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When To Not Listen To Your Guitar Teacher

Updated on March 4, 2011

Before reading please keep in mind that this article was written by a guitar instructor for guitar students. If you are a teacher please don't take offense. You may, however, need to reassess some of your DO's and DON'Ts by the end of this article. I had to--and it was most embarrassing. But I humbled myself. And since then I can rest easy knowing I have never again made the grave mistake of imposing misinformation upon a trusting student.

First, a Cautionary Note:

This article is not for everyone. If you are a rebel for rebellion's sake, for example, or a know-it-all please pass this by. However, if you are a guitar student who believes that misinformation is being imparted to you by an instructor, please read on.

The Scene: a Popular Music Store

I was called in today--at this point, yesterday--to sub at a well-known music store not far from me due to illness on the part of the regular instructor. Usually days like this go by without any serious clash of methodologies. However, I was presented with two glaring NO-NOs (instances of bad advice given by the regular teacher) and was obliged by my commitment to the instrument as well as its students to gently counter such misinformation. Here's what I caught that was being taught:

Case 1

Student 05 's notebook is filled with major fingering errors made by the regular teacher. If followed, these errors could turn into a serious bad habit for the student (by the way, the major publication--which will remain unnamed--from which the errors stemmed is well-known to me since I went through most of that course years ago). Yours truly rushes to the rescue, offering alternate fingerings along with a thorough explanation and demonstration (the latter is very important) in the hopes that:

a. the student will be influenced by the proposed option, and that

b. the regular teacher will not take unfavorably to the advice (it was, after all, presented as an alternative).

Case 2

Student 09 shares with me that the regular teacher admonishes him to not strum without a pick. Beside hearing from someone years ago that their teacher promoted the concept of making every starting pickstroke a downstroke (??), this was the worst advice I had encountered. I could easily mobilize half of Folkdom against this guy because of this imposition.

The student was happy to find that I often strum sans plectrum (without a pick), though I obsess over pick strokes when it comes to scales and arpeggios. He said he'd still try to strum with the pick--in order to please his current tyrant / teacher I'm sure--but I know he feels more confident now regarding his preference. This is because I started playing with my fingers at the beginning of the lesson as soon as I saw he didn't use a pick. Now if I could only get in touch with his regular teacher and suggest that he, too, learn how to play sans plectrum for the benefit of certain pupils...(~sigh~).

Case 3

Just for the record there was a third instance that day but as it was poor information rather than misinformation it's not necessary to include here. Besides, you're starting to get the point I think.

Have You Gone Through Something Similar As a Student?

If you have experienced something close to the scenarios laid out above, you first need to understand that all authority figures make mistakes (except "God" but that's if you believe in Him). The thing to do is trust your instinct and act appropriately. Do your due diligence--research the issue(s) at hand--to see if your instructor is correct. Alas, you might find that your instincts are wrong. And that's OK too. The point is to develop a balanced self-check mechanism so that you can protect your own progress when necessary.

Having the above-mentioned mechanism is particularly important as a guitarist because of the major problem with guitar instruction: lack of any standard methodology for non-Classical guitarists (more on that here). Because of this, there will probably be an instance--or two--during your time as a student when it is beneficial for you to ignore what your teacher says.

Ignore or Hit the Door?

If you like your instructor and find the occasional faults tolerable, treat them like religion and just don't discuss (especially if you know they are a strong advocate of whatever erroneous method / technique). That's right--just ignore them, don't try to restore them. If they press the issue, then explain why you are not doing what they ask. But don't argue, or suggest that they do the same. A good instructor will get past the momentary embarrassment, look into the issue and reassess if necessary.

However, if you find you are challenged in this way often, it's time to look for another, better-informed teacher. One benefit of your due diligence is that you will be able to politely 'interview' the next potential instructors. Ask them about the fingering system they use (CAGED, Berkelee, etc.); do they teach theory along with chords and chord progressions, their thoughts on Bridge-hand technique (strict Alternate Picking? Hopefully not. Can they Sweep-Pick? Not fast, but cleanly. Can they fingerpick? Hopefully, if that's what you need to learn), etc. Other questions to ask potential guitar instructors can be found in one of my previous articles.

Whatever the Situation, Treat the Instructor Respectfully. It Will Get Your Point Home More Quickly Than Any Finger-Pointing Will.

And that's all I really have to say on this topic. After all, this was a surprise Hub--to you and me both--inspired by 'real life events' (ah, that phrase gets me). If you've had similar situation I'd like to hear of it--from BOTH a student's standpoint as well as a teacher's (I should say 'substitute's).



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    • 6 String Veteran profile image

      6 String Veteran 7 years ago

      Great example of the kind of misinformation that is rampant in guitardom, PlatinumOwl. There are plenty of left-handed guitar players and plenty of instruments for the same. That salesman was clearly un(der)educated on the matter at hand.

      Albert King, Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, Gary Moore, and Elvis Costello are just a few of many "south-pawed" celebrities. When you can, check out this site:

      ...and thanks for your comment.

    • platinumOwl4 profile image

      platinumOwl4 7 years ago

      I don't play guitar but I would love too. However, If I did it would be left handed. I ask a customer service person in a music store did they have a left hand guitar. He replied,"no but we can order one" then he gave me some unsolicited advice given to him. " if you are just learning you should learn right handed. His music instructor told him that. Now, you know what I thought of that information. If I am going to learn a guitar I am going to learn it on the hand that is comfortable.


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