In the past, most of my beginning guitar students were young children, but since I moved away from organized music programs and started my private practice, most of my beginning students have been young adults.
With children, the primary focus is on teaching the fundamentals of music, and music reading is a high priority. There are many excellent method books and there is a large body of standard repertoire available. Kids study guitar pretty much like any of their classes at school, including doing homework (practicing).
With many adults this approach just won’t fly. Adults have lots of different reasons for wanting to learn guitar and to ignore this fact and try to treat them all the same will turn you into their former teacher pretty quickly. Whatever their reasons for wanting to learn guitar, for the most part my young adult students all have a list of songs they want to learn. Most don’t care at all about reading or the fundamentals of music–they just want to play their songs. That’s OK with me, since although they may not want to learn to sight read music, I’m pretty good at sneaking the fundamentals in anyway.
I really enjoy getting to know my students as people and as musicians, and I have not lost my sense of wonder when a student brings me a recording that I’ve never heard before, that they’re obviously in love with, and I see how much it means to them. Their passion is contagious, and even though not all of their music is to my taste, that’s fine. I treat all of their music with respect. I patiently transcribe and figure out how to play the song they want to learn, then I teach it to them. It’s a very rewarding thing to be able to pass along knowledge to someone like this. In some ways it’s harder teaching adults because, as you can see, unlike with the kids, I have homework too.
One thing that can be difficult for an adult beginner to learn to do is to practice on their own. Many people initially underestimate how important daily practice is to their success as guitar players. Playing guitar is not like playing Guitar Hero–you sometimes have to just knuckle down and work at it. The real fun comes later. It’s the old delayed gratification thing.
Another challenge that some people face when beginning to learn guitar is that they see their temporary inability to play fluently as a personal failure. They feel frustrated that they can’t play like their role models right away. My approach to solving this is that I try to set up an emotional space where patience is the primary mood. I try to help people understand that small steps are a good thing and I encourage them to enjoy their progress, rather than on focusing on sounding exactly like their role models so soon. At the end of each lesson, I show them specifically where they have improved, and I make suggestions for practicing. I’m always aware of not overwhelming people with things that are too difficult, unless I know that they particularly enjoy that kind of challenge.
Music is tremendously rewarding for people and contributes to their sense of well-being. I’m grateful for the opportunity to help them grow as musicians and people.