The woes & triumphs of finding a mentor

Kristen L. Acoustic Guitar

I’ve met some talented guitarists in the San Francisco Bay area but I finally settled on one–Alek.  He has something the other guitar teachers did not: a teaching style similar to Danny’s and chemistry that inspires me and makes me hurry home and start practicing.

To all of you self taught guitarists, I commend you because I don’t have the self discipline to watch videos and organize my own curriculum.  Instead, I need accountability and motivation or else, I lose momentum and wonder why I am doing it in the first place.  I can’t imagine sorting through thousands of guitar videos that are available today… do you ever feel conflicted in your interests?  I think I would learn things out of order. But if you ever decide to get a guitar teacher, definitely be extremely picky.

Growing up I’ve had my share of bland, non-inspiring, overpriced teachers.  Fortunately, I’ve figured out what I prefer in a teacher and came to the conclusion that no matter how talented or at what price… chemistry and teaching style is at the top of my criteria.

  1. Chemistry is everything.  This is my number 1 priority.  Three weeks ago, I had a “free trial lesson” with a guitarist who used to live in NYC and LA.  He had friends who played with Michael Jackson and what not… simply a long list of impressive connections but our lack of chemistry made me forgo his services.  Don’t get me wrong, he was really outgoing, a great conversationalist and everything but he didn’t get me amped up about practicing.  He also didn’t cater his lessons to my goals and it felt more like a check list: “learn the parts of guitar, okay good, CHECK.”  I felt like he didn’t care about what I already knew and was just going through the motions.
  2. Teaching style is not one for all, nor is it customizable.  I’ve stuck with some wonderful musicians thinking I could just ask them to slow down or reword their explanations but it’s difficult to change a person’s teaching style and mind set.  You must find someone who naturally accommodates the way you learn because very few teachers can adapt to different students.

My favorite thing about Alek is he jumps right into the nitty gritty: theory, technique and technical terms that hurt your brain.  Luckily, I enjoy squinting my eyes as I memorize and wrap my mind around music theory.  It helps, it really does–no, not all actually.  On top of that, I can visibly see in his eyes and hand gestures that he’s passionate and enthusiastic about my journey to layin’ down some sweet solos.  We typically (accidentally) we go over the allotted time period but he’s never rushed me out or glanced at his watch.  In fact, sometimes I am the one packing up my guitar while he’s still yammering on and on about our lesson–it’s refreshing.

The other guitar teachers I “tried out” simply covered barre chords (which I already know) and how to read music (which again, I already know).  It baffles me because they knew I can read music after I explained my history but they quizzed me anyways.  I know, I can’t be annoyed about that because, yeah, a lot of people are big fat liars.  But I proved to be well-versed, big thanks to my militant, high school marching band director.

In retrospect, Danny is still the best teacher out of the 8 or 9 I grew up with.  And I still keep in touch with him, in case you’re wondering.  In fact, he texted me a couple days ago asking when I’m moving back to the east coast!

8 thoughts on “The woes & triumphs of finding a mentor

  1. As a self-taught guitarist, I’ve tended to play by ear or maybe use tabs rather than watching videos.
    This has its benefits and drawbacks. It’s certainly very easy to get stuck in a rut and hard to know where to focus.

  2. I think I just prefer the freedom of discovering your own path. I agree with Harry, it has its drawbacks, but suits me ‘at the moment’.
    Great news about your teacher!

  3. the journey is the success. Its not necessarily the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but the awesome journey that we all undertake in our own way and style.
    Learning how you learn is the other big success. Just to comment on you quitting. it looks to me that you aren’t a quitter. You don’t look like one from what I read about you. You take a road that’s unique to you, but doesn’t look familiar compared to other people’s journey. That’s what can affect us so much.Well done on your determination. and your success in quitting, quitting.

  4. Living in Mexico, I don’t have a lot of options for guitar teachers (maybe if my Spanish were better…) And by the way, learning by ear is how everybody does it down here. I seldom see anybody using sheet music. But I see your point about structuring your practice, that’s been one of my downfalls. I’m now trying Klaus Crow’s ( suggestions for practice sessions, just to keep some structure going. This is just a minimum, on a busy day.
    – 5 minute scales workout
    – 5 minute speed picking workout (working with a metronome)
    – 5 minute improvising workout
    – 20 minute playing, memorizing and enjoying songs workout
    – 5 minute music theory workout

    • Thanks for sharing your routine! I like how you split each segment by minutes. I tend to get stuck on certain areas of my practice (especially the ones I enjoy the most), so I’m going to try to adapt that to my routine.

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