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How To Find A Good Teacher (Call me ~ Ego aside, read on)

A friend asked me if 50 is too old to learn to play the guitar, a question that comes up from time to time. The answer is no. In my humble opinion, you’re never too old.
Anyone can learn to play, age is not the determining factor; commitment and passion rule the roost. There are so many guitars sitting lonely in closets, once loved, now banished due to frustration and lack of patience.

When I was a kid, the only way to learn was to try on my own, find a friend who played or take music lessons. This was before the Internet invaded our homes. Now you can learn how to play with a click of the mouse, find a pre-recorded lesson, slow it down, speed it up, stop, start and repeat until you get the idea.

This is all fine and dandy for convenience, the problem is that bad habits are learned, repeated and can cause issues.

I have so many students that learned from the Internet, I can usually tell who they’ve been watching. They come to me because they can’t play something right, the sound isn’t good and thus starts our journey of unlearning their bad habits.

My advice is to find a good teacher in the beginning and learn the basics. Most students’ take for an average of 4 months, I’ve had some of my students for 4 years. It makes me smile in wonderment, as they show up each week, eager and excited. As their teacher, it’s up to me to stay ahead of them, find out what it is that they want and then teach it to them in the easiest way for them to learn. Most of my students have become like family, when they walk in, I check their energy to gage how to proceed. Sometimes, they just want to talk instead of play, or while teaching they share an intimate detail of their life, it’s important for me to listen. A friend suggested that I put a sign in my studio stating, “Lessons are $40 an hour, Therapy is $ 120.00 an hour”

So how to find a teacher? Here are the qualities I suggest.

*Decide if you want to take lessons at a music store, or hire a private teacher. Some teachers will travel to your house, some teachers ask you to travel to theirs.

*Shop prices, ask for a cheaper trial lesson, don’t commit until you’re happy with your instructor.

*Some teachers/stores want you to prepay for lessons, make sure you understand their cancelation policies.

*Make sure the teacher listens to your goals, what you want matters, after all it’s your money.

*Ask lots of questions about the teacher’s musical background. I’m upfront with my students, if they want someone from The Berkley School Of Music; they need to find someone else. I learned and earned my skills from performing. I don’t delve into deep theory, unless asked.

*If you teacher looks at you each lesson and asks, “What do you want to work on today?” and creates the lesson while you sit and wait, in my opinion, the teacher is unprepared. I give my phone number to my students and ask them to text me with questions prior to their lessons, so that I can be prepared and their time and money is well spent. If a student doesn’t reach out to me, I prepare a theory lesson.

*Look for a teacher that gives you printed or recorded material of your lesson

*Don’t be afraid to ask questions, ask to be shown something as many times as it takes. I watch my students’ eyes, if they start to glaze over; I try a different approach to the subject. If you’re afraid to ask questions, perhaps you need a different instructor, again it’s your money.

*Lessons should be fun, informative and inspiring.

Personally, I only had one good guitar teacher, He taught me songs, made me sing, saw potential where I felt none. When other teachers tried to force scales on me, I’d ask why and the response was, “because you need to know them.” I’m a rhythm guitarist, fingerstyle, and percussive player and learning lead, didn’t really lead me anywhere. I just wanted to learn how to play songs, how to pick and strum; as a result I never stayed with other teachers.

Back in the ‘80s I traveled from home to here to study at the Jackie King Jazz Institute, I was the only woman in the group, was totally intimidated and only stayed for half the course before running out of money. My time and money would have been better spent on taking private lessons in classical/fingerstyle guitar, but I was young and had dreams of playing guitar with the Go-Go’s. (

In conclusion: If you want to learn anything, you can, find the space, the place, the people who are doing it and dip your toes in. Ask around, seek and ye shall find, don’t let fear stop you from jumping into the pool of the unknown. Chances are, that if you knock upon the door, it will open and there’s a seat for you, just waiting.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with teachers ~ what do you think makes a good teacher?

Today’s Musing: When upon taking my last breath, I hope to say, “I tried, fear did not stop me, it was a fun ride.” ~ Katrina Curtiss

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. BW

    Love this, Katrina! This is exactly what makes you such an excellent teacher and a beloved mentor. It also exemplifies what I strove for as a teacher all those years, and how I felt about “my kids,” XO

    1. Katrina

      Thanks, Becky. I’ll always remember how you gently took my hand and helped me find my place in this world. Teaching is a sacred gift ~ you are the Queen.

  2. Dana M

    Excellent list! A list like this would have been helpful when we were first dipping our toe into the music scene. I liken it to when one first starts learning about wine. You don’t want to seem ignorant so you kind of go with the flow.

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