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  • Writer's pictureJay EuDaly

Teaching Teachers (Part 2)

Updated: Dec 10, 2021

In a previous blog, Teaching Teachers, I said,

“Just because you’re a good player doesn’t mean you’re a good teacher; those are two different skill sets.

Because of the COVID shutdown, many pro guitarists whose income depended on gigs found themselves scrambling to survive. Many turned to teaching only to discover they weren't cut out for it. Over the last year and a half I have fielded calls from frustrated, established players asking my advice on teaching.

I talked about the issue of discovering, and codifying, the knowledge and technique that you, as a player, have sublimated, which you access subconsciously when performing. I ended with,

There's a whole 'nother area that you'll need to tackle if you're a long-time player dipping into the teaching waters, and this is where most of the guys I know sabotage the whole deal.

How do you stay patient? How can you extend your tolerance level? How do you keep from becoming angry? Disappointed? How do you deal with students who you think are waste of time? How much should you invest emotionally in your students? How much of an asshole do you need to be for the good of the student?

In this blog I’m going to try and answer those questions, and the only way for me to do that is to talk about how I answered them for myself.

The answers-to-myself worked for me because I am what I am; a certain personality type, with specific motivations and so on. You may be a different personality type with different motivations.

So what works for me may not work for you, but at least I can model my process and you take what you can. Dig?

Another thing; I have spoken at length here and there about my teacher, John Elliott, in glowing terms. And rightly so; what I received from him I use every day, both as a player and as a teacher, and he is responsible for enabling me in large part to make a living with the guitar. I will be forever grateful that our paths crossed.

However, there were certain aspects of his personality and teaching style that I consciously chose to use as negative examples and not as a model for me.

It was a complicated relationship.

I say all that because his name will inevitably come up and anything negative that I have to say about him in no way diminishes my love and gratitude for him. Nor does it diminish the absolute centrality of his influence on my teaching and playing.

So firstly, what about you? Why are you teaching?

If you’re doing it as a survival technique to get by until your gigs come back, I understand.

However, you need to be honest with yourself about that. It should dictate how you approach your teaching. More on that in a minute.

With me, it started as a way to get off the road and still make money with the guitar. My marriage wasn’t in great shape and my kids were getting messed up because I was gone too much.

I had made a discovery about myself that enabled me to walk away from all the gigs, and stop chasing the carrot-on-a-stick that the music business is continually dangling in front of you.

I discovered that I wasn't motivated by fame, money or success, so I wasn't really willing to make the all-encompassing sacrifices necessary to achieve it.

What I was motivated by was my love of the instrument. I tell that story in more detail in, I Used to Love This! What Happened?

Therefore, I love doing anything that involves the guitar. No matter what I'm doing, gigging, teaching, writing, recording - whatever - if I've got a guitar in my hands I'm a pretty happy guy. I'm lucky that way.

If you are motivated by being onstage in front of the crowd playing music, and only that, well...we're pretty much done. You will probably hate teaching and will punt it for the first gig that comes down the pike.

It would be better to not start teaching at all; less damage to your students when you leave them dangling because of that tour that came up or you have to relocate to join the band.

Or…you’re upfront with your students. You are a performer first; that’s where your priorities lie. There are some people who will take lessons from you because you are a professional player, even though they know it will be temporary. That’s a market you should shoot for.

Don't misunderstand, I’m a player. That’s how I started out and I was performing in working bands for years before I ever started teaching.

All things being equal, that’s what I would choose to do. But all things are NOT equal.

So even though I admit that performing is my first love, that doesn’t mean I’m not totally into the teaching. That should be obvious; I wrote my own freakin’ method book!

If I’m going to teach, I’m going to work at being the best teacher I can be, because it’s a guitar, and I’m committed to that!

An important question that needs to be asked is, what kind of teacher do you want to be? What is your goal for your students?

If your goal is to produce pro-quality players, then you have to have a certain attitude; you’re gonna do what needs to be done. And you need to know that, if that’s your attitude, you’re going to callously plow through dozens of students to find that one. The one who is committed to the same goal and will do whatever it takes to achieve it.

This is a legitimate modus operandi but know that it will take years and years to build up a student load that will support you. You’re going to piss off, offend and hurt a lot of people, who will then take their money elsewhere and give it to someone who doesn’t challenge them so much.

The upside to this is if you do it that way, eventually you will have a load that’s committed 110% because you’re continually weeding out the ones who won’t or can’t put in the work to get to a pro level.

It requires you to sometimes be an asshole. That's part of the weeding-out process. But once you have the reputation and track record of consistently turning out pros from your teaching studio you can charge more and have a waiting list.

But, again, it takes years and therefore requires a long-term commitment to your teaching gig.

My classical teacher was not an asshole, he didn’t have to be. You know why?

You had to pass an audition before he would take you as a student!

I studied for a year with one of his students just to have a shot at passing the audition!

My jazz teacher (the aforementioned John Elliott) was occasionally an asshole. Especially in the beginning. If you were unprepared he sent you home immediately and kept the money. If there was too much back talk about it he was capable of slamming the door and telling you not to come back.

He was freakin’ serious about music and teaching!

Me: (Comes in unprepared and starts trying to bullshit my way through the lesson.)

John: (After about 30 seconds, through clenched teeth) “I can see that you have no idea what it is you’re supposed to be doing so why don’t you put your guitar back in the case and go home! And come back next week and maybe I’ll give you the next page!”

I knew if I said anything about paying for the whole half-hour I would hear the door slam.

Me: “Yes sir.”

He was impatient with questions:

Me: “I know I just played my lesson in every key but I don’t really understand it. How would I use it?”

John: “Why is the sky blue?”

Me: “And where is this going? How am I going to use this?”

John: “Just do it, you’ll see.”

Me: “I have a stupid question.”

John: “There are no stupid questions; there are only stupid people who ask questions.”

I've taught many people over the years who wanted what John taught but couldn’t deal with John. They were too insecure; they weren’t strong enough or they were too easily offended to be able to deal with his passion and intensity.

I had been told going in, “He’s pretty tough but it’s worth it.” That was quite the understatement!

Back in 2001, after showing him my book and getting his approval for the use of the content that came from him, he said,

“Out of all my students, you are the only one who’s had the strength to do this.”

I took him to mean not just the strength to write the book which codified his material for the guitar, but the strength to deal with him.

I thanked him and said his approval was important to me. Later, as I was leaving, his wife told me,

“You are important to him too, even though he doesn’t always say so.”

I knew he had what I wanted and I was willing to take whatever he dished out to get it. I spent 7 years studying with him and it’s the single most valuable thing I did as far as my guitar playing/teaching is concerned.

Many years after I had finished my lessons with John, something he said about me to someone got back to me,

“Oh yeah, Jay EuDaly! Yeah, he turned into a pretty good student!”

Kind of a backhanded compliment, but coming from John, I’ll take it!

It is my opinion that it was all pretty calculated on his part. He was willing to bulldoze over 2 dozen prospects to find one.

After doing it that way for years, by the time I got to him in 1979, he was charging double the going rate and had a year’s waiting list, because he consistently produced superior musicians.

Plus, he only taught what he wanted to teach, how he wanted to teach it.

So…if you’re teaching as a fall-back survival technique for the immediate money, that’s not going to work. It takes too long to build a student load that’s large enough to support you.

When I first started teaching, I knew I wanted to teach John’s content; what he called the “theory of harmony.” It’s a unique approach and the best application of music theory to the guitar I’ve seen.

I also seriously considered teaching the way he did; ploughing through 2 dozen people to find one.

I concluded that it just wasn’t in my nature to be an asshole. If I were to act like an asshole it would be just that; an act. I didn’t want to trap myself into decades of having to act. Sincerity and being true to myself are more important; I would not be happy acting like an asshole.

At the time, I hadn’t yet learned what I know now. As far as I was concerned it was a simple, binary choice; I was choosing quantity over quality. I needed to make money (with the guitar) so I wouldn’t have to leave my wife and kids to tour all the time.

If I was teaching 80 students a week, I reasoned, maybe 3 or 4 of them were worth teaching, and the rest of them subsidized that.

Even then, you have to be consistent and committed. Most of the time, I will turn down the gig in order to not cancel my students - whether I consider them worth teaching or not.

So concerning the 76 out of 80 students; that’s where the issues stated above arise:

  • How do you stay patient? How can you extend your tolerance level? How do you keep from becoming angry? Disappointed? How do you deal with students who you think are waste of time? How much should you invest emotionally in your students? How much of an asshole do you need to be for the good of the student?

So here are the techniques that I developed and realizations that I have come to that help me answer those questions.

First of all, I love the guitar! I would much rather be doing something - anything - with a guitar in my hands than something without it. I mean I could be making more money doing something I hate, but instead I’m in my teaching studio with a guitar in my hands. It’s cool in the summer and warm in the winter. I sleep in my own bed every night instead of a motel room, somebody’s couch, the bus (or van) or worse. Oh, and did I say there’s a guitar in my hands?

I do thirty-minute lessons. Very rarely do I give an hour; that has to be an exceptional situation. A thirty-minute lesson is better for the student. It’s the optimum time/content/money ratio. I can give most people way more in thirty minutes than they can do in a week.

At one point when I had an overwhelming waiting list I seriously considered going to 20 minute lessons. That would enable me to teach three students an hour instead of two. I ultimately decided against it because it would have required me to be too much of an asshole about staying on time. And as I stated above, I had decided not to be an asshole.

My students learn that the 30 minutes is a little loose. If we get through what we need to in 25 minutes then that’s the lesson. If the student needs a little extra time then I’ll take it and run behind the rest of the day.

BTW: I discovered that 80 students a week was my limit. At one point I had 97 students a week and 3 dozen on a waiting list. That's almost 50 hours a week teaching and I was playing 2 or 3 gigs a weekend on top of that. I found my attitude going downhill!

So even if I have a student that I hate teaching (there have been maybe a half-dozen out of thousands), I only have to hate it for 30 minutes at a time.

Secondly, I refrain from making assumptions about how someone is going to do - whether or not they have "talent." No judgment.

I’ve had too many episodes of people I thought would never become a decent player who showed up every week, did what I told them to do and then, lo and behold, 3 years later they play something in a lesson and I think, “Well I certainly misjudged this person; that sounded good!”

If I had chosen the asshole route I would have plowed over that person because my initial judgement was wrong.

Conversely, I've had people that went at it like a bat out of hell and I thought, "This kid is gonna be real good!"...but they didn't last.

There are two kinds of students; the tortoise and the hare.

In general, the tortoise wins the race. I said, "In general." Sometimes a hare will cross the finish line (usually after several tries) and many times a tortoise never gets there. But overall, I find the tortoise to have the most potential. BTW: “finish line” is a relative term.

Thirdly, there is potentially a lot more going on in a guitar lesson than just a guitar lesson.

It's not all that unusual for an adult who is a complete stranger come up to me and say,

"Dude! I took guitar lessons from you when I was, like, 13! You changed my life man! I'll never forget it!"

I had no idea. I was just giving guitar lessons to one more kid.

But I get it because I've had my life changed by music teachers.

I've taught kids whose parents were going through a divorce; I’ve taught men who were going through a divorce. I've taught kids who were having trouble in school, I've taught kids who were experimenting with drugs; I've taught young men who were father-deficient. I can tell. I can feel the vibe of them grasping for a father-figure, a male role model. Sometimes it winds up being the guitar teacher.

I've taught women who weren't comfortable in my studio with the door closed. It took awhile before they felt safe in a room with a man. I once had a disagreement with a woman about payment. I said she owed me for the month and she said she'd paid. I looked at my spreadsheets and said, "You're right, you have paid me."

Her mouth literally fell open. She said, "If my husband had said that to me just once, we'd still be married."

You see? You never know. You never know how you're going to affect people. You never know what lessons people are going to learn that have little to do with the guitar.

Fourthly, there are many legitimate reasons to take guitar lessons and only one of them is, "I want to be a pro."

I once had a student who was a doctor. I realized pretty quickly that this guy was waaay too busy to put in the time to be able to really play. But he kept insisting that he wanted to learn jazz.

For a while I was frustrated with him. Normally my default for a lesson is the student has to be able to play the previous weeks’ lesson in 20 minutes or less before I’ll go on to the next lesson. This guy could never do that; he didn’t practice enough.

He kept gifting me cassette tapes of albums he had. He obviously had a massive jazz record collection.

I realized that maybe what he was doing was trying to educate himself so that his listening experience would be enhanced. He wanted to understand what he was hearing. So I decided that that was the goal.

I quit making him drill in every key. I would just make sure he could play the lesson in 3 or 4 keys in 20 minutes or less before moving on. I didn’t even require him to play in time.

This guy took lessons from me for years; he actually went through my whole method, bitonality and everything…and he still couldn’t actually play!

But he would come into his lesson all excited because he heard that 13(b9) chord he was working on in a Miles Davis record.

Makes perfect sense; he’s a doctor, he’s analytical in temperament.

Years later, I played at his funeral.

For many people, it's much more than just a guitar lesson; it's an escape, it's therapy, it's counseling. Bonding happens. The effects of music play out in many ways.

I have had students that are high-powered doctors, surgeons, lawyers, corporate CEOs etc. For many, all they want to do is come into my studio, shut the door and turn off their pager or phone for 30 minutes and talk about music and the guitar. I've had guys who pay in taxes 10 times what I gross tell me they envy me because I do what I love and there's no pressure.

I think that's a somewhat romanticized notion of my life but it's basically true, more-or-less.

People whose spouse has died aren’t there to be pros, they’re trying to find ways to help them through the grieving process. See Goodnight Irene.

Retirees aren’t there to be pros, they’re finally pursuing an interest now that they have time and money. See To Boomers - From a Boomer.

I’ve had students with brain injuries. Their lessons were actually a prescribed part of their rehab. Ditto for people with Alzheimer’s or Dementia.

There’s great gain and therapeutic value in learning to play guitar for people who are struggling with substance abuse issues.

I’ve had people not show for 2 or 3 weeks and then when they come back they tell me they’re sorry, they had a relapse and need to review. I make no judgments; we just back up and start where we need to.

Lord knows the therapeutic value the guitar has had in my own life.

My agenda is not to turn all these people into jazz nazis or pro-level players. It’s to help them become a better guitarist than they were before and that whatever they play will be better because they have studied with me.

All kinds of good things happen organically because of that, whether I know about them or not.

So these are some of the things I’ve learned that help me deal with,

  • How do you stay patient? How can you extend your tolerance level? How do you keep from becoming angry? Disappointed? How do you deal with students who you think are waste of time? How much should you invest emotionally in your students?

The bottom line is giving up my expectations about a given student. Things like impatience, intolerance, anger and disappointment are rooted in expectations.

I let the student, through their word, attitude and behavior, suggest what my expectations are. My default expectation for everyone is that they are just a little bit better this week than last week.

I get this question often, “How am I doing?”

My answer is usually,

”I don’t give grades because contests are for horses. Are you a little better today than last week? Are you having fun? Those are the relevant questions.”

Now it just so happens that I have produced many superior musicians who have gone on to be pros.

When it becomes obvious to me that a student is as obsessed with the guitar as I am, I treat them differently. I’m still not an asshole, but I’m a lot tougher on them. I hold them to a higher standard. I’m stricter about the drilling, I sit and listen to them drill in every key, in every position with few, if any, mistakes.

Too many mistakes and they repeat the lesson.

Because, you see, the music business is very competitive. Sometimes it is a contest, and the winner is not always the best musician. However, being a really good musician can cover a multitude of sins and deficiencies in other areas.

I try to schedule those people at the end of the day so I can spend extra time with them when necessary. Sometimes I need to teach them about non-musical aspects like dealing with agents, club owners, contracts, other musicians etc.

How to avoid the pitfalls of alcohol, drugs and psycho-babes (or psycho-guys). How to hook up with other performers whose strengths compensate for your weaknesses. That’s an important one.

Being a successful pro musician involves many skill sets, not just the musical one.

There has been something occurring the last 10 years or so with a few of these people; they are hiring me for gigs. I’m performing on the same stage with former students. So the kid I gave guitar lessons to 20 years ago for a few years is now my boss!

That‘s a role-reversal that takes a little getting used to, but I welcome it!

The pro players I’ve produced are a minority percentage of the total number of students I’ve taught over the decades, because I recognize the other valid reasons to take guitar lessons.

To the rest of my students, put your head down and keep putting one foot in front of the other, like the tortoise.

Just do it, you’ll see!

If you are a pro player forced by circumstances to test the teaching waters, I hope this, and the previous blog on this subject has been helpful to you.


Don’t hesitate to ask!


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