Questions & Answers
Q: What should I be looking for when choosing a guitar tutor?
A: Understandably the first question I am often asked is 'How much do you charge?' Although whether you can afford lessons it is obviously a factor, if you get poor quality lessons - at whatever price - at best you will be wasting your money and, in the worst case, could end up establishing bad habits which can be very difficult to rectify later on. For example poor hand position and posture can end up causing permanent damage to the tendons and ligaments in the hand and back pain. Sadly, anyone can advertise as a guitar tutor, with very little experience - I have often been faced with problems caused by poor teaching and struggled to put them right. In this case, 'value for money' is misplaced. So what should you ask? Establish whether the tutor has any formal qualifications - this is not essential as some very good tutors learned at a time before qualifications were readily available (exams for Rock, Acoustic and Jazz players are a recent development) - however, they are a good indication of a teacher's insight. If a potential teacher doesn't have qualifications then look for a great deal of experience of both playing and teaching at a professional level. You could also ask which exams the tutor enters pupils for, and what success they gain. Be wary of people who claim to teach only beginners or lower grades - if they have not reached a high standard themselves they may not fully understand what they are teaching and pass on bad habits which only become obvious at more advanced levels.
Q: How much do you charge?
A: My current rates are £23.00 for an hour lesson. Half hour lessons are £12.00. Group tuition and workshops fees are open to negotiation depending on class sizes, travel costs and other specific requirements.
Q: Where do you give your lessons?
A: I have a large music room /office on the ground floor of my own house set aside specifically for teaching individual students and small groups.
Q: What measures do you take to ensure the safety of children and young people?
A: I require the presence of a responsible adult carer at all times whilst I am teaching children under the age of sixteen. I welcome family members or friends to sit in on lessons regardless of the student's age. I also have, as a member of the Musicians Union, a Public Liability Certificate of Insurance.
Q: Do you come out to peoples houses to teach?
A: Not for individual lessons. I did do this when I was first trying to establish myself as a tutor and before I had a suitable room to use as a studio. I found, however that the formal setting of a properly designated work space was much more conducive to study. It is also important for me to have all of my teaching materials, resources and equipment on hand. It would also add considerably to the cost of lessons as I would have to charge for my extra travel time and expenses.
Q: What type of guitar should I buy, and how much should I spend?
A: This is a difficult question to give a straight forward answer to and you may be best e-mailing or phoning me to discuss your individual needs. As a general rule you should choose the type of guitar that is played by the guitarist whose music inspires you most. Acoustic guitars are ideal for playing on your own whilst electric guitars are more commonly associated with playing in a band - although there are all sorts of backing tracks on CD's and computer programs available which approximate the experience of playing with other musicians.
You can pay as little as a few pounds and up to ten thousand pounds or more for a guitar. Beginners should not fall into the trap of buying the cheapest possible guitar as they are often easily discouraged by an instrument which is difficult to play and sounds awful. You should budget for a minimum of about £100 to £200 for a new, full size acoustic or electric guitar. Three quarter sized guitars suitable for younger children with smaller hands cost a little less. Electric guitarists will need an amplifier (and guitar lead) which will cost a minimum of around £80. I would not recommend you buy a second hand instrument without independent, expert advice and would advise some caution when buying a new one.
My advice to more experienced players with a commitment to continue playing for the rest of your life is to buy the most expensive instrument of your choice that you can possibly afford- but take your time before you make your decision, do your homework and play plenty of different instruments.
Q: How Long will it take me to learn?
A: Every one is different. Younger children often spend a year or more at a very basic level and then quickly accelerate their rate of learning month on month. Teenagers and younger adults often find learning easy from the very start but find it more difficult to remain focused and consistent. Adults have often learnt the value of perseverance and consistent effort but have to juggle their own interests with family and work commitments. It must also be remembered that different people have different objectives. Learning to accompany simple songs will obviously take less time and effort than learning to become a virtuoso electric guitarist or a solo acoustic or classical player. Ultimately it is impossible to generalise, which is why individual tuition is by far the best- if not the only way to learn a musical instrument.
Q: What age do you recommend that children should start guitar lessons?
I have found that around the age of eight is a good age to start as children have developed the necessary coordination and concentration. Before this age I would suggest group music making as an introduction.
Q: Am I to old to learn?
A: No. I have found that older people gain a great deal from the pleasures and challenges of learning the guitar. It can open up new social and cultural avenues for people, and recent research into aging has also shown that there are significant neurological, psychological, and physical benefits to learning a musical instrument. Older students also bring with them attitudes to learning, and an appreciation of the subject, that reflects the depth of their own life experience. In many respects they have distinct advantages over younger students.
Q: What are the pros and cons of taking graded exams and diplomas?
A: Students wishing to study music at college or university will require good passes at grades 6, 7 and 8. Diplomas are important for aspiring teachers and classical performers. On the other hand, formal qualifications are not essential to aspiring Rock, Jazz, and acoustic performers where it is a musicians talent, experience, reputation, connections and sheer good luck which are more likely to secure work.
There is also on the face of it, no compelling need for an amateur musician to go to the trouble and expense of taking these quite challenging exams.
However there are clear advantages in being examined by a professional, objective external examiner. It gives the student (and where appropriate- parents) a clear indicator of progress- and that I am doing my job properly! Many people progress faster when working towards clear goals and deadlines. Exams also give students invaluable experience in performing under pressure and when done properly help to build confidence. Successful entrants earn an internationally recognised, properly accredited qualification- and a nice certificate for the wall!
On the other hand many people find the syllabus too restrictive or that it doesn't reflect their interests or aspirations. Others are ideologically opposed to equating music as an art with formal exams, or have had enough of exams to last a lifetime. I see it as a part of my job to help students reach the right decision for themselves, and then to provide proper guidance whatever decision they reach.
Q: What sort of problems do students commonly encounter?
A: Some people worry about not having enough time to practise. Of course you do need to commit time and effort to make progress, but any good tutor will recognise that sometimes a student has had a busy week and can adapt lessons to build on what has been achieved - not what hasn't. Older students sometimes worry about physical limitations, such as stiff fingers - I would say they simply lack training and we can work on it! Others worry it will be too hard to learn - a skilled teacher can break learning down into manageable chunks achieving the best balance of progress and enjoyment. If you have any specific needs or concerns please don't let these put you off. Contact me and talk them over. I have successfully taught students with a range of barriers to learning for many years.
Q: Do you ever get impatient teaching the same thing to beginners over and over, or with people who are slow to pick up new skills?
A: No... Honestly! I am lucky enough to find what I do to intensely rewarding. Beginners demand just as much ingenuity and effort to teach as more advanced students. People who are finding something difficult to learn - at whatever level - engage all of my interest and call upon all of my experience and problem solving skills. Throughout all the years I have been teaching I have never come across two people who I have taught in the same way. I also regard it (with very few exceptions) as a privilege to have got to know the many talented, interesting and delightful people who have chosen me as their teacher.
Paul Costello, Guitar Tutor Answers Your Questions | Merseyside & Wirral, UK