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Finding a Teacher

David Raleigh Arnold

This information is objective. I do not intend ever to resume private or class teaching. I did both for a very long time. I intend to provide the best materials for guitar instruction available anywhere.

This little essay is intended for beginners. Otherwise, the information here may not apply to you unless you can’t read. If that is so, then consider yourself a beginner.

Means of Instruction

Beginner Classes

Classes are generally a fixed number of sessions of one hour per week. Expect longer weekly sessions to be very intensive.

Most guitar classes are worthless because they skip the fundamentals. For recreation a few chords and some tunes learned from tab[1] are all you get, and probably that is all the teacher knows.

If you are taught how to keep time and read notes (as well as learning a few chords) by a competent teacher, a guitar class can provide an excellent start or provide remedial work at a leisurely pace with less pressure.

A beginner class is “one size fits all”. If that happens to be your size, you’re in luck, but the rate of progress tends to be that of the slowest or laziest student.

A teacher of classes tends to teach things which are most conveniently taught and learned in a class. That is not a bad thing, but it puts a limit on how long class instruction can continue to be an effective way of teaching. A first series of classes should present the most important fundamentals in as much depth as possible. A second should open as many doors as possible, introducing many topics.

Individual Instruction

A teacher should be able to teach you well with 1/2 hour weekly sessions or 1 hour biweekly. One hour per week may not be a bargain.

Individual instruction is faster and more direct, once the teacher knows you and your fingers well enough to have made a suitable plan for teaching you. After the first session, the pace of learning is much faster than with a class.

A teacher can help you to reconcile your goals with reality.

Individual instruction is continuous, and it starts whenever you want. Classes start whenever someone else wants, and there are sometimes very long breaks between sessions.

A Good Teacher

It is possible that you may find a perfect teacher who is nearby and whom you can afford. More likely he or she will be deficient in some area. Weaknesses in one area may be well compensated by strengths in another, so don’t rule a teacher out because of only one of these. You can never depend on the most expensive teacher being the best. For example, at the undergraduate level, Podunk U. is just as good as Harvard. Go for the teacher, not the school.

He has performing experience.

The more he has performed in public, the better. A few formal classical guitar recitals mean a lot more than thousands of hours of playing chords in a country band. The quality and variety of the experience is the most important thing, not the hours.

He has credentials.

Credentials as a school teacher are worthless, unless he is a music teacher. Even if he is, he should have adequate training in playing the instrument he intends to teach. There are people who should know better who consider themselves qualified to teach guitar when all they know are a few chords. A degree in music is a plus according to how much guitar playing was involved in getting it. He may have had great teaching from a great teacher and have no paper to show for it. That’s fine too.

He has teaching experience.

The more the better.

He gets student recommendations.

Word of mouth is good, as long as it comes from someone who knows what he is talking about. A teacher may even be willing to give you references if he happens to have former students who are willing to answer your questions.

A Bad Teacher

Unfortunately, there are bad guitar teachers as well as good ones. Illiteracy is a deal breaker.

A bad teacher doesn’t teach students to read music.

Musicianship starts with learning to read music. The bad ones have the student learn tunes from tab.

Worse than that is the teacher who himself can’t read, or who reads to play another instrument but can’t read guitar music.

The absolute worst tell the student that just reading tab is OK, and that he can continue in that way. That is not merely ignorant. It is dishonest and despicable.


If your decision is not an easy one, take one paid lesson from each candidate. Start each session with a positive attitude and an intention of continuing. Very few teachers will start with a sales pitch, but you don’t want to do anything to encourage that. After a free trial lesson, you can expect to be asked to make a sizeable commitment, so do paid lessons before free trials.

Be a good student.

Being a good student is the key to having the most effective teacher.

End Notes:

§1 Tablature or tab for short is any system which purports to write music by giving only fingering instructions. Every instrument has its own form or forms of tab. Regular music notation is a way of writing actual sound, which is infinitely better for all instruments. Guitar tab has six lines, one for each string, and numbers on the lines to indicate where a finger is placed.

Tab is not an alternative means of teaching. It is a way to avoid teaching.

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