How to make money teaching guitar, or any instrument, where you live
For several years, I made a pretty nice full time income from teaching guitar locally.
I did a few things right, and a lot of things wrong, here is the best of what I learned.
To make money teaching guitar locally, you need a few things in place:
- People getting in contact for lessons
- A format to teach students (this is the type of lesson you offer)
- An effective billing system (collecting cash from 25 people each month is an nightmare)
- The skills and knowledge to be able to effectively help your students learn
Ok so that might have seemed a bit obvious.
I’m going to walk you through all the steps for each that I took, including the things I did and the things I wish I had done, so you can get started teaching guitar (or any other instrument):
9 Marketing Systems to Bring You A Constant Stream of New Enquiries – What Does and Does Not Work
This is pretty simple. You need a website, social media and maybe a few offline marketing systems.
Setting up a website is pretty simple. The home page of your website should talk about guitar lessons in general, and how you are going to help the person reading the website get better at playing guitar.
The home page, at various points, should have a big button to take people to the contact page.
The contact page is a simple online form, where people can fill out their name, email address and phone number.
The menu bar of the website should have:
Home | Contact | Blog
and nothing else.
If you can add some YouTube videos of students / past students talking about how much they enjoy lessons, even better.
I like to use WordPress, with a Genesis theme for a blog and a Thrive Optimise / Architect page for anything I split test.
Naming Your Website
You can name it after your local area, e.g. “mytownguitarlessons.com”, or after your name, “yournameguitarschool”, or something like that.
2) Register on Google Maps
Register your website with Google maps, so that it comes up in local search results. They sometimes send you a postcard with a code on it, so this can take a little while.
3) Split testing
Right from day 1, you want to be split testing your home page on your website. Split testing is the secret tool of making effective websites.
When you split test, you take a website page, and create a variation on it. Usually a good place to start, is the headline.
Your website then shows alternate pages, to alternate visitors, track the actions taken on each variation.
This way, you can optimise your page for a certain action.
You want to optimise for visitors clicking through to your contact page.
There is a lot of software that can do this, but I would suggest “Thrive Optimize” with Thrive Themes. It’s a one off fee and very effective.
4) Building out a blog
If you want to rank on google, and also have content to share on your social media, and keep in contact with past enquiries; building a blog can be very effective.
You write a short article each week (500-1000 words), and post it on your blog.
Then you share that blog on your social media.
The article can be a simple guitar lesson, talking about some aspect of playing guitar, something to do with finding bands… anything really.
Think of it as either light entertainment, something motivational, or something educational.
If you want a simple theme for your blog, use a Genesis theme.
You can write a short blog post on some aspect of guitar playing in well under an hour, so this does not take much time to do each week.
Everything you need for your website is in my how to start a blog guide.
5) Get a proper email address
Use your website to give yourself a professional looking email address.
Your first name @ londonguitarlessons.co.uk or whatever.
6) Social Media
Something I didn’t use was social media. If I were to build a guitar teaching business for myself again, I would use Facebook and Instagram a lot more than I did.
Here is what I would do with social media:
Create a Facebook business page.
Make a nice banner image with canva.com. Update your page with the basic info. Have the button on your page point to your website.
Post something useful to people, like little practice tips, every day. You can schedule posts in Facebook, so you can spend an afternoon writing out a years worth of posts, and have Facebook post everything for you, automatically.
Share your blog posts on Facebook as you write them.
Post photos of you with students.
Show people that other people enjoy taking lessons, that you can help them, and that people have fun learning from you.
Take silly selfies with you and your students a couple of times a week. Take little videos of students jamming (with their permission of course).
Here is the cool thing with Instagram – make sure every post has the location attached. Then when people are looking at local photos, you come up.
Facebook / Instagram Ads
A very powerful feature of Facebook is its advertising platform.
You can use Facebook to target incredibly specific demographics, interests and locations.
For example, most of my students are men who are 40-60. I could use Facebook ads to show an ad for my guitar lessons to every man in that age range, who is within 5 miles of my teaching location.
If you are new to this and just getting started, keep the ad spend small, maybe a couple of dollars a day to get a feel for the ad platform.
There is a piece of code called a “Facebook Pixel” you will have to install on your website. If you used WordPress, this is pretty easy to day. The code will track all the visitors from your ads.
There are different types of facebook ads you can use. Facebook will try and optimise who your ad is shown to, based on the metric you want to optimise.
The two most relevant metrics for you will be:
Landing Page Views: This is people reading your website
Conversions: This is people filing out the form on your website
Learning how to run Facebook Ads effectively is outside the scope of this post. Facebook as a tonne of tutorials on it that you can use – you don’t need to pay for FB Ads courses.
7) Local directory listings
There are a tonne of online directories that you can list your website on. There are also websites like mums net, craiglist, gumtree etc you can put ads on.
If you have a local phone book, you can usually get a free listing in those. People don’t use them very much these days but you will get a few enquiries come through.
An old school marketing method that can work is door to door flyers. At one point I was pumping out 20,000 of these a month.
Some months I would be getting a dozen phone calls a week, sometimes I would get nothing for a couple of weeks.
The key to flyers is to find a good delivery company that you can trust.
If you are in the London area, leaflets unlimited are a great company that I have worked with and are reliable with a competitive price.
I tried other companies that were cheaper and got ripped off.
You will find that people will hold onto your flyers for months, sometimes even years before calling you.
If I were to do flyers again, I would do a different area each month, and make sure each area was done 2-3 times a year max.
Try and avoid poorer areas, or areas with a lot of council housing.
9) Local posters
All around London, the local council has noticeboards, that you can put posts on. It’s quite expensive.
I found this not to work very well. I put up dozens of posters and got 2-3 low quality enquiries.
As an additional factor, the council are incompetent.
I did this once… and never again.
It’s over priced and not worth it.
I also tried posters in shops, supermarkets, newsagents etc; and again, I found this to be not very effective at all.
Dealing with Enquiries, Spotting Time Wasters and the Two Different Types of Student You Will Get
Now you have a marketing plan in place, you are going to have people phoning and emailing you.
You have to decide what you want to do next. Either:
- Sell them on lessons on the phone
- Get them to come in for a free introductory lesson (this is easier)
Find out some basic information. It’s like dating, the more they talk about themselves, the more they will like you.
You want to know:
- Their name
- Guitar playing background
- Have they got a guitar – you will find a lot of people call you without owning a guitar.
- What do they want to achieve on the guitar – learn covers, write their own songs, jam with their friends?
- What sort of music they want to play
Write it down as they talk.
If you think you can help them, discuss your schedule with them and make sure that the times you teach match their availability.
If that is all good, then proceed to book them into an introductory lesson.
Send them an email with directions and to confirm the appointment.
Give them a phone call the morning before their lesson and check they got the directions ok. What you are really doing is reminding them to come down. You will be surprised how unorganised a lot of people are!
Let them talk and pay attention to what they say. Don’t try and fight to tell them how great you are. They want to be listened to.
If you can’t help them, tell them. I get people phone me wanting to learn classical guitar, and I tell them I can’t help them and recommend another local teacher who covers that.
Keeping track of enquiries
I used to keep a huge database of every person that contact me, and stay in contact with them.
You can use MS Excel, Google Docs, or something called a CRM which stands for “Customer Relationship Management”. A CRM stores all your customer data.
Sometimes I would phone the same person dozens of times over the course of a year.
I rarely got anyone to come back, and I’m not sure it was worth it.
I found that if someone didn’t sign up for lessons right away, they probably wouldn’t sign up at all.
Put everyone that contacts you into a database, and email them maybe 3 times a year. You can use MailChimp to automate this (and it’s free for the first 500 people).
If you need to call someone the next day, or next week, a CRM is super useful.
The lesson here, is to try and get people booked in ASAP. When they are on the phone, they want to get started. If they want to start next month… then when you phone next month… they are going to want to start next month.
Learn how to spot tyre kickers
Something you will learn the hard way, is that some people just want to take up your time and have no intention of taking lessons with you.
Some people just love to talk without doing anything.
Some people are just totally crazy.
3 ways to spot time wasters
1) They swear at an introductory lesson or on the phone
Anyone who swears in-front of you the first time you meet them, or on the phone, when you are in a business setting like this, instant no-no.
They will waste your time, pay late (if ever) and be a general pain in the arse.
2) Late for an introductory lesson
On the whole, I have found that people who turn up late are not very reliable. Especially for an introductory lesson.
Even worse is people who get lost.
3) Don’t read directions / get lost on the way to an introductory lesson
If they can’t read your directions on how to find you, they are not going to take directions on how to play guitar.
I am constantly dumbfounded at some peoples total inability to follow basic directions.
Instant red flag.
2 Different types of student
As your marketing systems level up, you will find you deal with different types of people.
You can categorise them by what they value and their worldviews. Some of these people you want to avoid, some you want as students.
Most of the following are subconscious beliefs that are held, and never consciously identified:
“Something is valuable to me if it helps me”
This is the best type of student you can get. They view your lessons as valuable, IF they improve at their guitar playing.
Which is what they are there for.
“I can only gain a value if someone else loses a value”
This is a 0 sum mindset. These students are ok if you are doing private lessons, but will not work in groups.
In order for them to value lessons with you, they do not have to improve, they have to take up your time. They only feel like they are receiving value if you are losing it.
That’s right – they will value taking up your time, over improving at their guitar playing.
Which is fine for a private lesson, but in a group lesson they will constantly ask questions and try and take up your time unnecessarily, rather than play their guitar.
What Type of Lessons to Use and Ideas for 5 Different Group Guitar Classes
So now you have people calling you, what type of lessons are you going to use?
The easiest and fastest way to get started is 30 minute 1-2-1 lessons. If you are just starting out, this is what I recommend. People are used to this, they have heard of it, and it is an easy sell.
There are people who have grown 7 figure guitar teaching businesses off the back of a 30 minute private lesson.
Laws of Selling: If people struggle to understand a concept, they are highly unlikely to buy into it.
If you want to make more money, introduce some group classes. If you have two people in the room, you get paid double what you would for a 1-2-1 lesson.
If you have 5 people in the room, you get paid 5 times what you would for a 1-2-1 lesson.
Making £100 per hour, once you get the hang of teaching a group class, is actually pretty easy. Making 2-3x that is also possible.
5 Different Group Classes You Can Do
This is really easy and really fun. Pair your students up, give them a chord progression, or have them write their own, and get them improvising.
They can do something really simple.
They should know some basic chords and the minor pentatonic scale. If you want a way to teach improvising to beginners, check out my beginners guide to improvising on guitar.
Let them play for a couple of minutes, then give them a small challenge to improve their phrasing / creativity. Maybe they need to:
- Use more vibrato
- Use more slides
- Break their phrases into small chunks (a common beginner mistake is to play every note they can find, rather than writing short ‘sentences’ with their playing)
- Play the scale in a different place
- Use different rhythms
You can have 4 people in the room, in 2 pairs. 6 people in 3 pairs.
You observe a pair for 2 minutes, give them something to work on, and while they play go see how the next pair are doing.
2) Sight Reading
Buy a few Ernie Ball Phase 1 books and have 2-4 people work through it in a small class together.
They can work on everything at the same time, or work individually.
Help people as they get stuck.
Once students know basic sight reading, you can run classes on:
Sight reading 2: Baroque
Give your students a score of part of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, assign everyone a part, and have them work through it.
Let people work individually for a few minutes then have them play that section together.
Students LOVE doing this.
It’s awesome. Even students that don’t like classical music will enjoy doing this.
Sight reading 3: Jazz and Blues
Get a copy of The Real Book. Students can spend a couple of weeks learning a single piece from it:
You can teach them:
- How to play the melodies
- How to play the chord progression
- How to improvise over the chord progressions
It’s got easy stuff, hard stuff, and stuff in the middle. Plenty to keep your class busy for a couple of years.
3) Training Classes
You can run group training classes on different aspects of guitar playing. The key here is being able to break things down.
I run a vibrato class with my students every couple of weeks. I broke vibrato down into different elements. I then created exercises that worked on each element.
Everyone does the exercises together for 1 minute, then I call out to change to the next exercise and set a timer for another minute.
Help people as they get stuck.
We work through 4-5 exercises, 1 minute on each exercise, together for 30 minutes.
It is brutal on the finger tips…
but everyones improvising really steps the week after doing this. They use more bends and note ornamentation more creatively, they hit pitches accurately with their bends, it’s awesome.
And the best bit… they notice their own improvement with improvising.
4) Group Private Lessons
It’s possible to run group classes by having 2-4 people in the room, all doing something individually, like a group private lesson.
You can’t have more than a few people in the room, as it gets very chaotic. if you do.
I once tried this with 8-10 people in the room and it did not work!
5) Songwriting Classes
It is possible to teach songwriting to a small group.
You can look at song structure together, analyse a song, or train on a theory concept.
I sometimes treat songwriting class as an applied music theory class. After all, that’s kinda the point of music theory.
For example, say you were looking at secondary dominant chords. These are an interesting songwriting device.
You could explain the concept of a secondary dominant. Then, give your students a key, have them write 4 different chord progressions inside that key, and put a secondary dominant in each progression, and play through them.
This way, they practice figuring out how to use a secondary dominant, and get to listen to how it sounds.
If they finish that, you could have them play the progression as arpeggios or with different chord inversions.
You’re training them on a concept, so that when they want to write their own songs, they don’t have to pull out their notes, write out all their scales and grab a supercomputer to work out where to place a secondary dominant. They just plonk it in right away.
Another way to do it, is to teach them how to write their very first song. You could take 2-4 people through this process together very easily.
An Effective Billing System to Make Sure Students Pay You on Time
If you are starting out teaching guitar, then go with cash on the day – this is the simplest way to get started.
You can also offer a small discount for people who pay for X lessons in advance. E.g. a 10% discount for paying for 4 lessons at a time.
- Don’t discount too much
- Make sure any batch of lessons comes with a clear expiry date
You do not want someone taking 1 lesson, then coming back 3 years later for 3 more lessons (I had something like this happen – it’s really annoying. I suddenly had to do a tonne of travelling to honour the lessons).
If they buy a batch of lessons, have them sign a little receipt that says “4 lessons to be used by INSERT-DATE-HERE” and read it back to them.
In terms of actually getting the money, you can take cash, or use something like PayPal Here or SquareSpace to take card payments, to make things more convenient for your clients.
This is fine for 10 students or so when you get started, but, when you have more than that, it can get a bit chaotic and you have to be organised.
Some people like to stick with cash, some like to move to:
If you want to scale the business and automate the payment aspect, you can set up automatic payments.
This also creates another layer of complication that you have to figure out.
There are three ways you can do this:
- Standing orders
- Direct debits
- Automatic card payments
You also want a printed lesson agreement in place that sets out:
- When payments will be made
- Exit conditions.
- Can a student quit whenever they want?
- Do they have to deliver a certain amount of notice or notify you by a certain date in the month?
- My terms stated I have to be notified in writing by the 14th of the current month, in order for a student to stop payments for the following month.
- What happens if they miss a lesson?
- What happens if you miss a lesson?
This makes sure that everyone is clear on how things work.
If you have automatic payments, you want to manually go through and check each payment, every month. You will find that credit cards expire, sometimes cards are rejected or blocked by the bank and occasionally things don’t work and you have to make a couple of phone calls.
If a student breaks the agreement (and people will), you have to decide how heavy handed you are going to be about it.
For some reason, a lot of people have no respect for the terms they sign, and think that they should get a special exception.
If you do not give them an exception, no matter how bullet proof your argument is, they will be pissed, and they will slander you to everyone they know.
Some will be petty enough to go online and leave you reviews that amount to “I’m upset because I was held to my word”; but you will be framed as “stealing from them” or “only caring about the money”.
The three types of automatic payments
1) Standing Orders
This is where the student setups up an automated monthly transfer to your bank account. It’s an easy way to get started, but:
- You have to wait for them to do it
- They can cancel it anytime they want
You will find people cancel them the day before payment is due, without telling you.
2) Direct Debit
Services like GoCardless offer small businesses (like you) a way to setup a direct debt.
It’s pretty easy to use, and a big step to turning teaching guitar from a nice money maker to a full time business (if that is what you want).
Being a direct debit, it is easy for students to cancel this, and again, you will find some people cancel the day before payment is due, which is annoying.
However… having the money collected for you and delivered in one go is very nice.
3) Automatic Card Payments
This is pro level.
The nice thing here is that you control the payment method. So, a student can’t skip out on the notice period or their last payment. If they do a chargeback through the credit card company, you can show the company your signed lesson agreement from the student and get your money back.
But, this also comes with additional responsibilities for you. Different countries have different rules on credit card processing, and you have to check up on the rules in your country, or you can get in trouble big time.
There are a few different services. The best, by far, is Stripe. It has a bit of a learning curve, but it is cheap and does the job very nicely.
If you want something with a built in booking system then there is a service called Mindbody. It is pretty complicated to setup, but integrates payment and booking. If you have 30+ students, Mindbody might be useful.
How to Teach Guitar, the Common Mistakes Students Make Learning Guitar and 3 Examples of the Conceptual Side of Learning Guitar
So now we have dealt with the business side of teaching guitar, we have to look at the actual teaching.
How do you teach someone?
First… know that knowledge is hierarchal.
So are skills.
Someone has to learn how to hold a pick before they can play a million notes a hour.
You can take any skill in any aspect of guitar playing, think about it, and break it into its constituent parts.
Then, you walk your students through those steps. Create exercises based on each step.
You can isolate specific hands. If a student is making a mistake, which hand is making the mistake? Isolate the specific hand, make sure they do NOTHING with the other hand, and have them train that single hand over and over for a couple of minutes.
You can isolate mental concepts. If a student is struggling to remember a scale, have them draw it out 20 times.
Basically – you find the weak point, isolate that weakness to the extreme, work on it, then re-introduce the other aspects of the exercise / piece / what they’re playing.
Keep notes on what your students are learning. You can do this using an app like Evernote or Bear.
5 Common practice mistakes all guitar students make
1)Playing too fast
They always do this. The problem is, they don’t understand what it means to play slow. Give them an example. Saying “play it slowly” isn’t enough, show them how slow they have to do it.
Failing that, put on a metronome.
2) Not looking at their pick hand
Most students will only ever look at their fretboard hand, and never their picking hand. When working on mistakes caused by the picking hand, make them look at the picking hand.
3) Looking at where they are, not where they are going
If you have a student strumming chords and then transitioning into a lead piece, and they screw up the transition, have them physically look at where they are starting the lead piece BEFORE they need to play it.
Make sure they physically move their head to look at the right place on the fretboard.
They will nail the changes every time.
4) Not focussing
They disengage their brain and go onto autopilot. Give them a new challenge. If they are playing a longer piece, or improvising, call out the changes as they go.
Get a bit on the motivational side and tell them to focus.
If they are working on a specific exercise for 2 minutes, shout out what it is they are doing every 20 seconds or so.
5) General tension and posture problems
All self taught students have problems holding the guitar properly and using too much tension.
The best resources on this aspect of the guitar are from Jamie Andreas, with Guitar Principles.
There Are Two Aspects to Playing Guitar
There are always two aspects involved with playing guitar.
The mechanical, and the conceptual.
The mechanical deals with how students move their hands on the instrument.
The conceptual deals with how they are thinking.
Most teachers only every focus on the mechanical aspect of playing.
You can help students a LOT by helping them work on the conceptual aspect of their playing.
It’s actually really easy to do.
First, read this article on why neck diagrams are important. It helps lay the groundwork.
3 Examples of the conceptual aspect of learning guitar
1) The conceptual side of rhythm
Often, when a student is struggling with a rhythm, it is not moving their hands that is difficult, it is getting their brain wrapped around the rhythm.
Their brain can’t process the rhythm properly.
Have them put the guitar down, and tap the rhythm on the table, or clap it.
This allows their brain to focus purely on the rhythm, and not waste brain power on the mechanical side of it.
Once they can clap it, re-introduce the mechanical side of playing guitar, slowly.
They now have to strum the rhythm on a single chord, or pick the rhythm on a single note.
Once they can do that, now they can switch to the whole chord progression, lead line or whatever.
Whenever I have a student struggling with a rhythm, I have them put down the guitar and get the hang of clapping it.
2) The conceptual side of scales
When it comes to learning scales, the thing students struggle with is not playing the scale, it’s remembering the scale.
Have them draw out a neck diagram of the scale 20 times.
Or even better, give them the notes of the scale, how to arrange the notes on the strings, and tell them to draw out the diagram.
For example, give them the notes for an A minor pentatonic scale (A C D F G), and tell them they have to put two notes on each string. Let them sit there for 10 minutes figuring out the scale.
Start you class every week for a month where they draw the pattern out again.
You will be surprised at how quickly they learn it.
3) The conceptual side of improvising
When it comes to improvising, a lot of students struggle with being creative.
There is a reason for this.
Their hands are so busy trying to discover every note in the scale, that the creative part of their brain doesn’t have a chance to catch up.
Their mental process is hypnotised by:
“OH MY GOD WHERE IS THE NEXT NOTE IN THE SCALE AAAAH”.
So how do you over come this?
Have them put their guitars down. Their hands cannot touch their guitar. They close their eyes.
You play the chord progression, or play it on a looper or whatever, repeatedly for 2 minutes.
During that time, they have to sing along in their head to the chord progression.
Then, give them a few minutes to figure out what they just wrote in their head, on their guitar.
Have them play it over the chord progression. Give them a few minutes of playing over the chord progression – it’s going to take them a little while to get the idea from their head to their fingers.
Once they get the hang of their idea… you do the process again.
Tell them to close their ideas, sing their idea in their head, and this time… make it 5% better. Just 5%.
You can go through this process several times.
You will find they instantly become more creative in their playing. They may even surprise themselves.
You will also find that one person sings out loud (there’s always one), so politely tap them on the shoulder and say “dude, sing it in your head!”.
You can run a whole group class for an hour using this idea.
Practicalities – How Much Space Do You Need, Insurance and What Determines Your Income
Logistics – how much space do you need?
This is something you want to think about.
When you get started, you can teach 1-2-1 lessons from where you live. You don’t need much space.
If you want to start doing group lessons, again, you can get away without too much space.
If you want to grow to a serious size business, you will need more space. Maybe you will need parking too?
You can look at local schools – they will often rent out rooms to make extra money.
Community centres and churches will rent out space.
Insurance and Legal
If you are a sole trader, then it might be worth joining the musicians union in the UK.
They give you public liability insurance and also legal advice.
It costs £15/mo (or near enough) and is a pretty good deal for what you get.
The downside is that they post you socialist propaganda… but you can always put that straight in the trash.
It’s worth looking into insurance and legal for your situation.
What Determines Your Income?
Your income will be based on how many students you teach and at what price.
What they can afford to pay, and how many people there are who are willing to pay that, will depend on the demographics of where you live.
If you live in central London, you can charge £50/hour for a private lesson (if you have experience). You could probably charge close to that, per person, for group lessons too.
If you are teaching in a school in the suburbs, you might only make £15/hour.
If you have 5 people in a room, each paying you £30/hour to be there, you make £150 per hour.
Quick Start Guide to Getting Started Teaching Guitar as Fast as Possible
If you are new to teaching and want to get started fast, you can find some teaching agencies.
They will pay you more per hour than a day job, but not as much as you can make working for yourself – but they find the students for you.
It’s a good way to get started and start getting some experience.
You have to travel a lot and the quality of student is variable, but you get started.
The marketing systems I would put in place first are:
- Make a Facebook Business Page
- Que up several months of statuses to post automatically for you.
- Start running Facebook ads. You can run these as cheap as £1/day.
- Find all local directories and get yourself a free listing – DON’T pay for premium listings
- Build a website
I found the website to be the most effective way for getting new students
Why students stay with you
There are two reasons students will stay with you long term:
- They like you
- They learn new stuff
And as a bonus, if you run group classes, students will form friendships and enjoy being part of the group and seeing their friends at guitar classes.
A lot of guitar teachers are absolutely terrible, and make a living just because their students like them. Which is crazy.
If you help your students learn new stuff, they will stay with you long term.
If you help your students do things they did not think was possible, and help them make some new guitar friends while they do that… then they will stay with you forever.
Having students continue to study with you long term is key to turning teaching guitar from being a nice side money make to a full time income.
A lot of my students have studied with me for years… because:
- They improve
- They have fun (most of the time!)
- They like me
- They made friends in the group classes
Teaching guitar can be a great way to make some extra cash and even a full time living, if that’s what you want to do.
There is more to it than what I’ve written here, but, this covers a lot of the basics that you need to get started.
This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive guide, more of a ‘best of’ and useful things I wish I had known when I was getting started.