How To Successfully Teach Guitar in Groups

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 1.24.46 pmIn the book ‘Bounce’ the author (Matthew Syed) talks about how high level success comes from thousands of hours of practice. Top chess players for example would have studied the game for 10,000 hours or more. By study I don’t mean just play but actually study possible moves and consequences. I spent years working with large numbers of students often in pressure situations to pay rent and wages. In other words I had to find more students and prevent dropouts otherwise I was bankrupt.

Are you willing to fall?

It would be easy to say that there are plenty of guitar teachers with the same number of years (or more) experience as I but the point Syed makes is that it’s not the number of years but the amount of concentrated practice you have done. In another study on ice skaters it was found that you could predict the success of a skater by the number of falls they had during practice. Apparently Shizuka Arakawa the 2006 Olympic champion topped the count with more than 20,000. The point is that real practice happens out on the edge not in your comfort zone. This explains why our driving skills don’t improve much after about the first 5 years. It also explains why many guitarists don’t improve and why many guitar teachers don’t improve. They play it too safe and remain in their comfort zone.

Stepping outside of my comfort zone

I made a habit with my teaching to step outside my comfort zone. Sometimes by choice, sometimes by circumstance. For example most guitar teachers happily stick to private teaching 30 or 40 students for decades from their homes. Very early on I stepped out of my home and went commercial and began hiring other teachers and building schools. This meant I got far more experience (practice) outside of my comfort zone than your typical guitar teacher. From my early 20’s I was working with hundreds of students and parents every week. So if an average guitar teacher with 50 private students were to teach for 25 years with a dropout rate of 20% per year they would have seen only about 500 students in that time. I on the other hand saw more than 10,000 students in that same time. This meant far more experience enrolling students, problem solving and improving my teaching and systems. This is what led me to group teaching. In the late 90’s I knew I had done the private thing. I was getting comfortable so it was time to once again step out of my comfort zone.

Fail and learn

When I started group teaching it was VERY uncomfortable. I really wanted to just go back to private teaching but I pushed on. There were embarrassing moments, failures and plenty of doubt in my mind but somehow I persisted. By 2003 I felt I was ready to focus fully on group teaching so I took 2 years off to plan the business and G4 was born. In late 2005 I launched G4 and the rest is history as you know. I realised at that point that all my previous experience of working with thousands of students, hundreds of teachers and over coming almost every teaching challenge imaginable had brought me to this point.

Step into it

What I am saying here is that to be a successful group teacher you need to practice out on the edge of your ability. Like the skaters you must be willing to fall many times. Your success rate can be measure by your number of failures. If you are not failing you are not learning and growing. Start grouping students and work through the challenges and you will succeed. Stop waiting for the perfect moment or the right students or for something magical to happen. Just step into it.

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