ASK Teacher Alan

Hi everyone, welcome to the Q & A page. If you have a question, please drop it in the comments box below. Once I see it, I will add the question to this page and give my answer. Let's begin!

Q1: Do you teach electric, bass and classical guitar?

Ans: No. Only acoustic guitar.

Q2: Do you travel to student's home for lesson?

Ans: No. All students come to my place for lessons. I do not wish to charge you extra for transport, time and opportunity cost.

Q3: Did you design your own lesson plan?

Ans: Yes I do. They will be given to every student when they start their first lesson.

Q4: Do I have to bring my guitar for lesson?

Ans: No. I do provide it here so that it will be less troublesome for you. However if you want to bring yours, please feel free. Usually students who drive do that.

Q5: Is learning guitar difficult?

Ans: Good question, try it and you will know the answer. It differs for every individual. I think you are the best judge.

Q6: What is the right mindset/approach to learning guitar?

Ans: It starts with an interest. When you decide to learn, it is pure commitment, discipline and practice daily. There will be many challenges along the way, that is when your character will be tested.

Q7: What are the common problems your students face while learning?

Ans: A few. 

1) Finger strength and flexibility
2) Psychomotor skills (Play and sing at the same time)
3) Bar chord technique and strength

Q8: How do I overcome them?

Ans: Only revealed during lessons proper.

Q9: Will my fingers feel pain when pressing the strings?

Ans: Yes. I will give you conditioning exercises to feel the right amount of pain. As time goes by, you get calluses and the pain will fade.

Q10: What kind of guitar would you recommend for a fresh beginner to start with?

Ans: Solid top guitar at least. OM or Concert shape for comfort.

Q11: How long do I need to learn to have a basic foundation?

Ans: 30-40 weeks (Completed Beginner program).

Q12: How long do I need to learn to have a good foundation?

Ans: Another 30-40 weeks (Completed Intermediate program) on top of completing Beginner program.

Q13: How long do I need to learn before I don't need a teacher?

Ans: It really depends on many factors as well as the student. If you are naturally more talented, you take lesser time. It also depends how far you wish to set your goals. Some are happy with just playing simple songs while some want to play like John Mayer. Both are right, so it is really what you want. If you have achieved your goals, I will tell you that you don't need lessons anymore. If what you want to learn is beyond my ability, I will also be honest enough to tell you that you need a better teacher.

Q14: How do I remember what I have learnt every lesson?

Ans: I will get you to record me playing and singing every song taught during lesson. This is for you to have something to "tag along" or "follow" when you practice at home. In the recording, you can hear my singing as well as guitar accompaniment. Your job is to follow closely as much as possible.

Q15: Is there a minimum age before you can learn guitar?

Ans: My requirement is 12 years old and above. I do not speak for other institutions and teachers as they would have their separate opinion. Let me explain from what I have observed through many years of teaching.

When pressing a chord on a guitar, it requires a significant amount of strength on the joints of your fingers. For a child below 12 learning guitar, I have observed most of them struggled to press chords properly. Their fingers are wobbly and could not withstand the amount of pressure required. When a chord is not properly pressed, your guitar would sound half muted. Thus the purpose of learning guitar is not achieved when you cannot get the chord to sound right.

Q16: How many students do you see per week?

Ans: 18 max. I don't take anything more than that because I do not want to stress myself out. This is because of my medical history of anxiety disorder. Stress is one of my main triggers. Once I hit my number, usually I will tell other potential students to wait for their turn until someone decides to stop lessons. My apologies if you are on the waiting list.

Q17: What happens during a trial lesson?

Ans: It is an opportunity for us to get to know each other a little more in an informal setting. After which I will present my lesson syllabus to you, explain and demonstrate what you will be learning. When that is done, I will take questions. You can ask me anything work related, so don't need paiseh, just ask whatever you want.

Just to add on, you do not need to feel obliged to take up lessons if you do not like my presentation after the trial lesson. As I have mentioned, it is REALLY free and no strings attached. If you are happy with the outcome of the trial lesson, please let me know so that I will follow up on you. If my schedule allows, I will assign you a possible day and time for lesson. If my schedule is full, I'm sorry to tell you that there is going be a waiting time.

Q18: What is your style in teaching?

Ans: Patient, encouraging and always believe. Help students see the rationale of doing what you tell them to. I am very patient towards slow learners and I don't believe anyone is stupid. That being said, even you are really down right slow, I will help you get past the finishing line so long as you don't give up. There is no need to feel inferior or ashamed because you might be good in something else which would make me look like a fool. An example is cooking. Kitchen is just not the place for me.

Q19: Why did you choose to teach guitar?

Ans: Guitar playing and teaching are God's gift to me. I want use them well to bless other people. Teaching value adds people.

Q20: How long have you been playing guitar?

Ans: Since 2002 in my poly days.

Q21: Why guitar and not other instruments?

Ans: I believe I'm destined to pick up this instrument. I'm attracted to it naturally and would spend time practicing without having someone tell me to do so. As for other instruments, no natural inclination to want to learn them.

Q22: How long have you been teaching guitar?

Ans: Since March 2010.

Q23: Have you ever thought about other jobs?

Ans: No. I'm happy with where I am now. I'm pretty easily contented. I chose simplicity of life over quality.

Q24: Do you have any music credentials and certificates?

Ans: Grade 5 Theory Cert by ABRSM, that's all.

Q25: How do you see yourself as compared to other teachers who are more certified?

Ans: I try not to. Comparison drives competition and it creates a divide. My intent is never to compete. I would rather focus on improving myself so that students will greater benefit. Teachers are not perfect. Sometimes we even have to admit that we don't know everything and that we are also learning as we teach. One thing I always remind myself, I didn't play/teach guitar to be better than someone else, but simply because I want to.

Every teacher have their strengths and limitations. It doesn't mean if I can play the guitar well, I can teach well. In my opinion, teaching is a different ball game. It focuses on delivery of the lesson and the method of instruction. It is also about understanding the students needs and identifying key areas for him/her to improve on. If I can sum it up, it would be observation and communication. If you can establish this, you build trust with your students. They will respond well to your method of teaching.

A good tree bears good fruits. If you want to know if the tree is good, look at the fruits.

Q26: What is your greatest satisfaction in teaching?

Ans: During guitar lessons, students begin to open up and share their problems they face in life. Issues like work stress, parenting problems or struggles they are going through. I wouldn't say this is a form of satisfaction. Rather, I'm glad they trust me enough and I am able to lend a listening ear. It shows that we have formed a connection of mutual trust. I believe in creating an environment where people feel safe to share their hearts and just to be themselves. In addition, I do believe healing begins from moment the problem is spoken.

Besides the above, I would be happy watching students play their "want to learn" songs with a smile on their faces. Knowing that even when they have stopped coming for lessons, they are still practicing on their own and doing well in life. Students who stayed in contact with me and maintain a good friendship together. 

Q27: Have you ever got angry or lost your temper with any student?

Ans: No. I hope it stays this way.

Q28: Do you intend to expand in future?

Ans: No, I like to keep things on a small and manageable scale.

Q29: Who is/are your favourite guitarist(s)?

Ans: John Mayer, Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits), David Gilmour (Pink Floyd).

Q30: What is/are your favourite guitar song(s)?

Ans: John Mayer - Neon, Dire Straits - Sultans of Swing, Pink Floyd - Comfortably Numb.

Q31: How many guitars do you have?

Ans: Max 7 at one time. Now I have 4.

Q32: Which guitar strings do you like best and why?

Ans: I have since tested the new D'Addario XS Phosphor Bronze (12-53) coated strings on multiple guitars, these are the strings I would recommend.

As to why, these are my personal opinion. First, it yields a overall more natural tone. It is not metallic as compared to its Elixir Phosphor Bronze (12-53) counterpart. Second, it is as corrosion resistant. After 6 months of use, colour degradation and corrosion is almost negligible with only a few small dark spots not obvious to the naked eye. Tone wise, it still has some life in it. Tuning stability is excellent, much better than its predecessor, the EXP 16. Third, it is a few bucks cheaper than Elixirs. I'm not sponsored or paid to promote these, however I always like to share good things.

Q33: How do you define your success?

Ans: It used to be numbers of course when I first started. As the years went by, I notice I gravitate towards finding the right students whom I can form a connection with. As a result the numbers will drop naturally because not all who comes here are accepted. However, I think it is more benefitting to find one who fits than many whom you can't connect with. Then you are just teaching for the sake of teaching, eventually you will burn out quickly. This is how I am wired, my personality and a form of uniqueness. Since I was made this way, I accept who I am and will not seek to change it.

Back to the question of success. I always ask my students if they are still happy coming here to have lessons despite of how their skills are. Students' happiness index is how I define my success. If they can give a resounding yes, I have done my job well. If they said no, I would advice them that it is no longer healthy to do something you are unhappy with. Maybe learning guitar is just not the right thing you are looking for.

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