Caveat Discipulus: Save Yourself Lots of Time and Money And Pay for a Skilled Teacher


For someone passionate about teaching music, I am pained whenever I meet a prospective student who has been horribly misled by a former guitar teacher(s). In many cases, the students would have likely been better without the instruction for which they had paid.

The unfortunate reality is that there are many teachers who do not take a vested interest in their students. Moreover, there are teachers who simply do not have the experience and/or the skills and education; these teachers often overlook crucial elements at the detriment of the student.

Recently, I met with a young prospective student who had taken two years of guitar lessons. His other had explained that she and her son had grown disenchanted with the teacher over the past several months and was looking for a new guitar teacher.

His mother said that despite her son's assiduous guitar practicing, he felt his own musical interests were not being addressed by the teacher. This was a bit of a surprise since most teachers tend to address the musical interests of their students.

While assessing the student's musical and technical abilities, I quickly noticed some other major deficiencies. After two years of lessons, he could not play anything without reading it in either standard music notation or tablature (i.e., TAB).

In nearly 30 years of teaching professionally, I have come across many prospective students who should have been much further than where they were considering the amount of time they spent taking lessons; however, never had I encountered one who could not play a single open-chord or simple melody. 

When I tested his music reading ability, I was dismayed to find that his music reading level was one of a student who has been studying for five or six months. And this amount of time would likely be three or four months for a student whose lesson was focused completely on music reading.

The silver lining is that he and his mother began to recognize that he was not as advanced as he should be after two years of lessons. Some students take many more years to notice that there are many deficiencies in their playing that are not being properly addressed.

His mother asked what about my tuition rates. I stated that my current base fee is $40 per half an hour for students who see either of my teaching studios.

She met my quote with reluctance and asked if I could teach for less. I then asked the mother what she had been paying her son's former teacher. $30 per half an hour was her response. At this point, I asked the following questions:

  1. Did the former teacher have more close to or more than twenty-five years of experience?

  2. Did the former teacher have a degree in music education?

  3. Did the former teacher have a Master's degree in Music?

  4. Did the former teacher have a Ph.D. in Music?

  5. Did the teacher have any well-received music education books published?

"No," was the answer to all the questions above.

With me, her son would have taken only four months of lessons to accomplish the same music reading level or better. Additionally, he would have also learned at least several songs of his choosing and have a vocabulary of at least two-dozen chords.

Let's look at the math:

  • Two years of lessons @ $30 per half hour (46 lessons/year) = 92 lessons = $2760

  • Four months of lessons @ $40 per half hour (4 lessons/month) = 16 lessons = $640

Not only would her son have advanced almost 10-times the rate; they would have saved over $2000 even while paying me $10 more per half an hour.

When it comes to finding a quality teacher with decades of professional experience, the highest degree of education possible, and well-received publications in his or her field, you may have to spend more than the average or below average teacher; however, this will save you much more time and money as the example above demonstrates. 

An ineffective or incompetent teacher may also do more to hinder a student's ultimate progress and interest. In many cases, a student may be better off studying on his or her own. Even if a more experienced and competent teacher is $10, $20, $30 above the average teacher's fee, the speed at which the student will advance will be much faster and proportionately less expensive.

Dr. Seth Greenberg