I Can’t Teach You Anything –

I Can’t Teach You Anything –

But Maybe This Will Motivate You (or Your Students)

The School of Athens by Raphael

“You know, I really can’t teach you anything.”

That’s the confession I make to every student I teach sooner or later.
And it’s absolutely true. I might have (some) musical skills, knowledge, even the ability to convey that knowledge – but that’s no guarantee that my student actually learns anything from me at all.
Because the “real” learning happens when the student is alone in his practice room experimenting and trying things out. Hopefully implementing what I’ve shown and taking advantage of the experiences I’ve collected over the years.

Think about it for a moment. You want to learn something. You have the expert in front of you. He has the knowledge – and you don’t. So, you listen and watch and expect that his expertise transfers to you.

It simply won’t.

At least not in the way most people think or hope it does. Because in the end it still boils down to YOU actively doing something with the information. If you don’t act on it, you’ll lose it or never get it in the first place.

So, the job of any teacher is NOT just the presentation of knowledge (although it is a large part) but rather the motivational aspect.

Walking the path together, sometimes watching a student wander off and waiting patiently for him to return before progressing again.

Even letting a student go when some other teacher might be a better fit…

What’s the Motivation?

One of the most beneficial things you can do as a teacher is to find out what motivates your student, so you are prepared for situations when feelings of doubt and overwhelm occur.

If you teach an adult doctor, who wants to learn to play the Blues in order to chill out and relax in his spare time, you won’t have too much trouble with motivation in my experience. A professional, who managed to get through x years of rigorous training and runs a successful practice usually doesn’t have any issues with sticking to things or learning new material. Even if he’s really busy, actually because he’s really busy, he’s experienced enough already to get the time management factor under control.

But what about the young kid, who doesn’t know what he wants to learn?
Who’s surprised that playing guitar (or any instrument) doesn’t come easy and requires practice, dedication, effort and patience?

I often get asked why I even teach young kids. Isn’t that boring to go over that easy stuff? I’m in the fortunate situation that I teach a lot of different age and interest groups. On any given day I might have a student wanting to learn a Metallica tune, followed by a Blues lesson, followed by some Funk, etc… This ensures that I don’t get bored and keep my chops up in various styles. As to teaching beginners – it’s good to remind myself of the fundamentals. And it’s especially rewarding to see young students progress and enjoy making music.

Carrots and Sticks or Something Better?

Carrots and sticks, whips, pep talks… are so 20th century. In the 21st century use YouTube instead. :-)

Spending 3-5 minutes of watching an inspiring video together that re-ignites your student’s passion for music, might be the most important and efficient action you could be doing in your lesson. More important and way more effective in a long-term perspective than again drudging through some boring technical exercise.

To help you get going with your own resource collection, I want to share a few videos with you. Not every video will speak to your situation (as a teacher) but some will transfer and bring the point across nevertheless – and for the rest you’ll hopefully be able to find your own similar examples.

Let it Be – Tony Melendez

This should be inspiring to everybody. Whenever a (young) student tells me that they simply can’t do something, that they’ll never be able to learn a certain skill and that it’s hopeless in their case I just smile and pull up this video by Tony Melendez.

While the video plays just watch your student’s jaw drop. After the video simply ask your student if that elusive skill is still impossible to learn.


Lagrima – Milos Karadaglic

Tarrega pieces are some of the 1st true repertoire pieces for young students and while it’s great when a student learns to play the notes, we all know that’s just the beginning. So it’s important to show them that even with those early pieces one can still work on musicality, phrasing and sound.

While you can find a version from almost any master, I really like to show this Milos Karadaglic rendition. Not only is it well played, but Milos is a young guy and the video is in color. And even though the video unfortunately is just in 240p resolution, students seem to relate and connect better than to some old black and white Segovia version.


Altiplanos – Ana Vidovic

I hate stereotypes, but unfortunately they do exist and it’s important to not let them get in the way. Especially for young(er) girls it’s helpful to provide a role model they can identify with. Show them some Ana Vidovic videos. “Altiplanos” for instance and prove to them that guitar is not just for boys and men. Yes, women absolutely can play at the highest level.


Un Dia de Noviembre – Tatyana Ryzhkova

It doesn’t have to be a virtuoso piece – because then it would be possible to get frustrated. Yeah, she can play that because she’s the exception.

Show them more accessible pieces as well – something like Leo Brouwer’s “Un Dia de Noviembre” performed by Tatjana Ryzhkova. It’s a beautiful piece in a beautiful rendition and while there are tricky parts in it, sections of it are fairly accessible, so students can get the sense that yes, this is indeed possible.

Even for them.

The New Breed of Acoustic Guitarists

And it doesn’t have to be just Classical – don’t get me wrong, I love Classical. There’s so many beautiful, awesome pieces in the repertoire. But as I wrote in my Classical Guitar Course review I don’t consider myself a Classical guitarist, even though I do teach the style. And do teach it a lot.

Fortunately, it’s not necessary to stuff Classical down a student’s throat who doesn’t want to play Classical.

Show them some of the new acoustic breed of guitarists instead – the likes of Andy McKee, Thomas Leeb, Kelly Valleau and countless other artists.

Somebody That I Used to Know – Walk Off the Earth

This is a great example because it has that Wow factor. It’s a piece that almost everybody has heard before. And there’s a couple of things you can talk about after watching it together.

Talk about:

  • the unique and unusual idea
  • the visual appeal
  • how amazing it is what you can do with 1 guitar
  • coordination – how the individual parts aren’t even that difficult by themselves

These Moments – Antoine Dufour

Do I even have to say anything?

Another Brick in the Wall – Kelly Valleau

Ok, the first part is cool – but what about the solo? David Gilmour’s legendary solo on acoustic while keeping the accompaniment going is insane. And the preceding right hand percussion/left hand tapping section starting at the 1:02 mark is not too shabby either, wouldn’t you agree?

Anyways, that’s just a few examples to get you started. For best results you definitely want to use your own examples that are custom-tailored to you and your students. Here are some tips and questions to ask yourself that will help you find the right videos to use.

Action Steps

Set-up a folder in your bookmarks or create a note in Evernote where you collect great performances, inspirational videos and helpful tutorials.

I like to use Evernote because I have access to it from anywhere via my phone. I’m able to quickly find that collection and right then and there call up the appropriate video link and address the issue.

You as the Model

Use yourself as a model:

  • What do you like?
  • What inspires you?
  • What puts a musical smile on your face?
  • What has been helpful?
  • What are iconic performances to you?

As a Teacher

During your planning and review sessions have a look at your student notes and assess where the student is in his development.

  • What have you worked on together?
  • What are the challenges?
  • Is there a lack of technical skills?
  • Is there a motivational deficit?
  • What does the student want to accomplish?
  • What does he/she like to play or would like to be able to play?

Make a note of any perfect challenge/video matches and when the timing is right pull up the appropriate video and get inspired together.

Share Your Inspiration

If you come across anything inspiring and motivational please share it in the comment section below. I’m always looking for additional examples to inspire myself and my students. Thanks in advance.


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