Every guitarist, at one point, wonders about teaching guitar. As you are reading
this now, you may be thinking... What's it like? Am I good/qualified enough? How
do I get started? This article will answer precisely that, my friend. The
following is an overview of what I've learned from my rewarding career as a guitar
teacher. I will also teach you how to get a foot in the door.
As a guitar teacher at a major or independent music store, you are an independent
contractor. To be an independent contractor means that you contract your services
to the music store. You get no insurance and you have to pay your own taxes at the
end of the year.
Each music store charges students different amounts for lessons. A common amount
charged for a 30/min. lesson is $20. Say a student takes one 30/min. lesson a week,
four lessons a month - the student pays around $80 monthly.
The way music stores figure payment to teachers is by using a ratio, such as
70%/30%. In this case, teacher makes 70%, store makes 30%. This is an average
ratio. 80%/20% is rare. 60%/40% can stink.
Related to ratios, collecting payments is a major issue in the business. At some
stores, teachers collect payments from students or parents. At others, the store
collects. If you are locked into a 80%/20%, you, the teacher, are most likely
collecting payments. With 70%/30%, the store usually collects. If you are
collecting payments and are locked into a 60%/40% then there's definitely something
I've experienced collecting payments and not collecting payments. I find that not
collecting the payments and getting, say, a 70%/30% split is the best deal for me.
Why? Now listen carefully, for the love of God. If you are collecting payments,
you will get ripped off here and there. It could be for several reasons - late or no
payment, conflict with make-up lesson credits, etc. If you don't get paid by a
student one month, it could be anywhere from $50-$65 down the poop shoot. So,
therefore, if you have the option, take the lower split and have the music store
handle the business aspects.
As a teacher, you must stay in contact with parents, either when the student is
picked up/left off or when you must speak on the phone. Most parents want to make
sure they are paying hard-earned money on quality lessons, which is understandable.
This means that, when you hear a parent sit down from outside the door, don't be
talking to your student about last night's episode of the Simpsons. Be teaching
For the most part, parents are a joy to deal with. But let me ask you this. What's
the most vicious creature on Earth? No. Not the lion or the hippo, but the parent.
They can be anyway. They will especially try to "cut themselves deals." Which
brings me to the next topic - make-up lessons.
Each store has its own policy with make-up lessons. They are usually not mandatory
if a student doesn't call within 24-hrs of a scheduled lesson. If you are sitting
there in the lesson room, waiting for a student that didn't call within 24-hrs of
the lesson, then that means the teacher usually doesn't need to make it up.
How do I know if I'm good enough to teach guitar? I've seen degreeless, mediocre
guitar teachers at places I've worked at. I've seen shredders who could, no joke,
play as well as Joe Pass or Steve Vai. I've also seen jazzers with PhDs.
A degree is not necessary to teach guitar. I started without a degree. One thing
you need to know about this business is that, just because a teacher's battery acid
bad or a doctor of music theory doesn't mean they're better. What matters more is
if the students dig the teacher. Also, the teacher must be significantly better
than all of the students he teaches. That's it.
I once taught at an independent music store along side one of my private teachers, a
working jazz pro. He was a 60-something year old gigger, incredible. He
taught by the book, giving kids Mel Bay's breakdowns - as I like to call them.
Whenever a kid wanted to learn a rock song, he would say, "You know what you like? Jazz." Consequently, my teacher, a trillion times better than me, couldn't keep a
student for longer than two months. I, however, had at least fifteen students, some
I had kept for over a year.
Still sound good? If yes, proceed...
Prepare to teach. Sharpen up on anything you need to sharpen up on and learn
anything that you think you should know. I'd say, in order to teach beginners and
intermediates, you will need to at least have knowledge of the following:
Popular Cover Songs, the Pentatonic Scale, Chord Families, the Major Scale, Basic
Notation, Basic Chord Construction, Arpeggios and Sweep Picking.
Wholenote.com is an extensive on-line resource where you can find all of this
information for free.
Here is also a list of books I have found useful:
Fretboard Roadmaps, Fretboard Logic I, II, and III, Guitar Grimoire Scale Book.
The most important thing you need to know about getting your foot in the door is
that you must look and act professional. Guitar teachers are notorious for being
strung out and unreliable. Some will just not show up for a lesson and not call.
Dressing in khakis and a collared shirt, I'm sorry to say it but - in the world of
music especially - people take you more seriously. Owners and managers will take you more seriously. When you get your foot in the door, parents will take you
seriously, and students will be more attentive.
Make your resume look sharp. If you seriously think you don't have any credentials,
write on there that you taught, say, "Johnny Millwood" for two years. Even if
you've only sat around with buddies, teaching them a few licks, add on your resume
that you taught that person for an extended period of time.
Apply the same ideas with your training. Maybe you took private lessons for three
years. Maybe you used to jam with a great player. Count him as a teacher. I'm not
saying to lie on your resume, I'm saying that everyone really has more credentials
than he thinks. Make it work.
Wait for the phone call or follow-up on a resume. You may have to demonstrate your
skills. In that case, be prepared to play your most difficult techniques or
I hope this guitar teaching overview and four-step getting started section have been
useful for you. Best of luck to you.
Jason Parker is a guitar teacher in Atlanta with several years experience. His approach to the instrument is, what he's always thought to be, Mind, Body, and Spirit.
He has always thought the best, well-rounded guitarists mentally knew their instrument, had physical dexterity and agility, and last but not least, a spiritually deep passion.
Jason's playing styles include rock, jazz and classical.
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