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Teaching Skills Teaching Skills > Advice to New Tutors > The encouragement factor
Summary: Advice for New Tutors - managing unmotivated students

The encouragement factor

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If you think that teaching guitar is all about knowing lots of music theory and being a real technical wizard on the instrument yourself, then it is unlikely you will succeed.

A huge part of the job, especially early on, is based on how you encourage your students.

A student will often show up for their lesson expressing the frustrating feeling that they are "not getting anywhere". They are putting in the effort - but not hearing the improvement.

There are two main reasons for this.

Firstly, the student will tend not to notice their own progress because that progress is made in small increments. You notice their progress because you sample the sum of all those incremental improvements once a week.

Secondly, the sort of things that make a real difference to the student tend to happen as a result of effort sustained over many weeks, not just a few days. They have to put in a steady effort - but the pay-off comes in lumps!

So how, as their tutor, do you encourage the student through these frustrating first few months of playing?

My first tip is to carry out something I refer to as 'Expectation Management'. Explain these points to your student. Tell them not to look for results too early, but to be assured that the results will definitely come as long as they continue to do the work.

My second tip is to make a point of bringing definite stages of improvement to the student's notice. Particularly the more subtle improvements that they may otherwise overlook. For example, they might be frustrated that they can't yet string chord changes together, but you have noticed that the chords themselves all sound a lot brighter and cleaner than the week before. Commend them for that! Tell them that you know they have been practicing well because you can hear the difference.

My third and most vital tip is to reassure the student that there is nothing inherently unmusical about them. People have a knack of finding fault with themselves. If something doesn't come easy they quickly jump to the conclusion that they are "simply not cut out for it" or "lack musical talent".

I have had thousands of people come to me for guitar lessons aged from 3 to 84. People with hands like shovels, people with fingers like straws. People with High IQs and people with severe learning difficulties - I have never felt the need to tell anyone that they are "just not cut out for it". Some learn quicker than others of course, but, providing they can carry out simple instructions, I am convinced that anyone can learn to play guitar to a level they will enjoy.

So, provide your students with plenty of encouragement. That's not just something you do as well as teaching them to play - it's a very vital part of the teaching process itself!

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