How To Find and Keep Guitar Students

2 06 2007

Seth Godin talks about four different marketing situations and how choosing a game plan for each situation can attain better results for the marketer. Many years ago, I’ve used the ‘few’ method to find guitar students. Instead of posting flyers all over the metropolis and newspaper ads, I simply put a few flyers near a public school and a couple at a music book store (Sam Ash on 48th Street, NY). Parents wait around the school to pick up their kids and are likely to read the flyer; music book store is where someone is likely to go after (s)he buys a new guitar to find instructional books. I almost never posted at the guitar store since your eyes and ears are attentive to the instruments. At the book store you are looking for instructional materials. Am I right?

Yes, I did get a lot of students that way. All it needed was the parent of one public school kid to tear out that number and call. I am quite the charmer over the phone, good as an instructor, and don’t come off as a dick like most of the music teachers. In most cases, not only did the whole pack of brothers and sisters take lessons with me, but their parents called up other parents or their sisters/brothers so their kids could take lessons with me. The world is round, after all.

Now, there’s a clever little trick you have to employ in getting people’s attention and I’ve learned from seeing countless flyers, posters and what-nots being done the wrong way. 4 things you should remember – Color, font, copy, and positioning. Very simple concept, right? Yet I see white flyers with tiny-ass fonts, bad copy (text) and terrible, absolutely terrible, positioning. Not only is it a waste of your time, energy, money, and paper…it just takes up space and pollutes the neighborhood.

If you’re standing in front of a wall of flyers, guess which one will have your eyeballs? The bright yellow one! Now they don’t have to be yellow, they have to clash with the other colors. And once your eyeballs are there, the paper better say what you need to find before ADD referee blows the whistle. Don’t have more than three or four bullet points that describe your talent as a teacher, not as a musician. Repeat: Talent as a teacher, not as a musician. Having a music or composition degree from Berklee or Juilliard means jack to students. I’m happy your mentor was Zubin Mehta, but that won’t cut it. Define the level, age group, and style you’d like to focus on. Remember, students don’t expect you to have performed with U2, they just want you to help them learn.

Most students are told to start with a crappy guitar and move on to a better one later. Who comes up with these zen giveaways? You have to begin with a great sounding guitar to tune your ears. Don’t tell students they should learn on acoustic if they want to be a better electric player. If they never want to play an acoustic, why torture them? You very well know the two are very different instruments to get used to. I started out playing an acoustic and to this day have problems adjusting to an electric. It’s like telling a novice actor, “You must cut your teeth in theatre to become a good film actor.”

Getting back to Seth’s 4-way distinction in marketing, his suggestion when implementing the few method is to stand out. How can you stand out if you want to establish yourself as a guitar instructor? Simple: don’t be a dick. Most music teachers (both sexes) are giant dicks. If you are not, you will stand out. That is, of course, if you know your shit; you make learning fun; you know how to change your methods depending on who sits across from you; you take the time to understand the needs of the student; not all students have the same goals when learning an instrument. You must never think, “I spent years learning these and they need to learn it the way I did, because that is what made me awesome!” If your student is not learning, it’s your fault. You haven’t been listening to her. Acknowledge your mistakes. Students know when you fucked up and won’t respect you if you insist you didn’t.

I’ve made tons of mistakes as an instructor. By teaching guitar, I learned a lot about myself. Some big lessons: chill; respect your student’s music tastes and you will be surprised at what they can teach you about music if you’re open to it.

How much should you charge per hour? Never, ever, less than $25/hr. No matter how inexperienced you think you are. If you charge $15/hr…students will think you’re cheap and don’t know shit. One hour of lesson per week is more than enough for any student to chew on for the remaining week. Don’t expect them to practice 2/3 hours a day because they won’t (it’s the Internet and Wii age, remember?); as a matter of fact, don’t even tell them how many hours they should practice. Let them decide how much practice time they need to get their lessons done. Makes sense? Students hate practicing scales. Give them bits and pieces of music from popular songs (intro to Under The Bridge – Red Hot Chilli Peppers is a popular one, or ‘Nothing Else Matters) along with the scales. Make it fun.

And again, don’t be a dick. Happy teaching. I want you to be successful. Good to great guitar teachers are out there and you are the ones who should be teaching. When one of your students come back one day as a rock star, guess who’ll feel the proudest on earth? You will find all sorts of students approaching you – from tots to Baby Boomers. It doesn’t matter how old a person is – (s)he will be able to learn guitar. Two things don’t matter when it comes to learning guitar – age, and finger length. Up until 12, children are invincible and don’t understand the concept of doubt and insecurity very well, unless their parents fucked it up for them already. The only difference between a tween and a Baby Boomer in learning a new instrument is – confidence. What am I saying – I don’t have to go that far. Just find someone who hit the age 15 and (s)he is already exercising her insecurities for the rest of his/her life. Anyway, it’s your job to break them out of their shell and find a comfort zone for them. Let them fail, because, lord knows, we don’t encourage people to fail enough. Letting someone fail makes way for great achievements.

All the best, chicos and chicas. Have questions for me? Fire away.

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7 responses

18 07 2007
Todd Royce

Would you be willing to share your poster with me? I need a good reference point.

28 03 2008
Mike Clowes

I liked your article. Did you put what you charged on your poster?

9 05 2008
Grant Schinto

Brilliant article! I too have made a ton of mistakes as a teacher and as a result learned a lot about myself. Everything you say is true. I started teaching guitar almost 20 years ago, so I’m a LITTLE bit qualified to comment. (Not that one needs qualifications to leave a comment.)

The market I’m in however, apparently has a lot of parents who unfortunately care more about recording, touring and education credentials than they do the fact that I work harder than anyone to improve ways to tap into my student’s passion for music, have a talent for teaching and genuinely CARE about my students.

22 06 2009
Tom

im 18 been playing guitar for about 5 years , ive never stopped playing since .
and i realy want to teach people how they can love guitar as much as i do , is there anyone (guitar teacher) who can add me on msn so i can just talk about it for abit? thanks , great article x

31 07 2009
emon

Visit my guitar blog at http://www.guitarkadia.com and telll me what you think.

9 08 2009
Josh

Instructors looking to find students in their area should check out http://www.findguitarteachers.com. It’s a new site but it looks very promising.

24 01 2011
abhi

I have been playing guitar since 10 years. and as a lead guitarist in a band, though i’m having my own band with original compositions.
i am teaching in a college for last two years, and individually also.
i wanna more interested students in learning guitar.

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