You’ve just purchased an instrument and have decided to take lessons. But finding the right teacher can require more than just typing “guitar teacher” into your browser and contacting the first one that pops up. As an adult, you have needs and concerns that are different from a kid’s, ranging from tight work schedules to ergonomics (a 20 year old might be able to stretch to make those CAGED chord shapes, a 60 year old, not so much).
Here are seven tips to help you locate and select an instructor:
1. Ask Around
Start with word-of-mouth. Ask friends who play the acoustic guitar for recommendations. Or look up the names of guitar teachers on the faculty of your local community college or university—they’re likely to be experienced teachers accustomed to working with adults. Neighborhood music schools, whether nonprofits or mom-and-pop businesses, usually offer guitar lessons, but the majority of students at those schools are children, so unless you’re comfortable with wall decals of teddy bears and toys in the waiting area, you’ll probably want to go elsewhere. Some businesses, which advertise largely online, specialize in teaching adults and use instructors willing to come to you to teach in your home or even your workplace if you have a private, quiet office. Some teachers might be willing to come to your office during your lunch break or before you head home in the evening.
2. Sync Up Schedules
Have a good idea of how often you want lessons and how much time you want to spend at each lesson. If your work schedule doesn’t allow weekly hour-long lessons (the general rule of thumb for adult students), think about twice-monthly lessons that run for 90 minutes. Or perhaps your schedule allows for only sporadic lessons when you have a spare few hours.
Discuss your requirements up front with any teacher—be aware that most teachers prefer students willing to commit to some regular schedule. Clarify the teacher’s policies on lesson cancellations, payment, and refunds. Some teachers ask for each month’s payment in advance, while others will accept payment at each individual lesson. Some teachers won’t schedule a make-up lesson unless you give them at least 24 hours’ notice that you can’t make it.
Many guitar instructors also teach children and some of them, simply out of habit, talk down to their adult students. Ask yourself if you can tolerate it.
3. Establish Expectations
Ask the instructor about his or her expectations regarding practice. Most teachers will tell you that it’s best to practice every day, even if for just 10 to 15 minutes, but they’ll understand if you’re traveling for work and can’t practice for days on end. If a candidate makes you uncomfortable by insisting on more practice than you can handle, look elsewhere.
4. Discuss Any Health Issues
Plenty of adults have chronic health conditions: back pain, shoulder pain, joint pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and on and on. Ask the candidate how he or she helps students with such health issues. Does he seem knowledgeable and concerned about posture and ergonomics? How does she address her own playing-related discomfort? Does she do yoga or calisthenics? Does she have ideas about exercises students can do or gear they can use—a footstool, guitar lift, a beveled edge on your guitar, or a shoulder strap—to avoid pain?
5. Honor Your Goals
Maybe you want to learn a specific musical style, or perhaps you even have particular pieces that you’re determined to play. You’re not a kid, so you have some autonomy on this issue. Tell the teacher up front what you’re interested in and what your goals are. Who are the artists you want to emulate? What are the songs you want to learn? If a teacher seems rigid or inflexible (“I won’t teach X style, Y pieces, or Z songwriter”), that’s a red flag. If she listens and indicates she’ll help you achieve your goals and show you other interesting material as well, then you’re on your way. And if one of your goals is to learn to perform in front of an audience, ask the candidate if he arranges student recitals—such events could be as simple as an end-of-year gathering at someone’s house for informal performances followed by drinks and snacks.
6. Ask About a Method Book
Even if you don’t play the guitar (yet), you want to show the teacher that you know the importance of learning good technique and don’t want to simply to crank out songs any old way. Good technique and good posture will help you avoid injury and set you up for learning all you want. So ask the teacher if he has certain method books, or other technique plans, in mind and if he plans to spend time working with you on specific drills and exercises.
7. Feel Out Bedside Manner
Again, you’re not a kid. Many guitar instructors also teach children and some of them, simply out of habit, talk down to their adult students. If he or she does this, ask yourself if you can tolerate it. You’re probably too old for gold stars and “good job” stickers.
This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.