Why We Really Take Lessons

When I watch my students in lessons, they rarely look at the page in front of them. Instead they’re looking at my hands, trying to mimic what I’m doing.

I had to think back to my own lessons. Did I do that? I think I did. When I first started I remember looking at my teachers hands trying to comprehend how he did those open chords without muting any strings. A combination of observation and experimentation let me do the same thing.

Two Quotes

“I feel there’s something almost unfair about trying to teach a skill by putting it into words. We learn so much more when we learn through our senses and our experience.”
-Barry Green in The Inner Game of Music

“We learn by example and direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction”
-Malcolm Gladwell in Blink

Why We Take Lessons

We take lessons because we need someone to observe and someone to listen to. It’s the same reason guitarists sit in rapt attention when watching a great guitarist perform — on a video or in concert. We’re learning; we’re stealing what they do and making it our own.

But there’s a real difference between watching someone play and sitting right next to a teacher in a lesson. That kind of close observation, combined with troubleshooting help, makes lessons invaluable. Plus, a teacher can play things for you.

Don’t Believe Me

This is total crap? Think about this: you go into a lesson and a teacher tries to draw a certain phrasing out of you. The teacher tries hard to explain it in words, but it’s not working. You don’t get it. Finally, in frustration, the teacher picks up a guitar (if he hasn’t already) and plays the phrase exactly as he wants it. You listen, then play it back perfectly.

Or, if you’re not a classical guitar student, how many times has a teacher just had to play a certain strumming pattern or chord change in order for you to get it?

So, look up information on your own. Research and ask questions in forums. But don’t expect those activities to substitute for a teacher.

Posted on in Guitar Teaching


  • soonick

    I really liked your post.
    I have recently started taking guitar lessons and it does feel nice yo have someone to tell you if you are doing something wrong and show you how it should be done.

  • Mike Saville

    Chris, I’ve got a slightly different perspective on this.

    When we take lessons we are effectively ‘renting the teachers ears’. The teacher has much more experience of listening, identifying and correcting. A lot of what happens in lessons is a process of learning to listen and identify for ourselves. A good teacher will help the student teach themselves.