Learning guitar takes time, patience, and most of all, practice. But so many guitar students begin with enthusiasm and quit in frustration.

The David Hart’s G4 Guitar Method succeeds where traditional one-on-one lessons often fail. With its systematic teaching method, goal-oriented approach, and emphasis on playing, this method ensures that students remain engaged, motivated, and on track. It’s no surprise that G4, which began in a suburban music school, has enjoyed worldwide acclaim from students and teachers alike.

We invited David to chat with Musical U about why and how the G4 Guitar Method works for both students and teachers, and the secret of the 80/20 principle for learning guitar efficiently.

David, thank you very much for joining us at Musical U to share your teaching insights from the G4 Guitar method. Could you please start by telling us a little bit about yourself as a musician, an entrepreneur, and what brought you to create the G4 Guitar Method?

Thank you, Christopher. I’d love to.

I started learning music as a young teen – drums and guitar. I taught myself guitar for two years, struggled, and then went on to find an excellent teacher, who inspired me to be a teacher as well. He took me from being a hacker to a professional player – and he did it in less than a year.

I became a professional musician for around 15 years, teaching as a side gig. As time went on, I focused more and more on my teaching.

Learn2Play music school logoIn my mid-twenties, I developed my teaching into a school, bringing in other teachers. I ended up selling my first business in my early twenties. About a year later, I took a bit of time off, came back to teaching, and built up another school, which I sold to my brother, who has had great success with it as well. It’s still well-established – it’s called Learn 2 Play Music, and it’s one of the biggest suburban music schools in Sydney.

I launched G4 Guitar Method in 2005. It was a huge success – I opened five schools within two years! We had literally thousands of students enrolling. I sold them off as franchises and expanded into the global G4 Guitar network. We now have over 50 locations around the world.

Wow, fantastic! You went from starting a school, to creating the G4 Guitar Method, to franchising globally. How did this shift come about? Was it about changing the approach? Was it about formalizing what you’d been doing? Was it purely the business model changing?

The importance of playing can’t be stressed enough. I’ve studied this very closely: in a typical lesson with a teacher who’s not very organized, the student plays for about 20% of that lesson. So 80% of the time, they’re not even playing!

 

That’s a lot of lost time.

I think a lot of it was because of frustration. I see music schools whose owners employ ten or more teachers, and they’re struggling to make decent money because it’s just not a very profitable model.

We’re not lawyers, we’re not surgeons – we can’t be charging people $300 an hour for a music lesson. It’s extremely difficult to charge a fair, competitive rate and pay the teacher fairly while still making some money as a music school owner.

A music school is essentially selling a music teacher’s time. The traditional music school model relies on finding the lowest-payable teacher that would give a reasonable result, and I wasn’t comfortable with that. I wanted good teachers, but good teachers cost money, and you need to therefore charge more, and so forth.

Financially, I did okay as a music school owner. But money aside, there was a lack of freedom in the job, and I had to dedicate many hours to managing over 20 teachers. 12-hour days were not uncommon. While testing and trying many different ways and trying to get the business to adjust, I realized that there was no evidence anywhere of this model working.

I realized that only group teaching models work well with music schools because they give you leverage. And I learned that group teaching is not only better for the teacher, it’s better for the student.

How does group teaching give you leverage?

David HartOne-on-one lessons are like a famous performer like AC/DC or Madonna or Beyonce playing to one person at a time for half an hour. They’re simply not going to make a lot of money. However, when these big performers play to 50,000 people at a time, charging everybody from $50 to $150 for a ticket, they make a lot of money. It’s just a better business plan.

That’s where I understood the leverage needs to come in.

When I finally sold my Learn2Play Music School back in 2003, I reworked the plan sheet from the bottom up. I’d already been doing some group lessons in my previous music school. This time it was going to be group lessons only: five students for half an hour. I implemented that model, and boom. I was making $200,000 a year within nine months, and it was just mind blowing. It went far beyond my expectations.

What’s even more important, is that the students in our small group lessons were learning better, faster, stronger – and very happy with the results.

Fantastic! It sounds like a triple win: it gave you more freedom by getting you out of that 12-hour day managerial drudge, allowed you to pay your teachers, and provide a better learning experience for the student – all in a more effective model. It sounds like everyone wins, compared with the traditional model.

Now when your teaching and learning inside the G4 Guitar Method, what’s different, compared with the typical one-on-one lesson at the local music school?

First of all, when you teach in groups, you can’t teach like a traditional private teacher.

A traditional private teacher is what I call more like consulting. The teacher asks what you’d like to learn, and you mention a song. The teacher then says, “Okay great, let’s go from the beginning. To play that song, you’re going to play these chords, in these rhythms. I’ll teach you a little bit about what they mean as we go along.” Gradually, they put those bits and pieces together and they learn the songs.

I used this method for many years while teaching privately. To make it viable in terms of income, I needed about 50 students. We would have a half-hour lesson, and the first ten minutes would be spent asking, “Well, what did we do last week?” The lesson was half-over before I even started to teach them anything. A lot of time was lost.

To me, that was a very inefficient way of teaching.

When I started developing my method in 2001, I immediately saw the difference between what I was doing and what most private teachers do: I had a system, a specific way that things worked, and that was critical.

What is the importance of having a system?

I often use the analogy of planes and pilots to explain the G4 Guitar Method: the reason that planes are the safest way to travel is because they follow a system. The pilots have a series of checklists that they follow very strictly.

We have a similar checklist system, so we do a much better job of tracking the students’ progress – the skills they have to learn, the way they learn them, all the things that we need.

We don’t write anything down – everything is printed and organized in a folder. The checklists track where each student is up to, so there’s no need to ask, “What did we do last week?”

We’re not wasting any time on rehashing, so we’re really stripping away all the wastage. This smart use of time is the 80/20 principle, which is what we base our system on.

Tell us about the 80/20 principle. How does it help in learning guitar efficiently?

The 80/20 is about focusing on the skills and the exercises that are going to create the most progress.

The importance of playing can’t be stressed enough. I’ve studied this very closely: in a typical lesson with a teacher who’s not very organized, the student plays for about 20% of that lesson. So 80% of the time, they’re not even playing!

That’s a lot of lost time.

If I can just get that to 40%, then I’ve just doubled the progress of your student. Now, what if I can get it to 80%?

That’s what we aim for – for students to be playing for 80% of the lesson.

That then transfers to home, because if they’ve practiced and worked on something in the lesson for more time, they have a better idea what they’re supposed to be doing when they get home.

G4 guitar method logo and linkYou see these teachers who talk about theory, and concepts, and ideas, and whatever. What about the playing? This is what they’re here to do, it’s the skills, the physical skills, so let’s spend more time on that. Just by doing that, students progress faster.

Keeping this 80/20 ratio has far reaching implications on what we teach and how we teach it.

With the G4 Guitar method, we assume that students want to learn to play popular music – that’s the majority. We start off by teaching the chords that are most common: E minor, G, C, D, and A minor. Then you’re going to learn the C major, G major, and A minor scales, as they’re the most common.

Learning these common things first helps greatly, as students can then connect it to songs that they want to learn to play. This immediacy is one part of the 80/20.

The other part is the lesson itself. We structure the lessons minute by minute, so we get the most out of each one. We train the teachers in how to work with students – you know, students who ask too many questions, for example.

This is part of the method, the system. We also ensure that the materials that we provide answer as many anticipated questions as possible, so we can focus on what matters: playing!

That’s very interesting. Now, this may be a provocative question: a lot of people these days push for student-led learning and very personalized education where it’s adapted to fit the student’s needs. Isn’t that at odds with the kind of systematic process you just described?

Great question! Student-led learning is where students come to their lesson and dictate exactly how and what they learn so the experience will match what they want and become enjoyable.

This makes complete sense on the surface, but when you dig deeper, you realize that it doesn’t actually all add up.

Take the classic saying by Henry Ford (which Steve Jobs had pinned up on his wall!): “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for faster horses.” In other words, Henry Ford knew that people didn’t really know what they needed. They wanted to get from A to B faster, but what they would have thought was get me a faster horse so I can get there quicker – they weren’t thinking about cars and automobiles.

So how does that relate to music?

Here’s an analogy that musicians can relate to. When you think about the most successful bands, did they go out and ask the audience, “What music would you like us to write?”

Or are they the bands that said, “We’re just going to write the best music that we love, and hopefully other people will love it as well”?

That’s the approach that we take. We created a method that we love. I love it, and the G4 teachers that work with me love this method. We love the way it works, the structure, everything. The method is not just thought about from the point of view of the student, but also from the viewpoint of the teacher. We ask ourselves, “Will the teacher enjoy administering this method?”

If a student or a teacher comes in and says, “I don’t like this – I just want to learn to play this or that, instead of following your method,” then they’re not right for our method, and our method isn’t right for them – we’re selling sushi and they want a hamburger. And that’s okay. We’re selling what we sell, and we’re the best at what we sell.

It’s been interesting for us at Musical U to explore this whole topic. In reality, there are a couple of really crucial pieces there. One is trying to tailor the big picture vision exactly to the students, so that they stay inspired and know where they’re going. The second is flexibility, so whenever they get stuck, there is a route forward. I imagine with the G4 method, you’ve got plenty of opportunities to adapt the lessons to fit the student’s progress.

Similar to what you said, we’ve also realized that very few students are self-directed learners and have the insight and perspective to plan their own training. In fact, what we’ve tried to do is keep that flexibility but offer a lot more guidance. As you’ve described, there’s enormous value in having a proven system that we know is going to deliver results. And ultimately, it’s the results that the students care about.

They want to get to the destination. You don’t want to go to a patient-directed surgeon! You what the surgeon to know what they were doing.

And most people would choose to have a successful surgery, rather than the surgery that’s fun in the moment, but ultimately doesn’t pan out.

Exactly, so I think it’s really important to understand that there are definitely better ways of doing things than others.

Another analogy that I use is this: a good chef will not cook your steak well-done. They sear it on both sides: “There it is, that’s how I cook it.”

“Oh but I want it…  ”

“Sorry, I’m a Master Chef. This is how I cook steak. If you don’t like it, there’s a restaurant down the road where you can tell them how you want your steak, but not here.” You understand the difference there?

Absolutely! I’d love to dig into a bit more is what makes the G4 guitar method a trusted system that delivers results. What is it that makes the G4 guitar method more efficient and effective for your students?

red Stratocaster guitar G4 guitar methodA lot of the methods you see on the shelf at a music store were created 20, 30, 40, or even 50 years ago. For example, the Mel Bay Modern Guitar Method hasn’t really changed since it was created a long time ago. Nor has it been actually tested on students.

The first volume of the book sold over 10 million copies. We can say that’s a huge success, which it is. But look at how many Volume Two sold – most people don’t even know what the second one looks like. They can’t even recognize the cover. So what does that tell you?

And very few people actually completed book one in the first place. The method itself caused a lot of students to quit, because it progresses in big hurdles. A more logical way to do, of course, it is in small steps, and to gradually increase the intensity.

The funny thing is that the Mel Bay Method formula was followed up by most of the other major methods on the market. When Mel Bay created the format, nobody questioned it. Nobody asked, “Is this working?”

That’s the difference with G4: we’ve tested our method rigorously. We’ve asked ourselves, “Does this work? Do students quit?”

There’s something called the Goldilocks zone, or the “sweet spot”, where there is enough of a challenge for students to be engaged, but it’s not so difficult that they get discouraged.

We constantly ask ourselves: how do we keep it so that students stay in the game? How do we make it so that they want to keep progressing?

So we make sure we’re always progressing as well, that we’re always improving. This is the difference between us and traditional guitar methods. Mel Bay is the same as it was 40 years ago, whereas G4 isn’t even the same as it was three weeks ago.

Can you give us an example of how you have reworked the G4 Guitar Method to improve students’ experience?

The most recent way we’ve improved our system is by breaking bigger lessons into concrete checklists. For example, we have eight check boxes for each skill. Say a particular level has six chords to learn. For each of the six chords that you learn to play, we tick a new box, and bang – you’ve done that. Then we do scales; once you finish, again, you tick the box.

G4 guitar method logo and linkThis keeps people engaged in real progress. By associating a checkbox with each individual task (for example, one chord = one checkbox), we’re creating a situation where students are going to be ticking boxes off very frequently. Whether it be a chord, a scale, or an arpeggio, there’ll be something that gets learned, and the student’s sense of progress will be tangible.

Making the Most of Lessons

By allotting maximum hands-on time for guitar practice, creating a support network through group lessons, and motivating students with tangible demonstrations of their achievements, the G4 Guitar Method ensures that students stick with their practice and continue to progress faster than their traditionally-trained counterparts.

You can apply the tried-and-true concepts of the G4 Guitar Method to your own practice. Try structuring your learning in terms of mini-milestones and maximizing the time you spend actually playing. As you experience the results, check out one of the 50+  G4 Guitar School locations worldwide, or try the method online yourself!

 

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