also fit what they need to work on at the specific time…

    For example, if a student is struggling to play power chords, I’ll show him some songs I already have written out that use power chords.

    Is this an ineffective approach? Should I teach every student the songs they like to play? I feel like it would take far too much time to prepare the lessons, and then there’d be a MASSIVE database of all these songs that all use power chords, and that wouldn’t be very helpful…

    What do you think? I like to re-use materials. It looks better for the student when it’s already prepared because there’s also lots of text already written in the pdf file, and it saves me time. :)

    • Thanks for the comment, Matteo…I think it’s fine to re-use your lesson materials, as long as they fit your students goals. For the songs, you could definitely re-use those…as long as they are songs the student actually likes and wants to learn. It’s easy to over-analyze this, but the more you give your students what they really want, the happier they will be.

      It sounds like you have a good general approach to teaching…it would be hard to pinpoint what the exact problem might be without actually seeing or hearing you do an actual lesson. There could be some things you may not be aware of. Also, it could be that you aren’t attracting the RIGHT students for you…lots of different factors to consider.

  • Steve Anatolitis

    Donnie, your site is awesome ;)

    As a teacher (apart from the things mentioned, I wouldn’t like to say the same things) you need to be fast and an effective judge of character. And when I say fast I mean really fast. You gotta grasp the student’s wishes before they even start to form in their mouths. You ought to be observative like you’ll never be. You need to watch their tiniest movement that may be putting some tension on that riff or causing them a stiff neck or whatever.

    We teachers need to know that we have to be fine tuned robots and dedicated human beings at the same time. We need to be cool and strict as somenone said for instance. We have to study our students more than they study for their guitar lessons cause we’re there to support what they love to do and helping them move it to the next level.

    I’ll finish with a nice example. I recently had my first lesson with a beginner guitarist. He said he’d been playing with another teacher (a very experienced blues player he said) for 4 years. I said nothing cause I knew from the first moment he held the pick that I wasn’t going to like what I was about to hear. And I didn’t. I felt sorry for him and his teacher and I’ll say it even though it’s wrong, I got quite angry. But I kept a calm face, said nothing and asked him how we should proceed.

    And what he asked me was dumbfounding. He said “Can you show me how I can accompany a song? A pop song? With an acoustic guitar? I mean, I get the left hand, it’s easy, it’s just chords but how do I know what to do with my right one?”

    I had him clapping some rhythms and wrote some stuff down, it does’nt really matter how but in 10 minutes time he was playing a pop song. And then by the end of the lesson another one. And I could tell by his smile that he felt good.

    But I was still really angry at that “very experienced blues player”. Coz all he did was teach the guy what he thought he wanted and not what the guy really wanted. ;)

    Thanks for reading this.

    PS: The guy told me that I was there as a temporarily replacement for his previous teacher. I’m really fine with that, but when I saw that the other teacher taught him essentially nothing, I don’t know what to do. Should I tell him that he’s better off finding another one? Even if it’s not me, I don’t care. I just want the guy to play the damn guitar :D

    • Thanks for the comment, Steve! I understand your anger about the other teacher, but I think you probably shouldn’t say anything to the new student about finding another one. If you actually gave them some good results and they felt connected with you, I’m pretty sure they’re smart enough to figure that out on their own. You just don’t want to develop a reputation for trash-talking the other teachers in your market…that can come back and bite you in the end.

  • Hi Donnie and everyone,

    I teach full time 75 students a week and have done so for about 17 years (mostly small group and some private students). The most overriding statement I could make about good teaching is this:

    As a teacher, always be a student yourself- always.

    You must not loose touch with the process of being a student. The chemistry of your own private challenge to continually better yourself will filter down to your teaching and the students will FEEL IT!. We all want to be better players but the good teachers always want to be better teachers first.

    I could write a thesis on this question but the thought above is what I carry in me at all times.

    Best regards to all and keep up the GOOD work!


  • Hello Donnie and other fellow teachers on here. Many of the things I am currently reading and hearing in the Podcasts are so inline with how I have been teaching its a little scary ;-)
    Almost as far back as my beginnings as a guitar teacher in the Spring of 1982 I knew for me to be successful as a teacher I was gonna have to throw the “book” out. At least in the backyard but not the trash.

    I teach mostly Rock, some Jazz/Blues, most of my students are roughly 11 to 18. My oldest is 48 years old. The first lesson is always the hardest obviously. I listen to what they’re into, what kinda music/bands they like. What inspires them. Are they starting cold with no musical background etc. and then go from there. Each student has reflected something back on me. I learned this to be true in the latter years more so. As pointed out in one of the Podcasts, some students are just going to always be challenging no matter what. For those I still try to personalize to their needs for me to be successful and hopefully the bottom line their “results”. On of the most rewarding results as a teacher is seeing your students “get their guitar wings” and form their own band, gigs, music, recordings etc. It’s pretty rewarding to go out to a venue to see your student and their band performing knowing that you played a part in that. Sometimes over the years I didn’t realize that until later.

    I have a particular style of teaching that works for some and not for others but most of my students stay with me. In better days here in the town I live in and we had music stores to teach at that offered job security, at the least the illusion of it, I built a reputation as being a consistent teacher and got many referrals both in store and on my own I come from the angle and maintain my saying that you can’t institutionalize something like Rock music.

    • Thanks, Jon! Watching them “get their wings” is definitely one of the coolest things in the world…

  • Hey Donnie. Sometimes it takes a while to get into their heads. I ask them what kind of music they want to learn, but usually it’s just the basic chords. But if I can find out what they listen to I can try to get at least one or two songs they like as well as challenge them on new stuff. Heck, I even found myself watching Hannah Montana (girl students like it, I wanted to be aware, honest! lol).

    • DonnieSchex

      That’s cool! I’ve watched a few episodes of Hannah Montana in my day (my daughter used to be a fan). :)

      Hey…whatever it takes to connect, right?

  • Sam

    Hey Donnie and fellow teachers. I think good guitar teachers are easy to talk to and make students feel comfortable instead of intimidated etc so students are able to give it their all instead of holding back. Good teachers also have patience and are aware of how it was when they started learning guitar and teach the students the material and songs that the students want to learn. That’s what I can remember from being a student anyway lol. Sam

  • Nick

    Hello fellow guitarists…Mr Donnie ,thanks for the opportunity to discuss this
    particular subject !
    In my opinion ,a good teacher will deliver the results he was hired for ,in the first place.
    A bad teacher will not.
    other words ,a good guitar teacher has to be brutally honest to his
    prospective students as far as his playing/teaching style skills ,might
    In the other hand,if a guitar teacher promote him/her self as a
    ”Jazz teacher” (or worst ,as a ”one-size-fits-all” teacher) but at
    the same time ,is willing to accept every student happens to contact
    him/her and eventually ‘grab’ (metaphorically speaking) future students
    from his competitors),then this ,automatically is making him a bad