Complete Guide to Guitar Lessons in Vancouver
Published December 2020
If you are thinking about taking guitar lessons in Vancouver in 2021, this is your complete guide on all the options to consider. It will answer the common questions and help you to make a choice that's right for you.
Guitar Lessons in Vancouver
Vancouver has a lot of options when it comes to music lessons and each one has its advantages and drawbacks. Certain environments will be right for you, and wrong for someone else. Here are three of those common ways that instructors work.
School, Studio, or In-Home
Schools and Stores:
These lessons are generally attached to the major music retailers in town. Some people like that they are known brands, often national chains they feel they can trust. The schools are attached to the stores so if you need to buy any music books or accessories then it’s all right there for you.
These music schools generally cater to teaching children, which is not ideal for adult students. While many kids can excel in this environment if they connect with a good teacher, many adults find the environment less exciting and sometimes a little awkward. Sitting in a waiting room surrounded by 8-12 year olds doesn't exactly make you feel like a rockstar. So it's certainly not for everyone.
The stores and schools tend to have a higher turn-over of teachers. If your child is taking lessons and just getting used to one teacher, it’s less ideal if they have to meet and learn from a new teacher each year.
Teacher-Run Home Studios
This is probably the most common and traditional way to get music lessons. This is the way I first took lessons so many years ago, and it's the way I teach lessons today.
If you find a great teacher in a comfortable, well-equipped home-studio near you, this is a great option for both kids and adults.
Guitar instructors who work for themselves can be more motivated – after all, only they are responsible for getting and retaining students. The teachers at the music stores get paid less and only keep a fraction of the lesson fee so some of these teachers are less experienced and usually a lot younger.
Many successful teachers with home studios are very experienced teachers as it takes some know-how to start and maintain a business, find and retain students. If they have been in business with a home studio for ten or more years, that says a lot about their reliability.
If you try this option, make sure the home studio is comfortable for you and has everything that your lessons need. The space should be clean, tidy and welcoming.
There are some teachers who will actually travel to your home, carrying all their gear along with them, and do lessons for you right in your own home. In-Home lessons can be a good option for busy families, but they don't tend to offer the best teachers because the best local teachers are highly unlikely to operate this way.
Imagine if you had to drive from place to place all day long and not get paid for all that travel time. You would be able to teach few students in a day and you wouldn’t make much of an income. That's why the best local teachers don’t do this. They don’t need to because they have plenty of students who are willing to come to them.
There is also a lack of equipment in some cases. The teachers can only transport around so much. In contrast, if you take lessons in the teacher’s own studio, they should have all the guitars, amps, music, Internet, printers and other gear that will be needed.
There are only a couple teachers in Vancouver who are currently teaching guitar group classes. While these can be a good for budget conscious students, it generally only works if everyone in the class is at the same level.
If you are all beginners, it can work for a time. But most students have told me that classes can be frustrating because either the class moves too quickly for them and they can't keep up, or it moves too slowly and they get bored.
With private, one-on-one lessons you get a teacher who is dedicated that time to you only, answering your questions when you need, and keeping a close eye on your progress, minute by minute.
Online Guitar Lessons
Online Private Lessons
Since 2020, of course online private lessons are now becoming more popular and many teachers will do both in-person and online lessons.
One thing to consider about online private lessons is that you cannot play a song together or jam along with your teacher because there is a time lag with video conferencing. You might not have noticed it if you are having a conversation with someone, but of course music must be done in real time, or as close as possible. Even a second of delay means you can't play along together.
Not being able to play along together can hinder your progress because you won't get the experience of playing in time with the teacher. Also, it's missing out one of the most fun parts of lessons -- playing songs together.
But that's not to say on-line private lessons are unrecommended. They can be good for the right student, and certainly during the pandemic it can be a necessity.
Online Video Courses
Some people decide to try learning guitar with online video courses, or free YouTube videos. These can work well for students who are highly motivated. But there are big downsides.
You can't ask questions of the teacher, or if you can, you will have to wait a few hours for a response.
And you will be stuck in a program of lessons that are not tailored to your level or interests
The structure of seeing a teacher each week tends to provide a lot more motivation to keep at it, and keep practicing in between lessons.
If you are going to take regular lessons, you will typically want to consider a teacher who works in your neighbourood. But, just because the local music shop is down the street, doesn't mean that's the right location for you. If you are going to invest all this time and money into taking lessons, your primary concern should be to find a teacher that's a good fit for you.
It may be better to travel a little further if it means you will be able work with a more experienced teacher, a more dedicated teacher, or one who understand the genre you want to learn.
Furthermore, it should be a comfortable learning environment that's right for you. If the tiny rooms at the local music school are feeling claustrophobic, you might prefer working with a local musician who teaches in his or her home studio.
Formal education background
Many guitar teachers in Vancouver advertise how many college certificates and degrees they have. But it doesn’t mean much if they’re not good teachers.
Unless you plan to study music at the college level yourself, it doesn’t matter if your guitar teacher has a formal degree in music or not. Especially if you are like most guitar students who want to play rock, pop, folk, blues, or country.
Most of the great musicians and teachers of today studied music privately for years. All that one-on-one instruction for 15 or 20 years really adds up. They might not have a degree to hang on the wall, but they certainly know their craft.
It’s far more important that you have an instructor who is a good teacher -- someone who is patient and can explain things in a step-by-step manner. A teacher who can read your learning style and teach with that in mind is far better than a teacher with an M.A. in jazz studies who doesn’t have patience for you or your taste in music.
Pick a teacher you enjoy spending an hour a week with. If you don’t find the lessons fun, then what’s the point? Playing music is meant to be fun, first and foremost. You want a teacher that you can relate to, have a laugh with. Being able to laugh together is important in a learning environment where you’re going to be making mistakes. You don’t want a teacher who will ever make you feel bad for playing a wrong note.
Some teachers might make you feel guilty if they think you don’t practice enough and I would never recommend a teacher who would do this. The best teachers make sure to understand your personal goals. If you’re like most students, you will have busy weeks when you don’t have time to practice and that should be okay. Again, guitar is about having fun. With a good teacher, there is still much that can be accomplished in a lesson when a student hasn’t had time to practice for a week or two.
Teachers who actively perform
Some teachers are active performers and some are not. While there is something extra special that a performing musician can teach you, it can sometimes be a blessing in disguise. Make sure that the teacher you choose isn’t going to be on tour for months on end, or frequently need to cancel on you because they picked up a gig that pays better.
Generally I think it there are some benefits in choosing a teacher who has performance experience, but make sure to pick an instructor who makes teaching his first priority.
Teaching specific genres
There are some teachers in Vancouver who specialize in certain genres. If you are not a fan of metal, then you should keep that in mind when contacting prospective teachers. Most teachers in Vancouver are well capable of teaching the basic genres of rock, blues, folk and pop. But lessons can be especially more beneficial and fun if you and the teacher have similar tastes.
For example, if you love fingerstyle country, you might enjoy not only learning the techniques but also being able to talk about Townes Van Zant with your teacher. But if the teacher is a metal fan, you just might not connect. And of course the vice versa is true.
You can generally get an idea of the genres that the teacher favours from their website. Teachers will often have a statement like, I specialize in rock, folk, blues. Or sometimes you can even get a sense of their style from the photos on their website.
How much do guitar lessons in Vancouver cost?
In Vancouver, guitar lessons can cost between $40 an hour and as high as $100 an hour.
The cost for guitar lessons varies a surprising amount. There are certainly some bargains out there but like most things, you get what you pay for.
Lessons for adults are generally priced at the one-hour rate and lessons for young children at a half-hour.
Of course you have to work within your own budget. But if you see an ad on Craigslist for guitar lessons for $40 an hour but the teacher has no website, doesn’t even list his name on the advertisement or the location that lessons take place, you can imagine the results you will get.
Teachers with more experience tend to charge more, but keep in mind you are likely to learn faster and enjoy it more if you have a really good teacher. And that’s the point.
The music stores and schools tend to charge around $50 an hour. The more experienced home-studio teachers tend to charge around $70. Those more experienced teachers also tend to work fewer hours since they can afford to at those rates. The advantage to you is that they haven’t already been teaching for 6 hours before your lesson so they may still be alert, patient, and ready to go.
How long does it take to learn guitar?
The answer to this depends on so many variables it's difficult to say, and of course it varies from person to person. Here are some things o consider:
How much time you have to practice between lessons
The experience and teaching ability of your teacher
Do you just want to learn how to strum and sing a few basic songs?
Or do you want to learn how to play challenging solos?
If you want to become a strong improvisor you'll also need to learn more music theory
But everyone still wants an answer to this question: How long will it take me to learn how to play the guitar. So I'll give three different answers depending on three different examples:
Guitar Student Example 1:
If you just want to learn how to strum along to some basic songs and you have quite a bit of time to dedicate to practice in between your lessons, then it could take you three to six months. The biggest hurdle is just physical skills to be able to play those open chords smoothly and quickly.
Guitar Student Example 2:
If you don't have a lot of time to practice because you sometimes get busy with work but you don't mind enjoying the journey, then typically these students can take 1 to 2 years to be able to confidently strum some moderate level songs. In that time can also start to get a handle on more physically challenging techniques like bar chords.
Guitar Student Example 3:
If you want to one day consider yourself a talented guitar player able to tear on some great solos, maybe play in a band, write your own songs, and generally impress everyone who hears you play, then it takes most people years of lessons and practice to get to this point.
Dedication: your own and the teacher's
Of course it all comes down to dedication. And whatever level of dedication you prefer to put in, should be okay as long as you are having fun. But you should expect full dedication from your teacher. If teaching is just a side-job for them, then they might not available the whole year, they might cancel on you often, or they just might not be dedicated to your learning.
Learning guitar takes time – more time than most people imagine. If you invest your time and money in taking lessons with a teacher, then you want to feel that your teacher is just as invested in your progress -- and in your enjoyment of guitar – as you are.
If you decide you don’t like the teacher you’ve chosen, there’s nothing wrong with parting ways and trying another. Perhaps in doing so, you may even help that teacher to become better at their job as a result. The best teachers tend to have students who stay with them for years.
Do you need to own a guitar to take lessons?
You have probably gathered from the last section that practicing on your own time between lessons is essential to leaning the guitar, so therefore you will need to either own or rent a guitar for yourself.
That being said, some guitar teachers will have guitars that you can borrow for a first lesson. If you are not certain yet that you want to take up guitar, you could ask a teacher to borrow a guitar for a first lesson just give you an idea of what it's like before you commit to buying or renting.
If you do consider buying a guitar, I have some more advice about buying your first guitar on another page of this site.
Questions to Ask a Guitar Teacher
If you find a teacher in your neighbourhood, you can always ask to do just one lesson and try it out before you make a commitment. Here are some questions I would suggest you consider asking before your first guitar lesson:
Is teaching your primary job? Or a side job?
Are you away for months of the year on tour with a band?
How long have you been teaching?
How long do students tend to take lessons with you?
Am I required to pay for many lessons up-front?
What's your cancellation policy?
Do you teach with a standard method book? Or can I request to learn songs I like?
What styles of music do you tend to enjoy teaching?
Do you teach mostly beginners? kids? adults? advanced? etc.
As I have said in the past, no one has ever regretted learning to play guitar. It can be an investment in both time and money, but it's well worth it. It's good for your health. It can relieve stress. It's loads of fun if you have the right teacher. And you can do it for the rest of your life.
If you have any thing you think I should add to this article, please let me know by getting in touch. I'd really like to hear from you.
-- Blue Morris teaches guitar lessons in Vancouver. He has an in-home studio in the Artech building in East Van, an artist’s live-work building just off Main Street.