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Joe Becker

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Guitar Teacher Commentary
Joe Becker

This is a response the an article by Jamie Andreas called Teachers Lounge.

Jamie Andreas is a very intelligent, and very well respected guitarist. She's also a great writer and if you spend any regular time on this website please make sure you read her columns. However, I feel the need to point out one mistake she made in the last column, which anyone could have overlooked. And that is, the fact that there are two arenas of teaching / learning guitar. That is, commercially and privately. There are keys to understanding a teacher's actions in both arenas, and Jamie only covered those that encompass, "private" lessons. For that reason, I'm going to re-visit some of Jamie's comments and include my own for those in, "commercial" situations.

"Students should ask themselves this question about their teachers, and teachers should ask it of themselves: how do I define "teaching the guitar"? If you were to ask that question, you may get some kind of flowery description, but if you really want to know how your teacher defines it, then look at how he or she treats it, what they actually DO as a teacher." > I agree with this 100%. Look at the teacher's actions. Then ask yourself, "why are they doing that?". Is the teacher constantly noodling away at the guitar as you're sitting there trying to comprehend the same lesson matter you've been studying for the past three months? Why are they doing that? Possibly because you keep showing up stoned out of your mind and wet noodles stick to the wall longer than information does in your brain? Is the teacher constantly yelling at you? Why are they doing that? Maybe because they've gotten so frustrated with your lack of attention or ability to set aside practice time that they've decided turning up the volume might get you [both] somewhere where you can make up for lost time? Or maybe they're only willing to exhibit as much interest as you are right from the very start. And who can blame them? If you loaned money to someone and they haven't paid you back for three months but they, "promise" long would that last?

"You can tell this kind of teacher by the fact that they never seem to actually concern themselves with whether you are learning or not. They may be concerned with whether you show up for the lesson week after week, but you know that you could keep on going to the lessons, watch the teacher turn pages week after week even though you can't really play the lesson material, and that would really be okay with the teacher, they are not going to do anything extraordinary to change that situation. If this is what is actually happening in lessons (and it often is) then one would have to conclude that the teacher's motivation for teaching is not really to have anyone learn the guitar, but is rather to provide the teacher with a livelihood." > I agree with this 100% as well. And applies to every job on the market. Is the garbage man really concerned with taking away your trash, or does it provide him with livelihood? You have to consider, that some people are either good, or bad a their job. Period.

If a teacher keeps teaching someone who is obviously deficient in the desire to play and the will to back that up with the right amount and right kind of practice, than that teacher is certainly showing that they define teaching as " the process by which I get people to give me money on a weekly basis"! > That's absolutely correct. There are several reasons for this. The main one being, that in a situation where you're taking lessons commercially [vs. Privately] the teacher, acting as a sub-contractor, does not have the right to turn any student away. The teacher, is employed by the outlet which owns the facilities the teacher, "rents" for a portion of what they make. If the teacher expects to have that right extended to them by the outlet for very long, they're certainly not going to turn the outlet's business away under any circumstances.

I'm reminded of an experience I had a few years back regarding this very issue.

It was around Christmas time, and this family came in to buy a guitar for their 5 year old and sign up for lessons. Of course everyone is free to buy a guitar for any reason, but we attempted to caution them that unless the child lives in a musical atmosphere, [i.e. music is played around the house frequently, someone else in the immediate family plays....etc.] or they're expressing a strong interest in music, chances are poor that they will get much farther than simply being introduced to the instrument.

The parents had to insist on signing up their child, as the lessons were going to be the grandmother's Christmas present to them.

So, reluctantly.....we signed the child up [I got to be the lucky teacher] and after two lesson periods of watching the child run around the room for 30 minutes I asked [more like....TOLD] the mother to sit in on the next few lessons.

Well, apparently that was too much. SHE wasn't the one taking lessons, it was her son taking the lessons. [NOTE : She couldn't sit through a 30 minute lesson but she expected her 5 year old son to.]
I explained several times that given the students age, a secondary support for the student's studies can be very beneficial. If the student doesn't understand something or needs help, at least there might be someone to help them before the next lesson. Needless to say, she would also get to find out what her child was learning, what her mother was paying for and why [if] her son had problems with something. Plus, it had already been three weeks and it was like the kid had never even walked in the room before.

Well, I guess since I had ruined her, "break-time" by asking her to sit in on her child's lesson, she complained to the grandmother who was paying for the lessons.....who came in to visit me the following week.

She said [and I quote] "Look here young man. I'm paying for these lessons and they're for him, not his mother. If you have to go over the same thing week after week for the next ten years, then that's tough. Because I'm paying for it and that's what I want".

There are three things that were very unfortunate about her comments at that moment. The first, is that I have very little tolerance for anyone who tries to have an attitude with me and thinks they know something they don't. The second, is the outlet I was teaching out of happens to be right next door to a Kinder-care. Third, I tend to be a clown. So I said......

"No, YOU look lady. I think you paid your bill at the wrong place because the Kinder-care is next door and I ain't no baby-sitter."

Well, to make a long story short I was very lucky in that I wasn't fired immediately, as one of the owners was standing right there. My only saving grace was that I had been teaching there for at least three years and I manage to make all of the previous customers very happy.

The moral of the story, is guitar teachers working in a commercial environment basically have 4 types of students.

1.) Small children [6 and under], who's parents think their child could be the next Yo Yo Ma and can think of worse things to do than pay someone to give them peace for a half hour once a week while you babysit their child. If their kid DOES end up being the next Yo Yo Ma, then that's simply a bonus.

2.) Teenagers who have a real desire to learn [and end up being damn near virtuoso's thanks to their dedication]. OR teenagers who could give two craps about the lesson as all they wanted was a guitar to play with.....[just once, because their friend has a guitar].....for Christmas and their parents insist on paying for lessons for as long as it takes until their child shows some real ANYTHING.

3.) Adults, who played years ago and because their company isn't requiring them to put in so much overtime right now figure they can pick it up again. Or retirees who played years ago and don't know what else to do now that they've filled their garden with as many tomatoes as it can handle.

4.) Students of all ages who just happen to be dumb as a box of rocks. It happens. If they're children, normally their parents aren't too bright either.

So what is a teacher left to do? Yes the teacher needs the money. No they can't turn students away.

Well, basically, in a perfect world the teacher and the student should interview each other. If it seems that the teacher fills the student's requirements and vice-versa, then proceed. If not, then find another teacher to interview and keep doing so until both parties are willing to invest the time required to benefit from the education. This process always happens when signing up for private lessons......but almost never for commercial.

Joe Becker is a professional guitarist/teacher in the Chicago area. He has been playing guitar for over 22 years and teaching guitar for the last 6. Currently he manages legendary shredder Jason Becker, and will be appearing on Vol 2 of the Jason Becker tribute on Lion Music in December 2002. Joe will also be coming out with an instructional CD from CHOPS FROM HELL in late 2002, early 2003. For more info about Joe Becker, check out his website at

© 2002 Joe Becker - used by permission

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