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5 Things You Need to Learn Classical & Fingerstyle Guitar, Part V: A Good Teacher

guitar instructor teaching student

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

A Good Teacher Can Shave Off Years of Practice and Frustration.

It’s been a while now since I started playing the classical guitar. I’ve learned a great many things since picking up the instrument in 2009. One of those is that there’s no substitute for a good teacher. A good teacher is someone who knows what they’re doing and how to convey it to others. While there are a plethora of videos, tutorials, and books to learn from, a good teacher is one of the greatest treasures in the trove.

What a Good Teacher Offers

Here are a few things that a good teacher will bring to the table. This is not an exhaustive list, but just a few things that come to mind:

First of all, a good teacher will be able to correct bad technique especially when sitting in the same room with you (as opposed to Zoom or Skype lessons). One of the most challenging aspects of the self-taught guitarist is poor, bad, even wretched technique. Whether it is your sitting position, the way you hold the guitar, right-hand finger position, left-hand position, especially the thumb, and much more. Learning how and why to use good hand position and proper technique, not only will make you a better musician, but it could also save your hands from having issues down the road.

Second, a good teacher, can show you how easy it is to read music. This is something that use to terrified me. I find that many, many, potentially great guitarist refuses to learn how to read music notation. Whether out of fear, as in my case, or shear laziness. A good teacher can guide a student into reading, even dare I say, sight reading, music that has been notated, broadening the students’ knowledge, skills, and potential repertoire.

Third, oh, I don’t want to use this analogy (but I know people will understand it), a good teacher can be the ‘Obi-wan Kenobi’ to the student’s ‘Luke Skywalker’. Bad analogies aside, a good teacher is a guide, a mentor, and a leader to train the young padawan in the ways of the… um… musical force. Now I’ve done it, are you satisfied? One thing I’ve never had in my life is a mentor. I’ve was left to figure this stuff out on my own. One of the things that I’ve learned is: if possible, get a good mentor/teacher who knows what they’re doing.

Fourth, a good teacher can help the student grow exponentially. I’ve made more progress when studying with a good teacher than when I’m not. Training someone to do something, whether guitar or something else, takes a good grasp of the subject. The teacher will then be able to share that knowledge, guiding the student to having a mastery of the subject as well. A good teacher will help the student build a good foundation. A good teacher will walk the path with the student to build those skills to which the student can achieve their goals. They’ll know which path to take.

What Self-Teaching Offers

I don’t mean to trash those who have been self-taught. There are a lot of good players out there who are self-taught. However, I’ve been around long enough to see the fruit that bad teaching and bad practice produces. Here are a few I’ve noticed.

Playing a Classical/Nylon Guitar with a Pick

Okay, no a major point but one thing that bugs me to no end is to see a nylon guitar played with a pick or with someone sticking their pinky finger on the sound board, drives me nuts. Can a nylon guitar be played with a pick? I’m under contract to answer ‘yes’, but please do realize that the nylon/classical guitar is designed for fingerpicking… and yes, it can be played with a pick and many professions do it wonderfully.

Wrists on the Soundboard

Another thing that I see is guitarists playing with their wrist practically touching the sound board because their forearm is so low. Believe it or not, this can actually cause issues with your fingers and wrists later on down the road. The forearm should be lifted slightly (maybe even an inch or an inch and a half) above the sound board with the wrist straight and the fingers can be extended all the way and where you use your knuckle (the joint of a finger, especially the joint connecting the fingers to the hand) to execute playing the note.

The Hitchhiker

Ever see the guitar player with his thumb sticking up above the fingerboard… he’ll get a ride eventually. This was considered bad form back in the day. I believe they called it ‘Eagle Clawing’ and it was a no-no when I picked up my first guitar. Now-a-days it seems that it’s become part of the technique for electric and steel string acoustic players. Not so for a classical player, but I’ve seen people do it, or at least try to. The left-hand thumb should be place flat on the back of the neck, roughly between the first and second finger. It shouldn’t pop-up above the neck at all.

Conclusion

Okay, I’ve rambled enough, but bear with me for one more example. If someone watches a video with a really good teacher about right-hand position. Then leaves the video and forgets what was said about the right-hand position. They will continue with bad technique. However, if the student has poor right-hand position and the student goes home, forgets what was said, then the teacher can correct the right-hand position again in the next lesson.

The point is that a good teacher can correct many of the problems that arise before they get ingrained into the student. With the proper approach the teacher can set the student up for success in the majority of the areas pertaining to the guitar. A good teacher is worth the fee.

Fun fact: It’s taken me almost a year to write this series.

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