Guitar Teaching HandbookI've been working rather incessantly on my new business, Deft Digits Guitar Lessons, and I bought a wonderful book on teaching guitar the other day. That's the actual title above, Rob's Totally Awesome Guitar Teaching Handbook. As other reviewers have indicated, the title is appropriate.

I first discovered the author, Rob Hampton, through his blog at Heartwood Guitar in 2007. It wasn't long after I started From the Woodshed, and I was fascinated with reading other guitar blogs and connecting with fellow writers. Rob's site grabbed my attention because he was operating in my hometown, Seattle (I was living in Southern California at the time), and his blog offered great advice on running a successful guitar teaching business. I wasn't currently teaching, but I had taught previously, enjoyed it, and I knew it would be in my future if I was to make a living as a musician.

The Book

I've known about this book for a few years. I'm a little late to the game reading it, as many of my guitar blogging colleagues have long since written unanimously positive reviews on it. I've been looking forward to reading it all this time, and I finally bought the 148-page e-book a few days ago. I devoured it in a day, I loved it, and I'm as jacked up on teaching guitar as I've ever been. The book is divided into three chapters: 1. whether you should teach, 2. how to make money teaching, 3. how to teach. Rob has an M.A. in Education, so he knows his stuff when it comes to effective teaching. The middle section was the most useful and timely for me, as I'm still in the early stages of building my business, adding students, and eventually filling my schedule.

Great Advice

You can preview the contents of Rob's book at his site, but I'll run through some of the most valuable insights I found.

In the first chapter, Rob guides the reader through a bit of soul-searching. Are you right for this? If you're considering teaching guitar, you obviously love music and guitar, but do you love to teach? I've known since I started teaching lessons in high school that I love doing this, and it definitely belongs in my definition of "being a musician."

Running your own teaching business doesn't have to take up all your time. Make your lessons amazing, develop your teaching skills, be a "premium" teacher, and charge "premium" rates. This might require more work up front, but far less in the end. Rob currently charges $80 per hour for his lessons, with a full schedule and a long waiting list. He can charge that rate because he did so much initial work to create a high demand for his teaching. Now he only devotes about 20 hours per week to lessons and spends the rest of his time on other things.

Rob emphasizes the importance of branding. He highly recommends getting a professionally-designed logo before you even start teaching. I haven't had mine done yet. Perhaps by the time you read this, Deft Digits will have a more polished look, but for now it's my mediocre image-editing skills and questionable design intuition.

Rob shares some great tips on creating flyers and where to post them. He even provides his personal flyer designs as downloadable templates.

Fellow guitar teachers are your friends, not your competition. Well, they are your competition, but be friendly. Most guitar students select a teacher by referral, and a huge chunk of those referrals come from other guitar teachers, so make all the friends you can.

There's a great section on writing a "Policies" document. The message: get something in writing that ensures teacher and student have an understanding, but don't be crazy. Be flexible, and trust people until they give reason not to (learned that from my sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Pilz). But I also like the approach taken by the RAs at last year's National Guitar Workshop: lay down the law in an authoritarian voice on day one, then relax and don't be a hard-ass. I take a moderate approach with my lessons: make the policies as clear as possible to avoid any disputes, then be flexible and friendly in practice.

Teach what the student wants to learn! Most guitar students don't want to be well-rounded musicians. They don't want to be your "ideal student". They pay you for a rewarding experience, so you need to figure out what that means for each student and deliver it.

There's an illuminating walk-through of Rob's daily routine.

Small talk is important. Rob actually budgets time for it each lesson. Don't think of it as wasting the student's money; it builds a rapport and ultimately contributes to that rewarding experience.

The section on modifying lessons for kids was most helpful. I've only taught a few youngsters, and I presently limit myself to ages 10 and up, but I feel more confident about taking on smaller people now that I've read this.

Rob specializes in teaching beginners, and his best teaching advice is in this area. Beginners, especially adults, have courage. Some may be terrified of this new experience, so you must empathize. There's a detailed outline of the first lesson with a first-time player. It includes a list of essential first skills (how to hold a pick, etc.) to introduce before playing anything and a list of easy single-string melodies (nursery rhymes, classical, or rock, depending on the student). Beyond the first lesson, Rob explains effective means of teaching certain techniques and how to avoid early mistakes and bad habits by simplifying well-known riffs. There's a miniature gold mine in his list of easy songs that rock for beginners and intermediate players.

There's a wonderful section on how to give gracious, effective feedback and how to cater your teaching to several different learning styles.

Getting students motivated to practice is another tough task for the guitar teacher. Rob chooses to go easy on the young kids and adults, because they're usually only looking for a fun experience. Many don't practice much at all, and that's not a big deal. Teenagers, on the other hand, are usually in lessons because they really love it, and they often have dreams of a lifelong pursuit of music, so he expects more from them between lessons.

The Bonus Section

Buying the PDF unlocks the Bonus Section of Rob's website. It includes a crash course in creating your own teaching website, SEO advice, links to dozens of resources, and more downloadable templates. I must say, the SEO section was most intriguing, as that's a big reason Rob got so much business in the first place: his site holds the top Google rank for "Seattle guitar lessons". (Funny, that's the exact phrase I'm now targeting.)

Buy It!

I'm only sort of new to teaching guitar. I taught my first lessons 11 years ago during a few summers in my high school and college years. Then I taught here and there for the last few years in San Diego before taking it up as a full-time endeavor here in Seattle. So much of Rob's book confirmed and articulated the convictions I've already formed about teaching. But there was enough new and fascinating material in there to give me a more confident direction in running my business. It made me rethink The Essentials, my most important advice to guitar students, and it will likely give me food for thought in every new teaching challenge I face. Rob's book is full of fantastic advice for any guitar teacher, but it's essential reading for those of us with less experience. Go buy it!