The Right Guitar Teacher

When I started playing guitar, at around 12 years old, my dad showed me a few ‘Cowboy Chords’. He was my first guitar teacher.

He was self taught and managed to turn four chords into a party set-list in the folk era. Those few chords were D, A7 and a kind of G – but with one finger.

Why did he show me this way? Because that’s how HE was taught.

Later I showed some confidence in music, so I managed to convince my parents to fork out for some guitar lessons with a guitar tutor who showed up every Wednesday afternoon at school.

He was charming and funny when presenting his talents at a school concert he did every year to drum up students to teach. He played a bit of everything and charmed the teachers and parents well.

However his class was 20mins and had 30-40 kids all with saxes, drum sticks and guitars at the ready. He’d arrive late and flustered…and write out the next lesson in your book while each kid went through last weeks piece one by one. He’s say ‘Great but needs work’ and run out the door saying see ya next week.

He made a killing out of eager little children. No-one got any better in those awful classes. Yet, no-one would dare say it was the teacher….we’d just think we were useless and quit. Then he’d call our parents asking for more money and saying… “little Mark is really showing promise” and scam another term of tuition fees.

Why did he teach this way? Because it made him lots of money.

At High school I was a lone wolf, learning from whatever way I could and trying to decipher it all through my limited capacity to learn. Then the School announced we were to have guitar lessons available this Tuesday afternoon.

I went along… sat in front of a tall, woolly ginger haired man with a big smile. He went through each person finding out how they played, if at all, and making notes of who was who…. that was new for a start.

He then separated people into similar levels and small groups of 2-4 students. I was by myself. He then said… you’re very talented, so I want to give you 20 minutes one on one! I was blown away… for a number of reasons:

  1. He believed in me..and complimented me.
  2. He assessed me before teaching
  3. He got to know where I was at.
  4. Then he skipped all the BS and showed me exactly what I wanted to learn immediately.
  5. He let me decide what I wanted to learn.

Why did he teach this way? Because he genuinely wanted to help me learn guitar.

I only had about two months of lessons before he had to move…. but his lessons were vastly different from anyones before and gave me the tools and confidence to be here in front of you guys teaching guitar.

His replacement tutor was a cool laid back Jazz and Rock muso who spoke like fonzy from happy days and had just spent the last 15 years of his life playing rock in clubs and living the rock n roll lifestyle.

I liked him a lot and he introduced me into a world of Jazz fusion and helped me think about music differently… but he wasn’t a great guitar tutor. He did however broaden my thinking. He helped expand my ‘Context’ (my beliefs) so I could later fill it with new ‘Content’ (information).

It was while getting lessons from him, that I had decided to become a full-time muso after leaving school. I thought he would be very encouraging when I told him… but he went crazy! Saying that his life was ‘S#*thouse’ and that I should study hard and get a real job. He’s always tired and broke and not to do what he’d done.

I was completely shattered. I had no self esteem…. bad grades…. and a pile of guitar player magazines at home. This was all I wanted to do!!! And it felt like my one ally had abandoned me.

I was broken.

Why did he teach and think this way? Because he only taught what HE wanted to play.

He never listened and gave me what I wanted to learn. He was so self-obsessed, that he couldn’t see how anyone could be successful doing what he did.

Later, I would find out that learning the guitar is completely different to learning to be a guitar teacher.

When I started teaching guitar I thought “I’ll just teach them how I was taught”. It went something like this:

  1. Show off and impress them for 10 minutes, so they know I mean business and have credibility.
  2. Show them the first three chords I was shown.
  3. Show off again.

I felt elated after my first teaching experience… I thought I was a natural. But they just weren’t getting any better. Week to week I was getting deflated by how slowly they were learning. They were too. After a month they’d all quit!!

It took me a long time to realise it wasn’t about me!! What an epiphany. They didn’t care how good I was as a guitarist. They just assumed I was awesome. They didn’t need to see diplomas. They didn’t need to see me shred. Instead, I made each student feel welcome, happy and confident. They at the very least had to feel better after the lesson than before. This made people look forward to each lesson and feel good about how they were going. Confidence was the key to their success.

I’d love to hear about your experiences learning guitar… What inspired you to pick it up? The first chord you learned? What was your first lesson like? What’s worked, what hasn’t?


  1. jef robinson

    Hi Mark
    I started out pretty much like you learning a few chords from my old man. He didn’t know that many himself but loved to play. I loved it too even though I could barely hold the massive jumbo he had. Both of us used to thrash the life out of it folk and country stuff anything easy to listen and pick up. I think we shared the same guitar for about 3 years, both of us struggling away. Eventually he met someone who could play well and told him the guitar had a warped neck so the action was way to high and that was why we had to retune every half hour. We both put in for something better and the world opened up. I stopped playing for years while he carried on. I came back to it when my wife bought me guitar as a birthday present. I never had a lesson just picked up bits along the way and probably wouldn’t have subscribed to jamorama if the how to hold a pick lesson hadn’t changed my playing immediately. I love this as a learning experience because I can use lessons from all the different courses and find good bits in all of them. I go to ukulele group every month just to get a some different input and have now found I’m the one giving lessons. My lessons come straight from yours and so far people are loving it. I don’t know all the music theory and can’t sight read tab quick or score at all but loving what I do makes me try hard to help others acheive their dreams.
    Thanks for helping me get closer to mine.
    PS my old man still has the guitar we both bought

  2. Richard Elkan

    MY first guitar was an old barkly accoustic which had a bit of a hole in the base Up till then I was messing around witth a ukelele Then along came this old chap , who talked me into learning to play his old barkly guitar I then bought a couple of books and started to learn to play but not with much success, of course the hole in the side didnt help After many years later I decided to buy a levin accoustic guitar and now at the age of 75 thanks to your jamorama guitar course I now love playing my guitar and have accomplished a lot

  3. Philip Holland

    Great story Mark and enjoyed reading it. Its nice to know that a player like you struggled in the early days and that we’re all human. I’ve been learning guitar now for about 6years and can play all open chords and quite a few A’s and sus chords. Just trying Barre chords now but finding it really hard to change to one from an open chord, in fact my biggest downfall is chord changes. But much to my wife and sons annoyance l’ll never give in and can’t put it down once l pick it up. Best thing l did was subscribe to your courses and have learnt a lot from you since l joined. Phil.

  4. David

    I bought a Ovation guitar in the early 70″s learned all the major cords and loved it ! Yet no one explaned the neck beyound the second fret . now , 40 years later I wish to understand the full neck of the guitar . David

  5. Ricky

    I got a guitar from sears , came in a case with the amp and speaker inside the carrying case . The action was horrible but I didnt know that ! The strings were more than a half inch from the fret board. But with perseverence I mastered a C chord 1 That was 48 years ago , am still playing But not the Silverton…Ovation electric accoustic….Nice

  6. Robert

    Nice piece Mark. I have been doing the internet learning thing and probably should have gone for lessons. A lot missing out there…just alot of sell, sell and more sell…Someone needs to bring the whole thing together so people can actually make music, Robert

  7. tomislav

    I am from Slowenia-Europa and ewery time ower internet listening your school and learning guitar.
    I am 66 year old and my first is d,g,and a7.I ewerytime playing and singing of theas chords.
    Thanks you ,you are beautifule Tomislav

  8. Sten Maiwald

    My first “Chord” was a Little G ,played with the Little Finger on high E String 3 Fret.

  9. Bill Thompson

    My first experience on guitar was a by chance.
    Neighbor had a used Wilson Acoustic guitar fore sale. I was 17-1/2 years old and always wanted a guitar to mess with. Paid $25.00. Wow!…. Now what I do. My brother played drums and other band members wanted nothing to do with me. So I Baught a Melbay book of chords and 50 hit song book. Numerous weeks passed by before I learned to play a couple 3 chord songs. Wow… A, E, D, G I was on my way… playing Gloria over and over until family filed complaints. Never got very far for next 7 years…. Then I quit playing when my young son broke the neck on my Wilson. 30 years later…. I get the acoustic bug all over again… Now I have time, money and new desire.
    I have made it too the door step of intermediate level and feel thankful for that…. Now taking your finger style course.
    Wish me well…..

  10. Ron White

    I’ve played around about learning to play. When I got serious, I hired Anela and he has taught me soooo much.
    Then I signed up for your course and WOW…you teach like he does. Builds confidence (much like you)
    I an easy thing to do when I turn 75 this July. A little late to find that playing guitar makes me happy, thanks to you and Anela.

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