How to choose a guitar teacher
If you are thinking about taking guitar lessons in Vancouver, this article is a complete guide on all the options to consider. It will help you to make a choice that's right for you. If you don’t live in Vancouver, these options will apply pretty much any major city with these types of schools and teachers.
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. Many kids can really excel in this environment if they connect with a good teacher. But many adults find the environment less exciting and sometimes a little awkward when sitting in the waiting room surrounded by 8-12 year olds waiting for the lesson. It’s 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 traditional way to get music lessons and 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 to be good teachers – after all, only they are responsible for getting and retaining students. Plus, they keep the total of the lesson fee. 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 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. The convenience is hard to beat and there are some good teachers out there who do this.
But the most experienced teachers in Vancouver don’t tend 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 much fewer students and you wouldn’t make much. The best teachers don’t usually offer this because they don’t need to. 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.
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, country, or blues genres. 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 someone 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 fun, first and foremost. You want someone 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 feel you don’t practice enough. But 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.
In Vancouver 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.
Lately I’ve seen lessons advertised for as low as $35 an hour and as high as $100 an hour. Of course you have to work within your own budget. But if you see an ad on Craigslist for guitar lessons for $35 an hour but the teacher has no website, doesn’t even list her name on the advertisement or the location that lessons take place, you can imagine the results you will get.
The 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 a little less 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.
Remember that 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.
-- 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.