August 4, 2019

The True Teacher

As a lifelong guitar student, guitar player and guitar teacher, this is the subject that fires my greatest passion. If I could get across only one message, and for some reason wasn’t allowed to say anything else, this is what I would want to say. I want to tell you what I have learned about The True Teacher, and what True Teaching is, whether teaching guitar, or anything else. The reason this message is so important, is because a widespread understanding of it would lead to a radical change in the level of achievement of the average guitar student.


The primary goal of the True Teacher is empowerment of the student. The True Teachers utmost desire is to aid, guide, and do whatever it takes to bring the student to their place of happiness and fulfillment as a musician and guitarist. The student may not have a clear idea of what this place is, and certainly not where it is. The teacher may not know either, but he knows more than the student, and he must help the student feel their way if necessary.

The True Teacher knows that if this person is destined to be a musician, (which is another way of saying "if they want it badly enough to do the work), then their place of happiness and fulfillment does exist, and can be found. And the true teacher resolves to do whatever it takes to make that come about. For the guitar student, empowerment means the confidence and certainty that you will be able to fulfill any desires you may have now, or will have later, as a guitar player. For me, it meant knowing that I can do anything I want on the guitar, and if I can’t, I can learn how to do it.

Success On Guitar Means Knowing How To Practice

As I developed on guitar, and learned the secrets of correct practice, I began to have this feeling of confidence and empowerment. It was a wonderful thing. And for so long, I didn’t have this feeling. And needing to play the Classical Guitar, it was particularly necessary to feel equal to the challenges. Classical guitar is one of the more difficult styles, you know. The urgent need to become powerful on the guitar that I felt in myself is what I look for in every student I teach. When I find it, and when I feel it, I feel no difference between that student and myself. I love and respect their need to play as I loved and respected my own.

Because of this, I feel the strong need to have the student become "powerful", and "get it", every step of the way. This is the hallmark of the True Teacher. The need to see results, progress, happiness and fulfillment on the part of the student, makes The True Teacher try one way, then another, then another, no matter how long it takes or how creative or unorthodox he or she must become.

Teaching the Way You Were Taught

I contend most teachers begin by teaching the way they were taught. They begin using some approach that worked for them. Often it only worked partially, and there are still a lot of gaps in the teachers own understanding and knowledge.  However, once you start teaching lots of people, that one approach is not going to work for a lot of your students. When I started teaching I did the same thing. I gave my students the music I had first learned. However, my students could not handle this music as I had been able to do. They struggled with music I had found simple.  

In my ignorance I was giving students pieces that were far beyond them. The music I gave them would actually harm them if they tried to play it. I would see later  that this is a common occurrence in the guitar world It was so frustrating, I felt like a thief taking their money, so I quit my teaching gig. When I went back to teaching a few years later, it was with a renewed sense of commitment to always searching for the answer for every student I encountered, to always figure out what it was this person wanted, and what they needed to get it.

 It is because of this constant orientation that I developed "The Principles of Correct Practice for Guitar", those fundamentals of playing and practicing that are always true, no matter what style or what level of player you are. These are the things good players are doing, whether they know it or not. And most of these things are things they are doing when they practice, not when they play. I thought it would be helpful to describe myself in the position of being The Bad Teacher, or The Ignorant Teacher. If I would have let it continue I would have become "The Lazy Teacher". I have met some of those. They could also be called the "Hey I don’t care that much, after all, I can play, if you can’t it must be your fault, and anyway I’m getting paid either way - Teacher".

Should I Be Judged By My Students?

I once taught in a music store. I was talking to a fellow teacher, and he said "God forbid I should be judged by my students". I thought, "God forbid anyone should ever be your student". I mean, how else should  a teacher be judged? By how well they play? No, that’s how we should judge them as players. Teaching is a whole different thing. Understand this. You can be a great player and a lousy teacher. Great players usually don’t know why they’re great.

Segovia is an example. The great virtuoso John Williams was Segovia's student (briefly). He said "Segovia was a lousy teacher". No one dared to say it at the time.  Segovia's method of teaching was the laziest way possible. He simply demonstrated.  "Do it like this, like I do." If you were supremely talented, you could come up with something acceptable. If not, you got the boot! Guess which one happened most often.

I have a rule in teaching..... If the student is not learning, it’s my fault. Of course, this only applies if the student is doing what I tell them. If not, all bets are off. If they are doing what I am telling them and they are not getting better, then I am not telling them the right thing to do. Or, as is true with many teachers, I’m not telling them anything to do, other than to try to learn another song!

So I need to pay attention, and keep trying new things, or put it in a different order, or whatever, until something works for them.  If you are not being taught this way, you are being short changed. Also understand, no teacher is perfect. Being a True Teacher is not a state you attain, it is a process you engage in. A good student tries to help the teacher be true by always letting them know when they don’t "get" something. Always keep asking questions when you don’t understand something.  Beware of teachers who get irritated when you don’t get something. That is a warning sign. You are making them feel inadequate. And they want to put the blame on you!  They don’t want to examine their approach.

Teachers often are not paying enough attention to the student to notice they are not understanding anything. I had a voice teacher shout at me "Space, give me space". I had no idea what he was talking about, and he had no idea that I had no idea! 

The True Teacher is always concerned with what the student is hearing, not what they, the teacher are saying. Often, for whatever reason, even though the student is listening, he or she isn’t ‘hearing" anything.

True Teaching Is Love

True Teaching is Love. For guitarists, it is intense love of the guitar and intense desire to share that love with someone who desires it also. And what is Love? It’s simple, to love means to "be with". That’s all.

The True Teacher loves the desire in the student that is the same as his or her own desire. The True Teacher is always trying to be inside, or "with" the student, knowing what they are thinking, feeling, and how they are experiencing this process of ‘learning the guitar".

And for teachers, here is the most important and wonderful fact. When you engage the process of True Teaching, and are truly "with" the student, your own insight and growth will be accelerated! You will come to an awareness and understanding of your own areas of confusion, and you will be shown the light by your honest attempts to show it to someone else. And again, I have found this to be true as a teacher of guitar, and as a parent, which is another name for "Teacher".

In the movie The Crow, (starring the son of the great Master Bruce Lee) the main character says something I have always remembered. He is talking to a drug addict mother who is abusing her child. He warns her "Mother is the name of God on the lips of children".

He is trying to make her see her real responsibility and position. To the child, the parent is God. The parent can, and will create a wonderful empowered being, or a partially or completely crippled person. I know this from personal experience as both a parent and a child.

When it comes to music, "Teacher is the name of God on the lips of the student". The teacher has the power, especially in the beginning. The True Teachers responsibility is to strive to transfer and share that power with the student. The True Teachers fondest desire should be that the deserving student takes everything, uses it, and surpasses the Teacher.

More From

"Teaching Guitar"

What did you think? I'd love to know your thoughts on this article, please leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Very powerful teaching and wisdom which need to be digested and applied.A very deep heartful desire and love is the key to learn the guitar .But what happens when it seems that we do not have the enthusiasm and desire to learn the guitar when we have played a lot of time without making a single little progress.How to rekindle this fire inside us as it was the first day we hold the guitar?Thanks for caring.

    1. Joseph, if that love is truly there it will be re-kindled as soon as the proper guidance is given, and the first few steps on the way forward are taken. I see it all the time.

  2. Thank you, Jamie. Your posting shows great understanding. I hope you will be that understanding with me 🙂 Am really looking forward to starting your class next month.


  3. I haven't heard you play, guitar, Jamie… If it's anything like the passion displayed in your writing, it must be good…😎☄️

    Ha! I'm glad I scrolled down…I've been wondering what metronome you recommend…

  4. I'm a teacher, and have always felt that I can only be judged by the success of my students. What other real purpose does teaching have?
    Finding the way to to achieve that result has been a more difficult path than I first thought when I began.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}