On Teachers and Lessons (3/3): How to Get the Most From Lessons

Working with an experienced private guitar teacher can offer many benefits. A good teacher can guide our progress and choose appropriate repertoire. They can offer accountability and answer our questions.

And a less-experienced or less-structured teacher can steer us wrong. They can waste time and create confusion. We may enjoy social time but not see much progress.

But we also play a part in the student-teacher relationship. How we approach our lessons can improve or worsen the teaching.

Below you’ll find 9 ways you can make private guitar lessons more effective and enjoyable. Both you and the teacher will perform and advance better if you put these into practice.

This is part three in a 3-part series on teachers and lessons.


1. Be Proactive

First, we can take responsibility for our own musical study. We can trust the teacher and still be proactive in getting the most from lessons.

Many of the items below take personal action or discipline. They may need extra focus or self-restraint. We can do our part, and this will increase our enjoyment and musical improvement.

2. Create Quarterly Goals Together

It helps to work toward larger goals. We can work with our teacher to create goals for a longer interval. Some teachers work alongside school semesters or seasons. This is also suitable.

When we insist on a written set of goals and benchmarks for a period of time, it creates accountability. It holds both us and our teacher to a set of expectations. This gives extra consequence to misused time or disorganization.

Quarterly goals also give us something clear to work towards. We feel confident we are progressing. And we can rest assured that the work we do each week leads us towards these larger goals.

3. Be Prepared for Your Lessons

It should go without saying, but it needs to be said. The student is responsible for arriving to lessons prepared. This means that the work assigned the previous week has been completed. We, as students, need to hold up our side of the bargain.

Some weeks may have circumstances that prohibit us from completing everything. But these should be exceptions and not the rule.

This also means that we arrive at lessons on time. We should be in a good state of mind. We should have good energy and the ability to focus. (As an example, consuming large amounts of sugar or caffeine before lessons is not a good idea.)

We should show up with all our materials, our guitar in good working order, and anything else needed.

4. Leave Each Lesson with a Written Action Plan

Tied to #3 above, we do best to have a clear written list of expectations for our coming week. We need to trust that we are working on the right practice areas. And this is difficult or impossible if those areas are not clear.

If your teacher does not provide this, force the issue. Pull out a piece of paper or a practice notebook and a pencil. Ask what to prepare by next week.

The clearer the goals here the better. Include metronome markings, bar numbers, and other benchmarks. Next week, it should be clear to both parties which items were accomplished and which were not.

Many excellent teachers create this list within the lesson. Throughout the lesson, the teacher writes the next actions. Some teachers use carbon paper to create a copy, which they file. In the next lesson, they pull out this copy and use it to guide the lesson.

5. Don’t Small Talk

The relationship between teacher and student is often one of friendship and camaraderie. But this uses precious lesson time. It can also set the lesson off to a distracted start. Chit-chat can set a negative emotional mood. Or it can erode what would have been a formal, organized lesson structure.

Personal greetings are fine and expected, but we can keep this short. The sooner we get to business, the better.

This practice of keeping the lesson on-topic can improve focus and concentration. And this is true for both student and teacher.

6. Ask Clarifying Questions

In lessons, questions will arise. When the question pertains to the topic at hand, we should ask them. Especially when they pertain to the assignments for the week.

When we leave, we should have complete clarity on what and how we need to practice for the next week. If not, it’s our fault as much as the teachers.

This does not mean we should seek clarity on everything all the time. Many concepts will be beyond the scope of the lesson. And if we monopolize the time with endless questions, we will undermine the teacher. Which leads us to…

7. Keep Questions On Point

This is tied to #6 above. We may well have many questions. As beginners, we may be tempted to ask, “Why? Why? Why?” like a child. But we need to resist this urge.

As an option, we can write down our questions beforehand and give them to the teacher. We can allow them to choose any that are applicable for this moment in time. But we should give them full permission to postpone any that are not.

The best questions are those that affect how and what we practice in the upcoming seven days. Questions outside this horizon may or may not be constructive.

8. Video or Record the Lessons

If the teacher allows it, it’s a good idea to record lessons. We can form the habit of pulling out our phone and hitting the record button in a voice memo app. This provides a record of the lesson.

Knowing the lesson is being recorded also helps both teacher and student stay on topic.

Additionally, we can video any parts of the lesson that we suspect would help with our practice. For example, we could video the teacher performing a right- or left-hand movement. We could video a practice method or routine.

It is very helpful to review the lesson soon thereafter, and again midweek. This helps to ensure that we understand everything. If we have any confusion, this may be able to clarify.

Indeed, we can review this anytime in the next week, or years after. These video or audio recordings can be a valuable personal treasure.

9. Do Regular Reviews and Share Your Answers With Your Teacher

Along with our quarterly goals, we can also do a periodic personal review of our lessons and practice. We can ask questions akin (but not limited to) the following.

  • Do I feel I’m progressing well?
  • Are lessons organized?
  • Am I clear on what and how to practice each week?
  • Are my practices organized?
  • Am I learning specific methods in which to practice?
  • Am I arriving to lessons prepared?
  • Do I enjoy the music I’m playing?
  • Do I understand why the teacher chose this specific music now?
  • Are there any areas in which I feel I may not be progressing?

We can then share these with the teacher. They may or may not be able to provide insight or guidance on the topics. But it will also be valuable feedback for them and their teaching.

The goal of the lessons is to improve on the guitar. Ideally, we also gain a pastime we find fulfilling and rewarding. The more responsibility we take for this, the more likely we are to succeed.

But what if you don’t have access to a good teacher? Or what if your teacher is not as well-rounded or qualified as you would prefer?

If you would like a structured, organized musical study, with timely feedback and personalized support, consider The Woodshed® Classical Guitar Program. Many guitarists use the program alongside lessons with a teacher to great success. And even more members use the program on its own. It’s a self-contained, progressive guitar study.

If you think it may be a good fit for you, learn more when you click here.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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