Guitar Lesson Success: Developing A Self-Taught Mindset

I've noticed over the years of doing one-to-one guitar lessons that the students who progress the fastest have certain qualities. And if I had to state what I feel are some of the most important, I would have to say these three…

Quality One: They work MUCH harder…

They simply do a lot more quality practice. Not just a little more. A hugely, vastly, larger amount more. And this makes total sense. With all other things being equal, the student who does focused and quality practice for two hours a day will progress much faster than the student who practices one hour a day. And the student who practices for four quality hours a day will progress a lot faster than the one who only practices two hours a day.

Quality Two: They have passion…

Many guitar players reading the above statement may say to themselves "but I don't have time to practice two hours a day". And that may be true in some cases. (If you work 12 hours a day at your day job, are building a business in your spare time and also have a family, then two hours a day would probably be VERY challenging…if not impossible).

But the interesting thing is that often the students who practice more don't have more spare time. They just make their practice a much higher priority…

For example, I have taught students who work fulltime, have a family and still practice at least 2-3 hours a day on work nights. And the reason they do this is that they have a burning desire to play guitar well. They do their practice and give up things like TV, Internet surfing (and in some cases a little bit of sleep).

And this makes total sense doesn't it? If you don't have enough desire and passion, then you just won't do the necessary work.

Quality Three: They use one-on-one lessons to supplement and enhance their self-directed learning…

The first two items on the list were perhaps blatantly obvious. But this one is perhaps less obvious. What do you think I mean by it? Well, for the rest of this article let’s examine this idea further…

Understanding The Major Constraint Of One-To-One Lessons

I've been sorting out all my music books this week, and I stumbled across a folder from when I was doing my music performance degree. At the front of the folder was my class schedule for the first year of my degree. I won't bore you with all the details, but here is a quick breakdown…

Monday Classes:

  • Jazz Theory: 60 Minutes
  • Jazz Musicianship (Ear Training): 60 Minutes
  • Jazz Musicianship (Rhythm Workshop): 60 Minutes
  • Jazz Improvisation: 120 Minutes

Tuesday Classes:

  • Sound Reinforcement: 60 Minutes

Wednesday Classes:

  • Keyboard Lab: 60 Minutes
  • Performance Workshop: 60 Minutes
  • Professional Studies: 120 Minutes
  • One-on-One Guitar Lesson: 60 Minutes

Thursday Classes:

  • Jazz History: 120 Minutes
  • Jazz Musicianship: 60 Minutes
  • Repertoire/Combo: 120 Minutes

Friday Classes:

  • Performance Workshop: 60 Minutes
  • Big Band: 60 Minutes

You'll notice that there are 18 hours of classes a week. And on top of that I was doing 30+ hours a week of self-directed learning that included jamming, practicing, gigs, composing and other music related activities. (Like anything in life, becoming a good guitarist and musician takes a lot of time and energy).

Now here's the interesting thing…

The vast majority of one-on-one guitar teachers use one or more of the following lesson lengths…

  • 30 Minutes
  • 45 Minutes
  • 60 Minutes

So if you wanted your guitar teacher to teach you everything that was covered in ONE week of classes of my music degree it would take a really, really, really long time. In fact, check this out…

  • If you are having a 60-minute lesson once a week it would take 18 weeks to cover 1 weeks worth of classes.
  • If you are having a 45-minute lesson once a week it would take 24 weeks to cover 1 weeks worth of classes.
  • If you are having a 30-minute lesson once a week it would take 36 weeks to cover 1 weeks worth of classes.

[Side Note: If you're taking fortnightly lessons rather than weekly then you need to double the number of weeks that I mentioned above].

You don't need to have more than a few brain cells to realize that if you rely solely on your guitar teacher for all your information and learning then it's going to take forever! And that's why self-directed learning is critical if you want to progress quickly. (There is only so much that can be covered in each one-on-one lesson).

I know all this might seem obvious. But you'd be amazed at how many people start guitar lessons will totally unrealistic expectations. They want the teacher to cover everything at once and they want to learn it all yesterday! [Side Note: I've noticed that often the least patient students are often the ones who show no initiative and are doing absolutely no self-directed learning and study. These are the students that I usually have to give a bit of “tough love” to!].

How To Get More Value From Your Guitar Lessons

You'd think with all the instructional books, DVDs and online courses out there that guitar teachers would be a dying breed. But there are definitely some major advantages to the one-on-one lesson format. Here are some of the most important activities that can be done during lessons…

  • Feedback. One critical aspect of the learning process is feedback. And the more regular the feedback the better. Your guitar teacher will be able to look at your playing and your approach to practice and make immediate suggestions. They will also be able to praise you when you've been practicing hard. (And also hand out a bit of tough love if you haven't been doing your best).
  • Problem Solving. Face-to-face lessons are fantastic for solving problems that you can't solve yourself. For Example: Let's imagine that you are learning a song and are struggling with a particular section. By playing that part of the song in front of your teacher they will be able to work out the specific reasons why you are having trouble. They will then be able to recommend solutions to you.
  • Weakness Identification and Correction. A good teacher will be able to identify technical and musical weaknesses that you have that are going to stop you from reaching your musical goals. Once the weaknesses are identified they can be worked on.
  • Helping The Student To Become Self-Sufficient. One of the goals I have for all my students is to help them learn how to learn. This includes things such as…
  • Teaching them how to practice effectively. 
  • Helping them learn how to solve problems for themselves. Making them take more responsibility for the learning process. The more advanced the student is, the more responsibility I will make them take.

You might be wondering why I'm talking about the value of lessons in an article on having a self-taught mindset. The point is this…

The more self-reliant and self-motivated you are then the more time at each lesson there will be to spend on the greatest value activities
. And the opposite is true…

If you expect your guitar teacher to micro-manage you and do the things for you that you are capable of doing for yourself, then there will be far less time at each lesson for the high value activities. So if you want to get maximum value from your guitar lessons you must learn to be self-reliant and self-motivated.


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