Why the first guitar lesson is the most important
The first guitar lesson you give a student is the most important for several reasons. The number one question on the student's mind is 'is this teacher right for me?'. If you can give the student a good reason why you're the best teacher for them, they will stay with you. While this may sound obvious, many teachers run into problems in the first lesson because they don't keep this in mind.
Your new student wants to make sure they made the right choice with you as their teacher. In this guide you will learn how to make the most of a first guitar lesson to ensure that the student leaves happy and looks forward to the next lesson.
Before reading through this guide, it's important you learn How to get started teaching guitar. Setting up the foundations before your first guitar lesson is the biggest key to success.
Top mistakes teachers make giving a first guitar lesson and how to overcome them
If you can avoid the most common mistakes guitar teachers make in the first guitar lessons they give, you will win more students over. Too many new and experienced teachers fall for these mistakes so read through them and you'll be able to avoid them.
1. Trying to teach too much
The last thing you want to happen when your student walks out of the first guitar lesson is for them to feel overwhelmed. If they feel overwhelmed with the amount of information you bombard them with, they may reconsider why they want to learn guitar. Alternatively, they will feel like you're too advanced for them and they will look for somebody else.
A lot of teachers bombard their new students with too much information because they feel the more content they give the better quality the lesson will be. Unfortunately this isn't true.
In the first lesson you should keep new information to a minimum because it helps the student focus. If the student walks away with one new (and useful) piece of information they will be happy. In the first lesson you should think about what one piece of information the student will find useful and spend time working on it. Don't try to teach everything at once to prove your expertise because it will confuse the student.
2. Not focusing on the student's reason for learning guitar
The new student has come to you for a reason. It's not just to play guitar, there's a specific reason that you need to know.
Many teachers fail in the first lesson because they don't know the reason why the student wants to learn guitar so the student won't be getting what they want to learn.
For example: if your student wants to learn a certain style or songs from a certain band, you must make sure you focus on that. Simply talking about the band or how you will teach them the style is enough to convince the student that you can help them achieve their goal.
If the student wants to learn songs by Metallica for example, make sure you tell them how long until they can learn Enter Sandman, Master of Puppets etc. Relate everything back to what they want to learn. If you feel the student should learn some finger exercises, talk about how these exercises will help them get ready to play some Metallica songs.
3. Jumping right in to songs when the student isn't ready
If your student has already had previous lessons and knows how to play some songs, it's okay to start with songs. Otherwise if the student isn't ready to play songs, it's a big mistake to put a song in front of the student.
Many teachers say they always get the student learning songs right from the beginning. The problem with this approach is it can lead to frustration if the student isn't ready. It also gives the student the wrong impression that they don't need to work on foundation skills first.
Don't fall for this trap. Explain to the student that you can definitely teach them the songs they want to learn. To be able to play the songs, they need to develop some basic skills first. With a clear explanation like that, the student will understand that it's important to work on skills before starting songs.
If the new student you're about to teach has never played guitar before, you need to be very careful what materials and new information you give them. As explained above, overwhelming a student can cause them to quit straight away. It's very easy to overwhelm students just starting out. Let's have a look at a basic layout for the first lesson you could give a new student without any guitar experience.
Guitar lesson plans:
Starting out the lesson by going through the different part names and their functions is a great way to break the ice because it gets the student comfortable with the guitar. Simply knowing what the neck, body, frets, etc are helps boost the student's confidence. Spending five minutes going through the part names and comparing electric and acoustic guitars is a good starting point.
Whether you decide to teach the student Standard Notation or not, it's worthwhile giving the student this resource as they can use it as a reference if they ever need it. You can spend two minutes explaining the basics on rhythm notation and how the student will use it in songs later on (relate it back to the student's goals!)
Explain how guitarists have a very easy way to write music which will help them learn songs quicker. Explain how to read Guitar TAB and how the student will walk away from this lesson knowing exactly how to read Guitar TAB for any song.
Now the student has a basic understanding of part names and the fundamentals of Guitar TAB, you can spend some time focusing on correct posture and finger positioning. The exercises in this resource are ideal for this situation as they are extremely easy to play. Spending ten minutes explaining how to read the music and making sure the student plays each note perfectly will ensure correct habits are formed straight away. Some teachers teach chords in the first lesson which is a bad decision for somebody who has never played anything on guitar before. Focus on getting one note to sound right before dealing with multiple notes.
After the student can play the basic exercises, explain that it's really important they practice these exercises everyday because it will allow them to learn songs (or whatever their goal is) faster.
For a 30 minute lesson that's plenty for the student to take it. It may not sound like much but for somebody who has never played a guitar before it's a lot of new information. Don't try to cram any more information in as it will start having a negative impact on the student. Spend the entire lesson ensuring that the student understands everything discussed. Allow them to ask you questions as it will give you a guide on what they want to learn and any problems they have.
Case Study: Giving a First Guitar Lesson
The following case study will show you all the information above used in context. You can use this case study as a blueprint for new students who have never played guitar before. Commentary is given to explain important points.
Situation: A new student, Josh, has come to you wanting to learn electric guitar. He mentions he wants to play in a band and play heavy metal covers. He has never picked up a guitar before.
Teacher: Okay Josh before we start playing anything, it's important to learn the names of the most important parts of the guitar so when I say 'bridge' or 'neck', you will know what I'm talking about.
Analysis: Always preposition yourself so the student knows what will be covered and why it will be covered. With this simple sentence Josh knows exactly why he should learn the part names.
Teacher: Okay now that you know the part names we need to spend a couple minutes on how music is written. This is important to learn now because it will help you learn songs faster later on.
Analysis: A lot of students don't see the point in learning how to read music so this explanation quickly shows why it's worth spending time learning. Josh now knows learning how to read music now will help him learn songs (his goal) faster.
Teacher: First we have Standard Notation, this is the most common way of writing music. We will look at this in detail in the future but here's a couple of important points to remember...
Analysis: Only explaining the most important points will ensure the student doesn't get overwhelmed. As most students will find this boring it's important to quickly cover then move on.
Teacher: Now let's have a look at Guitar TAB. Luckily for us guitarists, TAB was created which is a very easy way to read music. Instead of having to memorize all the note positions on the staff then figure out those notes on guitar like you would have to with Standard Notation, we have an alternative. Guitar TAB will make it a lot easier for you to learn songs. Here's how to read Guitar TAB...
Analysis: The student may feel a bit anxious after seeing how complicated Standard Notation looks. This explanation of why we have Guitar TAB puts the student as ease. Knowing there's a simple way to read music for guitar will keep them focused and relaxed.
Teacher: Do you have any questions on Guitar TAB or Standard Notation? Is there anything you would like to go over again?
Analysis: Give your student the opportunity to say when something doesn't make sense before moving on.
Teacher: Now that we know the basics of Guitar TAB, we'll have a look at a very easy exercise that will help you learn how to hold the guitar and play some notes. Once you can play these exercises properly we can start looking at some basic riffs out of songs you want to learn. These exercises will give you the basic skills you need.
Analysis: Knowing the purpose of an exercise is crucial. The student knows that if they focus and perform the exercises well, they can start learning riffs. This incentive will ensure they pay attention and put effort in.
Teacher: Great job, remember to make sure every single note you play sounds perfect. If you practice these exercises every day for a few minutes, you will develop good playing habits and when we get to riffs and songs you will find them a lot easier to learn. Make it a goal to practice the exercises 5-10 minutes a day and if you can do that we can start working on some simple songs.
Analysis: The student now has a clear idea on what they need to practice, how long to practice it and how often. They also know why they need to practice it and what the reward is for practicing. If any of these parts were left out of the explanation the student wouldn't have as strong incentive to practice regularly.
Teacher: Great job today, that's all we will cover in this lesson. The hardest time to learn guitar is the very beginning so that's why we're taking it slow, to make sure you get everything right now. There's a lot of things to remember so let's review everything we've looked at.
Analysis: Giving a recap of everything in the lesson is a great way to strengthen the student's understanding of why it was taught. Doing this will ensure the student walks away from the lesson satisfied with all the information given even if it's something as basic as a couple of exercises. Reviewing all the information covered will also give the student the opportunity to ask questions on anything they were unsure of. As this is a first guitar lesson, spending time reviewing all the new information will put the student at ease.
How to succeed as a guitar teacher
This article gave you a blueprint on what you need to do to give an effective first guitar lesson. To succeed as a guitar teacher in the long term, you need to be able to help the student achieve their goals as well as avoid as many problems as possible.
We have a wide range of teaching guides, training courses, business guides and lesson materials available to help new and experienced teachers succeed. If you want to start teaching guitar, these resources will not only show you how to give a first guitar lesson, but will help you continue to become a great teacher. To access all of these resources and advice to help you succeed as a guitar teacher, become a Live and Teach Guitar Member today.