In this article, I’m going to show you some of my best tips on how you can teach more engaging beginner guitar lessons immediately. But first, let me paint you a picture.
We’ve all had those lessons that feel like they’re over in 5 minutes. The student is practising. You’re both having fun. There is lots of laughter. Life is good!
Conversely, take another sort of lesson where the student isn’t interested in what you’ve got planned to teach at all. Things are limping along; you’re both checking the clock. In short, every minute feels like an eternity.
It’s all too easy to categorise our students into good students and bad students:
Good students practise regularly, come to lessons with a great attitude, work consistently, and have fun while they are with you.
Bad students rarely practice, aren’t enthusiastic about their lesson, are clock watchers, and make teaching unenjoyable for you.
But the judgements start to break down when good students begin behaving badly, or vice versa.
And although humbling, it might instead point to the fact that perhaps you are contributing to the problem, not the student.
Before you get upset, being the source of the problem is a good thing because if you are the problem, you are also the solution.
Now admittedly, there are definitely disengaged students, but if a student can swing either way from good to bad at times, then you have an opportunity to influence positive outcomes.
I propose that rather than label our students as good students or bad students, let’s categorize them as engaged students and disengaged students.
Engaged students are motivated and show the behavioural characteristics of good students.
Disengaged students are unmotivated and are on their way towards quitting if you don’t turn the situation around.
The goal becomes how to keep your students engaged instead.
Not only will they be learning with you for longer (and subsequently making you more money), but motivated students are the best kind of students to teach.
This may be the difference between you loving your job as a teacher, or dreading that [4:30] on Tuesday when Timmy the Terrible comes in.
Here are five ways you can make your guitar lessons more engaging so that your students become highly motivated and look forward to their lessons every week!
One of the best parts of teaching is showing your students examples of great guitar players and helping them discover new kinds of music which they will come to love.
Exposing your students to top guitar players and examples of guitar playing will give them an objective measurement of good and bad playing as well as a number of different skills and techniques. It will also show them what is possible and expose them to sounds they really enjoy but would have otherwise never heard of.
Videos are also a great way to break up a lesson and can act as a mental break while giving the student an insight into the history of the instrument and many of its practical applications.
It’s also a great way to give them the opportunity to show you what inspires them so that you can gain valuable insight into what they enjoy, so you can give them more of that in their lessons so that they feel like you’re taking their favourite music into consideration.
I used to work at a local music store where the teacher would teach a student how to play an Em and G chord and then would then get them to repeat it for 5 minutes while shredding over the top for the whole time. He would then get them to add a strumming pattern to it and practice for another 5 minutes while he continued to shred through whatever he was working on.
Then he would ask the student for a song that they would like to learn. He would then pull out a list, and if it wasn’t on his list, he would tell them it was too hard and that they would come back to it in a few months. He would then pick a song off of the list for them and would continue to shred over the top of it while they worked on the chords.
Needless to say, most people didn’t come back after their first run of lessons. Why? Because the teacher never gave any consideration to their needs or what they wanted to learn. This teacher had no interest whatsoever in his students and was only there because he needed a paycheque. This was really obvious to the students and devastating to the music school who would feed him student after student to keep filling gaps for all of the quitters.
Had the teacher taken the time to get to know his students and then chosen a few easy pieces by the artists they said they enjoyed, they would have had a much more enjoyable time taking lessons. They also would have felt a lot more included and would have been less likely to quit.
Any of these sound familiar?
You need awareness as to what you are doing and if this is actively contributing to your students being disengaged.
Little kids love games.
So do adults.
Using games in your lessons is a great way to keep your students engaged and to provide a short break between different parts of the lesson.
Kids love having fun, and playing games is a great way to make the lessons more fun and engaging for them. Try and think back to when you were in school, and you probably played games like dead-fish, dodgeball, I Spy etc. and had loads of fun playing them.
Kids will actually look forward to lessons with you if they know they are going to play a game that they don’t normally get to do anywhere else. It’s all part of the fun and makes them positively anticipate guitar lessons with you.
Now while it helps to make games musical or relevant to guitar playing, many of your traditional classroom games will work great, or even just having friendly competitions to get the students having fun works wonders.
We’ll be adding an article with game tips in future, but for now, think of your favourite childhood game and then try it out in your lessons for this week.
Too often, creativity and improvisation is something that guitar teachers don’t take their students through until they’ve already been playing for a few years. They normally insist that “you need to know how to play the guitar before you can be creative.”
I couldn’t disagree more.
The reason so many people aren’t good at their creative skills is that they wait so long to start developing them. When they finally do try creative work, they notice how bad they are at it and lose motivation to practice and improve it.
If you give students the opportunity to be creative from the very first lesson, it will do wonders for their playing and give them the opportunity to create something that they will eagerly show off to mum, dad, grandma, grandpa and anyone else eager to listen.
Creativity can be taught by simply asking students to make a chord progression from a pre-selected list you have given to them (all within a key, of course) which you will then play for them and tell them that’s their song. You can even have them improvising using a single string scale pattern or even getting them to clap rhythms and make them into a strumming pattern. We don’t always have to go straight to playing changes in a jazz tune for it to be improvisation or creativity.
Being creative will also help your students retain the information you teach them better, as they will need to really know the stuff well enough to use it. Having a minute or two to be creative at the end of a topic is a great way to help the students consolidate the information and make sure it sticks in their long term memory.
We’ll address more ways to implement creativity into your guitar lessons in order to create more highly engaged students in a future article. For now, try out the aforementioned exercise.
Remember how curious you were about everything when you first started learning how to play the guitar?
Often as professionals, we’ve forgotten the feeling of wonder and curious excitement that we had when we first started learning guitar. Many of our students still have this feeling, and it’s important to capture, cultivate and nurture it. What is mundane for us, however, can be extremely interesting for your students, and it is a great opportunity to engage with them.
Most of your beginner students are going to be in awe of your guitar, they’ve probably never ever used a guitar pedal before, and they certainly haven’t had the opportunity to plug into a really big amplifier and turn it all the way up to 11.
Something as simple as letting your student spend the last few minutes of the lesson playing on your guitar, trying out all the different sounds they can get through your pedals, or simply showing them that after turning the amp to a certain volume level, the walls start to shake does absolute wonders for their curiosity and interest levels and will have them eagerly coming back for more next lesson.
So there you have it, five things you can do today to increase the engagement levels of your guitar students so that they are self-motivated to practice and are a breeze to teach.
Grab my free guide here for more help in your beginner-level guitar classes with this free ebook on Blues teaching tips for beginners. And let me know in the comments below one tip you can share that’s a must for beginners! I’d love to hear it.
Michael Gumley is founder at Melbourne Guitar Academy, creator of Guitar Dojo Online and Guitar Ninjas, and TopMusic’s Head of Guitar. He rocked his start at guitar playing at age 15 and was instantly hooked. Michael brings his passion for music and love of all things guitar to every lesson, and seeks to help students capture that same excitement and wonder on their own journeys.