Our Teaching Philosophies

We’re pretty passionate about teaching the guitar. So much so, that we’ve developed some pretty strong thoughts and opinions that shape what we do and how we do it.

  • 1. LEARNING WITH A PURPOSE​

Whenever a student learns anything, it needs to serve some kind of purpose. This could be:

  • Developing a specific technique or skill
  • Learning a new chord
  • Understanding a new concept of music theory
  • Improving at playing a scale
  • Or helping to encourage the student in their musical journey

Whatever it is that a student is learning, it should be part of the bigger picture. This is one of the main reasons we made The Ultimate Guitar Method.

Several years ago I took on a new student who had previously had lessons with someone else for about two years. I opened up his cliche “Guitar Folder” and saw the title “Lead Guitar Work”, which then had licks and phrases written down in a major scale. Now, in my opinion, this student really was nowhere near that level of playing. He was still working on open chords and learning the major scales in open position, rather than looking at improvising licks in a particular shape. There was no purpose to what that student was learning.

Everything we teach, should be taught for a specific reason. To improve a particular chord shape, to learn a specific finger movement, to help learn palm muting… it must all be for a good reason and to provide a logical learning path.

  • 2. Don't Just Learn Songs. Learn From Songs

Learning songs is great, but if you don’t learn anything new from the song, then you haven’t really improved. Whilst there’s always something new that you pick up from studying or learning any song, we need to be a bit more decisive when teaching students. After all, they’re usually not career musicians and won’t practice guitar to the extent that teacher would. So song choice should be thought of carefully and intentionally chosen to help students at whatever level they’re at. This may be developing a specific skill for chord changes, finger control or even just a theoretical component like tritone substitution.

  • 3. 10,000 = Master

It’s so common for guitarists to play something once and then never come back to it. But we believe that you should practice everything 10,000 times in order to truly master it. This applies to songs, scales, riffs, solos, sight reading… just about everything. This can often be achieved by playing songs with receptive chord progressions. A great quote is “Don’t fear the man who’s practiced a thousand punches one time. Fear the man who’s practiced one punch a thousand times”.

  • 4. Learn As Much As You Can From One Song

Why limit your ability to just learning the chord progression, when it may be far more beneficial to also learn the melody, riff or solo that’s also in the song. The more you learn, the better you are!

  • 5. Learning Is 90% Behaviour

Every high school teacher I’ve spoken to has agreed with me on this. Learning is all about the behaviour and attitude you take. The actual skill level or intelligence of the learner doesn’t play as large of a role as you might first think. So we should always be open and willing to learn.

Whatever you’re thinking, you are correct. If you’re thinking “I can’t do it” then you are correct because you are already giving up. If you’re thinking “this is tough, but eventually I’ll get it with enough practice” then you’re also correct because you will eventually get it.

Always remember: Attitude = Outcome.

  • 6. You Either Know It, Or You Don't

A tap is either on or off. Your phone is either on or off. You either know your content, or you don’t. There is no “I sort of know the G chord…”. If you “sort of” know something, then you don’t actually know it. As guitarists, we should know our content so well that there is minimal thinking involved. If you were to ask me the composition of a Cmaj9 chord, I don’t even have to think about it. My brain simply recites C E G B D. If you have to think about something, then you don’t know it well enough.

This means that we need to practice our content extensively, even once we’re completely sick of it. I’m always saying that if students don’t complain about practicing the same few songs every single week, then they’re not playing them enough.

  • 7. Learn Everything

It’s so common for guitarists to not care about scales, sight reading or music theory. They see it as complicated, confusing and unnecessary. But any serious musician can see the value in these aspects. The more you learn, the better you are. So don’t limit your ability – be willing to learn all aspects of guitar playing.

  • 8. Project & Performance Pieces

Project pieces are items that you learn on a long term basis, usually because they’re quite difficult. It’s a good idea to work on just a section of this piece, making a habit of regularly practicing it.

Performance pieces are songs that you want to improve to a quality that is worthy of performing to others. Whether it be just a small family sing along, a video that we send home to the parent, or something we post on social media – it’s something that you constantly work on for months at a time, until you’ve really mastered it and can perform it well to others.

  • 9. Being A Good Guitarist Doesn't Make You A Good Teacher

I’ve met tonnes of good guitarists. And only a small handful were good teachers. These are two very different skill sets, both of which should be present in any UGA teacher. Being a good guitarist is about playing well and understanding musical concepts. Being a good teacher is about being able to connect and communicate with a student.

  • 10. Start At The Beginning

I so often see students picking up all sorts of weird songs and riffs that are nowhere near their current level of playing. Beginners love to try to play those difficult riffs they are obsessed with – something like Sweet Child Of Mine comes to mind. Whilst I love their enthusiasm and willingness, most students are ultimately better off just starting from the very beginning and working towards the harder playing. It’s a more enjoying learning path that is typically more successful and results in students learning more skills and content. It’s also a lot easier because you are developing the necessary skills for each song you learn, rather than jumping ahead, unprepared.

There is a slight exception to this. We live in a world full of different people who learn differently. Sometimes it’s worth spending time trying to learn things out of order, if it’s going to help the student, though this is usually because of student behavioural circumstances rather than their skill level or knowledge.

  • 11. Tailored Learning

Whilst people are often similar, everyone is different. So we tailor our teaching to suit students, which is why there are no compulsory songs in The Ultimate Guitar Method. There’s so much freedom to choose to learn the music you love. The G chord is the same in any musical genre, so why would we restrict the use of that chord if you need to work on it? Additionally, the way that concepts are explained and taught should be tailored to suit the learner. After all, you can’t expect a 5 year old with ADHD to behave and learn the same as a 25 year old Law graduate.

  • 12. Rule Of 3's

A very common human trait is to practice something once and assume you’re good at it. This is even more true in guitarists, especially young beginners. Whenever you’re practicing something, it’s a great idea to do it three times. Why? Because the first run through is usually quite poor. The second sees a slight improvement. But the third is when students actually start to improve. It’s when they start remembering how to play it, rather than still fumbling their way through.

Notice that the third time is the start of when the improvement happens. So this means that if you practice any less than three times, then there isn’t much point. It also means that you practice it more than three times. I always say that practice is compounded. So when you practice something three times, it’s effective. But practicing just one more time (totally four) compounds to being almost twice as effective.

  • 13. If I Can Do It, You Can Do It

Students are often telling me that they are struggling because they have small hands, or they aren’t as experienced as I am. But I was once an inexperienced beginner too. I also struggled. The only difference between us is that I kept trying and eventually overcame those struggles (and now have a whole new level of guitar struggles!). It has nothing to do with being born with “musical talent”. If I can do it, you can do it too. It just takes time, practice and effort. There’s absolutely no reason to think that someone is simply incapable of playing the guitar – that thinking is ludicrous.

Whilst we’re on the topic, I often tell my students that I have a 100% success rate with students. What I mean is that every single person I’ve ever taught has improved with their guitar playing if they’ve done exactly what I’ve told them to do. I have never seen a student who was incapable of playing the guitar due to some kind of mental or physical reason.

There is once small catch here – you need to have control of your arms and fingers. You also need one finger. Even if you’re missing nine fingers, we can manage. In fact, I’ve even seen videos of war veterans playing guitar with their feet! Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

  • 14. Learn At Your Level

Guitarists are often checking out advanced concepts such as modes, tritone substitution and even crazy shredding solos by John Petrucci. Whilst it’s great that they have an interest, it’s all too common for students to spend hours trying learn this content, and the result ends up being sub-par. They end up playing it with terrible technique and not really understanding what’s going on. They rarely ever benefit from this. It makes more sense to set these as long term goals to work towards, so that you can spend the current time working on content that’s at your level.

A great analogy is to consider a body builder wanting to lift 100kg. Should he just jump straight into lifting 100kg? Or should he start with something that’s within his ability, then gradually increase the weight as his ability improves – eventually reaching the 100kg goal? I think you’ll find that most personal trainers opt for the latter. It’s safer, quicker and ultimately much more enjoyable.

Learning content that is at your own level (or just slightly above) means that you are gradually increasing your ability and working towards your goal. When it comes to skill based activities, this is by far the more reliable approach.

  • 15. If You Can Say It, You Can Play It

Before trying to play something new, it’s a great idea to first try saying the notes (or fret numbers, chords etc) out loud. The whole idea here is that if you can say the notes, then it means you have a half decent understanding of it, hence making it a lot easier to play. This is a trick I use all of the time, particularly with young guitar students aged 3-13.

  • 2. One Step At A Time

This one is really self explanatory. Focus on one thing at a time, don’t stress about what’s coming up next. I’m always seeing students trying out the first section of what they’re learning, and before they’ve made any progress on it, they start asking “what about the next part?!”

But the vast majority of students are best off just focusing on one thing and getting really good at it. Don’t be worried by the upcoming piece/section/scale/chord. 

In my opinion this is where most guitar teachers fail their students. I see tonnes of new students who have a plastic A4 folder with a whole range of chords in it. Many teachers just give them this and say “learn them!”

But this rarely works. It’s too much at once. Just work on one chord at a time. Spend a long time it, practice it and eventually master it. Then add a second chord and repeat this process. Then a third. You can see where this is going.

  • 16. Guitar Key

A common misconception is that the best way to learn a song is from start to finish. Whilst this can work, I tend to prefer a compartmentalised approach. This is simply where you break a song down into small sections that are easy to manage. Work on just one section

  • 17. Bring Your Level To The Song

Guitarists often make alterations and changes to songs they’re learning if they’re having difficulties. But this makes no sense. If you change the song to match your own skill level, you don’t improve on the guitar. Furthermore, you have changed the song, so what you’re playing isn’t actually the song. All that time and effort has really just been wasted.

A better idea is to improve your skills so that it’s brought up to the level of the song. Then you’ve improved on the guitar and actually learnt the correct way to play the song. Sometimes doing this might mean learning a range of other songs which will prepare you for the end goal – but that’s a good thing because it means you’re learning more!

You might notice that if most of our other learning philosophies are adhered to, then this issue should be avoided entirely.

  • 18. You'r Not The First Or Only

Is there something that you’re struggling with on the guitar, or even in life? Do you think you’re the first to struggle with this problem? I can just about guarantee that you’re not the first or only. How many students have asked me for help with the F bar chord? Thousands. How many have struggled to understand theory? All of them.

Whatever your struggle is, remember that you are definitely not the first person to have trouble and there are plenty of others who are facing the same difficulty right now.

  • 19. Learn Like A Jigsaw Puzzle

A common misconception is that the best way to learn a song is from start to finish. Whilst this can work, I tend to prefer a compartmentalised approach. This is simply where you break a song down into small sections that are easy to manage. Work on just one section until you’ve mastered it (starting with the Guitar Key is the best idea). Once mastered, do the same with another section. Repeat this process until you know at least two sections really well. The next step is to combine them together. You simply repeat this until the whole song is learnt.

The idea behind this approach is to break everything down into small, manageable pieces and, once learnt, combine them – similar to how a jigsaw puzzle is pieced together.

  • 20. The Only Failure Is Giving Up

Learning the guitar is a journey – and part of the journey will be some tough times where you get things wrong. But getting it wrong is part of the learning process – you have to get it wrong. But contrary to how most people think, getting something wrong is not failing. The only failure in guitar is giving up.

Just like how Thomas Edison persisted through ten thousand “failures” when inventing the lightbulb. He said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

It as all a journey and a process, with struggles and errors along the way. The only failing in this journey is giving up altogether.

  • 21. You Have To Get It Wrong Before You Get It Right

No one pick up the guitar and is awesome straight away (not even us guitar teachers!). It’s all a journey and process of getting things wrong so that you can learn how to get it right.

If it takes 100 mistakes before you get something correct, then making a mistake is actually a good thing – because each mistake is one step closer to getting it right.

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