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Tips for taking private lessions

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(@bjourne)
Trusted Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 37
Topic starter  

I'm about to take private lessons 1-on-1 with a private teacher. Probably one hour biweekly, monthly or something like that. Been playing self-taught for nine months so probably I have lots of bad habits to work on. :) This teacher is kind of expensive (€40/h) so I wonder what I can expect and what to require from him. First of, I really don't want to pay under the table but I have no idea if that is the SOP for private teachers. How can I ask about that without making an embarrasing situation? Second, what if you miss an appointment? Do you pay in advance for each lesson or a one time payment for 10 lessons?


   
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(@hyperborea)
Prominent Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 827
 

Whether it's under the table or not you don't know and there's no way to ask without it possibly being offensive. Just look after your morals and let the instructor look after his own. There is nothing that you are doing wrong by paying him and letting him look after his own taxes.

As to the other stuff, it's all going to depend on the teacher. I pay US$60/hour (in Silicon Valley that's pretty typical) and that's about the same as €40/hour. I pay my teacher after each lesson as we go. We have four lessons a month and if there's a month with 5 Wednesdays (my lesson day) then we skip the 5th Wednesday. If I'm going to miss I let him know in advance and there is no fee (vacation, work commitments, etc) though we sometimes will reschedule within the week if we can find a mutually compatible time. I've never missed a lesson without notification in advance but if it was something serious (car trouble, illness, etc.) and not just blowing the lesson off then my teacher would be ok with rescheduling. Again, all of this will vary by instructor so inquire as to your teacher's policies.

For a good teacher you will hopefully get somebody who will guide you. Yes, you want to play certain songs and they should help you with that but there needs to be other things too. Most of those other things you don't even know you need but they help a lot in the long run - stuff like sight reading, rhythm drills, etc. - that needs to be worked gradually over a long time.

Pop music is about stealing pocket money from children. - Ian Anderson


   
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(@noteboat)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 4921
 

As a teacher, here's my two cents.

Make up a list of your musical goals. If you're not sure what they are, make up a list of songs you'd like to be able to play - that'll help the teacher figure out where you want to go.

What you should expect:

1. A program that's designed to help you meet your goals. It may take the teacher a week or two to get a handle on what you already know - but by week 3 or 4 you should be getting a lesson that you feel is helpful to you. (This often happens earlier, but the more chops you already have, the longer it will take - they need to assess what you already know, and that's not always the same as what you think you know!) But after a fair amount of time, if you're not finding the lessons are obviously addressing your goals, don't jump to the assumption that it's a bad fit... ask how the material relates to what you want to do first. The teacher should be able to explain how what he/she is giving you fits into the plan.

2. Feedback on your weaknesses. Everybody's got some... a teacher should be spotting the things you're doing wrong, or less than optimally, and making corrections. This could be about virtually anything - posture, thumb/finger position, timing, whatever. Pay close attention to this stuff!

3. Musical fundamentals - whether you want them or not! Learning how to count, how scales and chords are constructed, how chords lead into each other in progressions, etc. (Reading standard notation is also a good idea for anyone too - I don't require it of adult students who want to play recreationally, but I don't give kids a choice; they'll get at least a bit of reading instruction, even if they prefer learning by tab/ear)

Looking back at the teachers I've had and those I know, I'd honestly say roughly 10-30% of guitar teachers aren't very good - they're lacking in either knowledge or communication. Sometimes they're hard to spot - a lot of people play very well, and are charismatic enough to keep students coming bacl... make sure you do a regular reality check of your personal progress. Another 30-50% will be a poor fit for any particular student; this can be because they're unfamiliar with the genres you want to play, or because they take a particular approach that's not a good fit for you. Or maybe you're a great student, they're a great teacher, but it's still an oil & water match. So if you find you're not making any progress after a couple of months, and you can honestly say you've done your part, look for another one. An experienced teacher won't take it personally, and a good one will probably recognize it's a bad fit before you do.

As far as paying under the table, it depends on your situation. I've had some students whose lessons were tax deductions for them (they were music teachers), and if I were looking for lessons today I'd be in that same boat. So if you're in that situation, you'll need a receipt - a teacher who takes cash only, with no records kept isn't a good fit for practical reasons. But if you don't personally need the records, I'd figure the onus is on the teacher to do the right thing, and I wouldn't consider it a factor in making a decision.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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(@wmwilson01)
Active Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 15
 

@NoteBoat

Any thoughts on major milestones that an average student should expect to meet in some reasonable timeframe? I've been taking 1/2 hour private lessons every week for about 9 months, and I've been working through the first and second of Mel Bay's Guitar Method books -- learning standard notation and basic songs, to include working in a couple of different keys. But, I read stuff on this website and sort of think "why haven't we discussed this yet in my lesson?" We haven't really gotten into any scales just yet, and we haven't discussed chord theory at all. Actually, we don't discuss all that much of anything. I come in after having been assigned a few small songs for the previous week, and she has me play those songs through. Then she looks for a few new songs for the next week. I may play through as much as I can of a "real song" that she's helping me work through. That's pretty much it. So far, I've been working under the assumption that she has an organized method that she's following, and that we'll get into more theory, etc as time goes by. However, I'm starting to wonder if I'm being overly generous in that assumption. Sometimes I do ask questions regarding music theory, but she tends to not really instruct me on the answer, but rather gloss over some high level concepts. The other day I showed her a little 4 chord song that I had come up with and had been playing around with, and I asked her how I could go about finding other chords to mix in. She provided reasonable answers, but I couldn't help feel like the answer was rushed and a great opportunity was missed to get deeper into actually instructing me.

So, I guess what I'm getting at is: what would you reasonably expect an average student to know at 6 months, a year, 2 years?


   
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(@alangreen)
Member
Joined: 22 years ago
Posts: 5342
 

This teacher is kind of expensive (€40/h) so I wonder what I can expect and what to require from him. First of, I really don't want to pay under the table but I have no idea if that is the SOP for private teachers. How can I ask about that without making an embarrasing situation? Second, what if you miss an appointment? Do you pay in advance for each lesson or a one time payment for 10 lessons?

EUR 40 per hour is reasonable. I paid £25 (EUR 30) for half-hour lessons two years ago

What you should expect is that you'll be billed in advance for a batch of lessons (I paid for mine in batches of five). If your teacher cancels for any reason, you will get a make-up lesson. If you don't give your teacher a week's notice that you can't make a lesson, expect to have to pay for it and not get a make-up lesson.

A :-)

"Be good at what you can do" - Fingerbanger"
I have always felt that it is better to do what is beautiful than what is 'right'" - Eliot Fisk
Wedding music and guitar lessons in Essex. Listen at: http://www.rollmopmusic.co.uk


   
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(@noteboat)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 4921
 

wmwilson - one thing I've learned in over 30 years of teaching guitar is that there's no such thing as the "average" student! Every student gets out of it exactly what they put in, and even if two guitarists put in the identical amount of time, one will go faster than the other - for reasons of natural coordination, ability to focus, or whatever.

Mel Bay is an organized method. Scale structure is covered in book 1 - hopefully your teacher explained it then. I don't have a copy in front of me, but the major scale is explained a few pages after the 6th string notes are completed, and three common minor scales are covered on the first page of the Am section. Bay does get into chord theory, but not until later - it starts around book 4, and much of books 5-7 are spent on different types of chords and "rhythm" playing - there's actually a bit less note reading as you move along the higher grades. The thing about Bay (or any other method series) is that it addresses ONE goal - with Bay it's reading standard notation - and almost every guitarist has additional goals... no matter what method is used, you need supplementary stuff, and you seem to be getting at least some of that.

If you think your teacher is glossing things over with high level concepts, you might need to ask more probing questions - she might think you know (or understand) more than you actually do. When I explain a concept I'll just about always ask if it's understood... but fairly often the "yes" that I get doesn't mean it's sunk in. I've also had students say "got it" when they haven't a clue - maybe they're bored by the concept, maybe they don't want to appear slow... I don't try to figure it out or judge them, I just keep reviewing things they seem to be weak on.

You do want to make sure that your teacher is giving you technical guidance. There are always fine points in how you hold a pick, how your fingers move, etc. that need work. We don't know what our own shortcomings are, because we don't have the same perspective "behind the guitar" as someone who's closely watching you play.

What you "should" know after a given period of time is going to depend on your interests, rather than some general syllabus. I'd expect very different results from a guitarist interested in jazz than I would from one interested in heavy metal or ragtime at any given milestone.

But just to throw out a very general list that won't apply to everyone, I'd say you're "average" if you've covered the following in 6 months: Basic chords memorized (C, G, D, A, E, Am, Dm, Em, A7, D7, E7, G7; many students can also do F, B7 and C7 after half a year as well as other chords needed for specific songs they've worked on, like Bm); basic strumming patterns that include downstrokes, upstrokes, and counting time - depending on your genre interest, you'd probably also want to have one or more of muting, syncopation, and triplet/broken triplet rhythm patterns too; being able to change between chords smoothly at a reasonable tempo; knowing all the notes in first position, and understanding how to figure out the note names at any other fret on a string; knowing the differences in sound between major, minor, and seventh chords; and if you're interested in any fingerstyle type tunes, a few basic picking patterns.

After a year, I'd add all the rest of the chords; the ability to play major, minor, and dominant 7ths as barre chords in at least a couple of different "shapes"; having the fretboard notes memorized on the 6th and 5th strings; the pentatonic scale in all five positions; and the ability to construct a solo over a simple chord progression. There would be other skills depending on your particular genre - if you aspire to speed metal, a guitarist about a year in should be able to play sixteenth notes at 50bpm or faster, a guitarist interested in jazz should know how to finger any major 7th and minor 7th chords at least a few different ways, and be able to play at least the major scale in at least four different fingerings, a guitarist reading standard notation should be able to play a melody in at least a couple keys in at least a couple positions, etc.

At two years you should start seeing real progress. Sight reading in keys with three or four accidentals, knowing the name of any note on the fretboard, the ability to play any major, minor or seventh chord in any inversion, ability to play more complex rhythms, like dotted eighth/sixteenth patterns, and in general more speed, fluid playing, and creativity. In soloing you should be able to end a phrase on a specific target tone at a given chord change.

But these are all very general skills. At any milestone you should have also covered stuff that's not on these lists, and you'll probably have skipped an item or two. If you aspire to play punk, being able to play a major 9th chord isn't going to come up; if you're emulating Tommy Emmanuel you might never touch a power chord, etc. A teacher should have enough general chops to know what you need for a given style (even if they don't specialize in it) for the first couple of years. If you're serious about it, somewhere between 2-4 years into your playing you'll want a teacher who specializes in the same styles you want to play, unless they're a very accomplished generalist.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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(@wmwilson01)
Active Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 15
 

You do want to make sure that your teacher is giving you technical guidance. There are always fine points in how you hold a pick, how your fingers move, etc. that need work. We don't know what our own shortcomings are, because we don't have the same perspective "behind the guitar" as someone who's closely watching you play.

Thanks NoteBoat! Great info! In particular, regarding the quote above, I think that's probably the part that's nagging at me the most, because I can't really think of any technical guidance that she's really given me. She mostly just observes me. I guess I don't know whether maybe I'm doing ok and none has been necessary. For instance, I actually hold the pick with the tips of my index finger *and* middle finger, along with my thumb of course. It's the only way that it feels comfortable to me (still seems to slip away from me way too often though). I've asked her if that's ok, and she says "sure, that's fine". So, I'm left thinking "ok", but I read things here and there that make me think that I may be developing a very bad habit in that.


   
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