Guitar gurus everywhere
Social media has noticed I’m a musician. It’s also noticed that I teach. So – as a thank you for my services – social media bombards me daily with dozens of posts advertising the latest guitar method which lets you ditch all that fiddly stuff like theory, scales and practise. I’m sure it’s out there for other instruments as well but for now guitar seems to pretty much have the monopoly on this particular brand of snake oil. They all have one thing in common – an underlying monetisation system that looks after the ‘teachers’ interests, not the students. Some of these people make frankly staggering amounts of money and a little cross referencing reveals a less than satisfactory track record.
Think outside the herd
Are you thinking about online courses? Are you seeing a lot of adverts for courses promising that you don’t need music theory or scales? That you are practising in the wrong way or too much? Are the people selling these courses telling you what utterly brilliant professional musicians with decades of experience? Are you seeing lots of comments from apparently random individuals agreeing that the course in question is utterly brilliant and the best money they have ever spent?
Wake up, sheeple. There is no way to properly know your instrument without theory and scales. Yes, they can be boring, but suck it up. You need this stuff. Structured practise is important, but are you taking advice about your personal learning journey from someone who has never had a conversation with you? Really? Do you think the ‘members of the public’ raving about the utter brilliance of this course or that might be plants or worse still paid to lie to you? Hadn’t occurred to you? Oh dear, you’re about to waste a lot of money.
Why am I teaching?
The most important question almost no student ever asks their teacher is why are you teaching. Because you’re passionate about your subject? Because you want others to experience what music has given you? Because you want to part gullible people from their hard earned cash?
I actually kinda fell into teaching by accident. I was running my own building firm and had been screwed so badly by so many people that financial ruin was around the corner and I needed an alternative. So I took employment as music tech at the local school as part of which I became a peripatetic guitar teacher. I eventually ditched the peri work and went freelance to teach people multiple instruments. I’ve always been very mindful of giving people good value for money and have never priced myself at the top of the local market.
I developed a way of teaching which is predicated on sitting in a room and playing together, so online lessons were out of the question for me. I did give these closer consideration while we were under lockdown thanks to covid but moved away from the idea. I also teach without a set curriculum. As a one to one teacher I have the luxury of treating my students as individuals and this is central to my teaching -I identify individual strengths and weaknesses and plot out lessons accordingly. It works. Not everyone I teach turns into a virtuoso, but everyone makes personal progress. A few students a year get very, very good and these are the ones who keep me going, the others can be a lot more effort.
Making impossible promises
What I do not do is make promises I can’t keep. I don’t tell my students I have the method that will turn them into a blinding musician. That part is in their own hands. I don’t try to appeal to peoples laziness by promising they don’t need theory, scales, practise or any of the other boring shite involved in actually learning an instrument properly.
If you wan to learn an instrument it will take effort. The more effort you put in the better you will get. There is no magic method to sidestep this. There is also no magic method that sidesteps knowing a bit of theory and technique. You need that stuff.
What is even worse about a lot of these online ‘tutors’ is that they will appeal to your laziness by telling you their method involves no theory and no scales. They will then present you with a package that has simply taken that theory and those scales and called them something else. The have rebranded? Why would they do that? Because they want your money and are less interested in whether you will actually benefit from the transaction. They are lying to you to get you to part with your money.
One to one tuition forms relationships
Probably the most important aspect of tuition is the relationship formed between the tutor and the student. Over the months and years the relationship which is formed is central to the process. Individual needs and wants are identified from musical preferences to learning needs the list of benefits is long. As a teacher I can identify the individual strengths and weaknesses of my students, I can learn to interact with their personalities, nurture their learning journey and produce lesson materials and scores to cater for their particular wants and needs. It is much harder to achieve this with online courses, and I would argue it is impossible to achieve these things with a set curriculum fated out by someone who has just worked out how to make as many people part with as much money as possible. If they are telling you otherwise they are lying to you, it’s that simple.
Make your own way
I’m not here to tell you online tuition is a waste of time. Plenty of people get good results on Youtube and personal tutors are not the only way. But beware of people making impossible promises, question their motives and know that, ultimately, how good you get is in your own hands, not theirs.