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How To Spot And Avoid Bad Music Tutors

Updated on December 18, 2015

How to spot bad music tutors. Six of the Best?

When you are learning how to play guitar or any other instrument you may ask how do you avoid bad music tutors? People who put too much or too little emphasis on guitar theory, teachers who bully music students, those for whom guitar tutorial just means arrogant showing off... Bad music teachers can do far more harm than good so how do you spot a bad music tutor before it's too late?

Well, this page is meant to be both useful and amusing, so I chose the old school phrase, six of the best, to start it off! My professional expertise is as a music educator. I have spoken elsewhere about the qualities of a good tutor for very young children. My belief is that we all have far more potential in music than is ever realized. That is partly because of ill-considered teaching and learning methods. This lens is the reverse side of the coin and these are people parents need to avoid, whatever the instrument. So - read, enjoy, and I hope you find the BEST tutor for your child!

Intro image is my own work and is copyright. Please do not copy.

Bad Music Tutor - The Lion Tamer - Avoid bad music tutor- he is a bully and a show off

You are interested in learning to play the guitar. You look for a specialist tutor to learn to play the blues. After a couple of lessons, you really HAVE the blues. You signed on with a lion tamer!

This type can be subdivided into two subspecies. These are:

The Inflexible Specialist

The Guy Who Plays A Bit

The Inflexible Specialist is incapable of responding to change in the world. He learned to play competently many years ago and he knows how to do it properly now. He is not interested in new music, new styles or anything out of his comfort zone. He is frightened of learning alongside or looking silly and will do his best to school your child exactly the way he was schooled.

Sometimes his results will be good technically, especially with older children who share an enthusiasm for the style he presents. More often he will be responsible for unmotivated students who easily give up and are afraid to try new stuff for fear of failure. He will probably be unable to teach improvising or composing alongside playing because he probably never learned that himself and lacks the experience or motivation to try.

The Guy Who Plays A Bit probably learned a particular style he enjoyed as a teenager - he might even still be a teenager! He knows what works for him, but his lack of formal training as a musician or teacher will probably result in him passing on damaging habits. He will not understand that small hands can be injured by repetitive strain; his favourite phrase may well be "No pain, no gain!"


The Guy Who Plays A Bit will insist always that his way of playing is the correct way and everyone else is wrong - that doesn't necessarily mean he is right. He is likely to be uncomfortable with music reading himself and therefore will tell you theory is not necessary or "a waste of time these days" and he knows the music business well!

An occasional weekend gig will give him the authority to say he is a "professional musician". A demo tape will make him a "recording artist". If he could make it big, he would, he is teaching only because he has either missed the boat or it hasn't yet sailed into harbour!

First Guitar Tutorial, Keyboard and Recorder Books - Avoiding Bad Music Tutors - Tutors for the Very Young!

Online music lessons are the "in" thing these days, but most children start with a real person and an old-fashioned book. These books are lovely for young children, but remember the teacher needs to be switched on too! Music lessons should not be spent glued to a book! They should also contain rhythm games, learning songs, call and response and creative activities.

Bad Music Tutor The Adult Education Lecturer - Spot Bad Music Tutor - without realistic aims

Keen on learning lead guitar? Interested in learning guitar scales? Want to learn guitar fretboard?

Oh my, is this guy good! He probably has half a degree from Berkeley he knows so much theory of music - but does he know children? During his own musical education he practised and practised and became really rather good but he never learned educational theory. As a consequence, all his students are adults in variable sizes.

He knows nothing about educational stages, child development or just children - he does not realise all children are individuals and at varied stages for their age. He will ask abstract thought before children are capable of it and set extremely long term goals for pupils whose idea of the future is an hour's time!

He might do well with highly intelligent pre-teens, but much before that he is likely to confuse and disorientate his students who none the less will adore him because he plays so well and knows so much. Beware, this enhances the taste of failure....

Bad Music Tutor - The Scalp Collector

Spot this bad tutor menace - uses your child to boost his self-esteem - only wants winners!

Looking to learn classical guitar? Watch out for this one! This guy lives or dies by his exam results. He will be planning grade 1 entry for your child from the moment you first call him! He teaches strictly to a syllabus and has little time for games, improvising or off-syllabus music. His students will be encouraged to jump through a series of hoops one by one. Scales and exercises will be learned in isolation because they are on the syllabus. Pieces will be chosen because they are easier, or he has the book!

Some of this guys pupils will do really well, the older, well-motivated ones with a competitive streak will enjoy the kudos of passing grades. Others, the shy and nervous ones or those who wanted to play for enjoyment will soon learn that music is competive and therefore not for them....

My belief is he will be able to name all his grade 8 distinctions and college successes quoting the marks they got and the career successes that followed. He will be unable (or embarrassed) to number the children who gave up pre-grade 1 - but they weren't musical or motivated, so it doesn't matter.

Good Music Tutors Practise Simultaneous Learning - Books from Paul Harris - A Good Music Tutor!

Paul Harris, an internationally respected music educator, has written many books on the subject of good teaching. I have had the privilege of attending his workshops and although he specialises in woodwind, his method is just as valid for guitar tutorials, singing or any other music lesson. Here are a few of his most popular titles.

Bad Music Tutor - The Stickler or Perfectionist - You didn't REALLY want to play the whole song did you?

This teacher is the most damaging of all!

His methods belong to the 18th Century. Stress levels in his lessons will be horrible. Any mistake at all will be picked on. The pupil will be continually required to stop and start again. His methods will be book and lecture, he may count while the pupil plays, but will do no work on pulse other than that.

He considers he is doing a good job because nothing gets past him. He enjoys teaching the most able, but limits their experience. Some children will become miserable as they learn each lesson is about failing and when they give up he will probably feel relieved that he doesn't have to teach them anymore.

Bad Music Tutor - The Bookworm - Music only exists on paper for this guy.....

This guy loves books. All his lessons will be taught off the music stand. He is likely to do everything in the order it appears and go from book to book. He is unlikely to use call and response, aural work, games or creative work.

If questioned about this, he will say it isn't part of learning an instrument, which should be about work and results, not play. He will blame parental disapproval for his own lack of a sense of fun!

His pupils will learn that music is something written on a page which we play until someone says it is time to move on. They will probably lack self-confidence as they are not required to think about things for themselves. The chances of them composing or improvising are very small!

Bad Music Tutor - Get One Free? The Deaf, Dumb, Mute!

Or do spammy computer courses really work?

So you read this lens and others and thought:

"But I only wanted to learn a few electric guitar licks? This business of finding a good tutor is tougher than I thought - let's save money and use a video or computer course! What are the best online guitar lessons?"

Beginner guitar lessons online - such a tempting plan! The videos are fun to watch, the music is great and the student can choose whatever lessons he wants according to taste. Motivation is very high for teenagers in particular with this method BUT..... and there is always a BUT....

Who is looking to see that his technique is sensible, safe and economical or brutish and potentially dangerous because of the potential for injury? Guitar lessons for beginner need more specialist input than say, top up lessons for someone who can already play well!

Who is listening to check that his musical interpretation is correct in pitch and time and has personality and character?

Who is advising him how to improve, looking for sensible shortcuts, or different explanations when the first one is hard to understand?

The answer is probably NOBODY!

I will doubtless make myself unpopular, but there are times when even a BAD teacher can give some sort of guidance. Spammy video and computer courses benefit mostly the people who put them together. They are a way of delivering an hours work and reaping the reward of thousands of hours....

Persevere looking for that good teacher, sit in with your child if you can so you understand what is happening in lessons. There ARE good tutors out there, the school district or LEA Music Service can probably advise you where to find them.

Good luck, because Music Matters to your child!

Please tell us about your experiences here.

Did you enjoy music lessons as a child?

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    • profile image


      10 months ago

      I used to have this Violin Tutor which spits stuff out at me. “You know your bad. So why are you still not trying?” “OMG. JUST FUKING GO OK???” “Nah. I dont care about this shit anymore. Just practice for 20 minutes and I’ll be back.”

      Well he gets paid 60$ an hour to insult and talk smack about me. Yes. Im not great at the violin but honestly isn’t a teacher meant to be kind?

      I believe that sometimes the music teachers were forced to practice like 6 hours a day when they were young so thye expect everyone to practice as much as they did “back in the day”

      But no. Its not typical. its just sometimes. A matter of if you chose the right teacher or not.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I know this is a bit random, but having this on my mind is the reason I researched this topic. I was thinking about my music teacher in elementary school and how bad and mean he was. I'm in my early 20's and I don't play an instrument but my family has a long history of good musicians. It popped into my head today how happy I was when I had finally got the chance to stop going to his class. I think I had I might have had potential to be good at one instrumental or another. I wonder if I wouldn't have had such of an asshole for a treacher how my life would have turned out musically. Conclusion: Don't be a teacher of any sort if the person you are is going to discourage people from trying to learn the subject you're teaching.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      As a child I played violin in music school, my first teacher was horrible as she would only tell me what I can't do and that I can't make any mistake. The second one was a really good, educated, talented tutor and I loved her. When I started learning cello, my tutor was a virtuoso but I didn't really like his lessons as he was too strict and wanted nothing but pure perfection. There was no fun, only pressure on me to be his best student. I gave up quickly. Then with guitar... my first tutor was a pure perfectionist with no respect for the needs of others. He would ask me to pay for a lesson even if I couldn't come, he would not care what i really want to learn, there was a program and you had to follow it... later he would pick any mistake you made or even tell you that the songs you want to learn are actually too hard for you and so not in the current program, his lessons weren't fun and he wanted everything to be just how he said. He didn't really care about me or anyone else, just about his money. Now the next guitar teacher I still have is very good player and educated, but he wouldn't teach you what you want, always saying "it's too hard and you guys can't do it" and actually he now only has group lessons with me while I said I want private. Like he has no time. His ego is very big and he will show off on every hour but wouldn't teach you even a piece of what he just played. You'd have to speak to the wall 10 times for him to "hear" you. His organization is very very bad, he never knows when he will have time and also when I come to these group lessons, it often happens that there is just fun, like talking, alughing, losing the precious time to really "play" guitar. He also isn't serious at all, I think he is just for money. You say that your goal is to become a musician like he is, while he will answer that you gotta do it just for fun and for jamming lol. He doesn't really listen. I don't really like it and if it doesn't change I'm just gonna learn further by myself as I enjoy playing music and don't really want to loose time and money on bad teachers anymore...

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Another one that deserves to get on this list - The "I Don't Really Want To Be Here." My last two violin teachers were so disinterested, unenthusiastic, and disorganized during my lessons that after an entire year of hard work I'm still unsure of how to even pick my instrument up.. Every time I ask a question seeking an answer, I'm met with, "Sure, yeah, that's fine. Everyone's different. Do whatever works." There is nothing more frustrating than feeling like your mentor doesn't care about you. I would give the entire world for any of the "Bad teachers" who are too strict or give too much information right now. The opposite is much worse. Really kills your motivation level when you feel like the person you're trying to impress doesn't give a care and would rather be elsewhere.

    • tandemonimom lm profile image

      tandemonimom lm 

      8 years ago

      Good advice to parents seeking a music teacher!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I am a piano teacher and I believe in tailoring a music lesson for each student. I have students all ages, from 11 years old to 86 years old and we have got to adapt to each student and teach them what they want to learn and not what we want them to learn.

      Very good lens and a great topic!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      My piano and violin/viola teachers were wonderful -- my mother found the piano teacher through recommendations and the violin teacher was the school orchestra conductor (YES, a public elementary school with a symphony orchestra -- WOW!) -- guitar lessons were through a municipal "art center" group and that was fun. Growing up in a "university town" had its musical advantages. But I had to put up with some of the types you write of here in the physical education departments -- horrible.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      You say,'PAIN HAS NO PLACE IN MUSIC!' to which I say AMEN! Fabulous lens.

    • Addy Bell profile image

      Addy Bell 

      10 years ago

      This is really great advice. I thought the different types of music teachers were spot on.

    • Rachel Field profile image

      Rachel Field 

      10 years ago

      LMAO!!!! You know this would be so cute in a book with drawings of each teacher - like those ones of different people that used to be in, I think, the Guardian? Or the Telegraph?

    • Rachel Field profile image

      Rachel Field 

      10 years ago

      LMAO!!!! You know this would be so cute in a book with drawings of each teacher - like those ones that used to be in, I think, the Guardian? Or the Telegraph?

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 

      10 years ago from USA

      I enjoyed the lessons but never quite "got" the instrument.


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