Looking for a way to make money with music? Like many other young musicians, 21-year old Dylan Welsh thought performing was everything. Then he discovered teaching. In How to Teach (and Learn) Guitar, Dylan described his fresh, ear-heavy teaching style. Here he shares his tips on teaching online and his winning strategies for teaching beginners.

Q: Teaching others is a big part of your professional career these days—online as well as the in-person. Tell me a little more about that because I feel like it’s still a brave new world landscape. Some teachers are having great success online, and others will tell terrible tales of webcam problems and lag making it impossible. How has the experience been for you?

That’s something I started recently and it’s been working out great. I was a little on edge about doing it for awhile. Then I studied with Tim Lerch—he teaches a lot of Skype lessons. I saw him teach a lot of Skype lessons and I thought, “Well, that looks like something I could do.” I saw his set up and realized that as long as I have everything set up fine on my end, I’m good.

I have a Skype meeting with every new student before we have our first lesson—for one, to introduce myself, but also to make sure that their equipment is going to be capable of handling an hour long session. That’s important.

Even if the problems are on their end, it’s going to make the whole process difficult. You’re better off telling someone, “Hey look, I’m sorry, but you’re going to need faster internet or you’re going to need a better webcam before this is even possible. I’m sorry.”— rather than trying to fight with the equipment.

Q: Some people say that you can’t teach beginners online. They’re at that early stage of literally needing to know where to put their fingers. Can that be done online without developing bad habits?

I have thought a lot about that. That is a difficult thing to navigate, especially because of the way the connection works. You can’t actually play with your student at the same time, because of the lag time. That’s one of the main drawbacks.

If you’re going to teach a beginner over Skype, you have to be really good at looking at the visual cues, and knowing what good technique looks like, and being able to recognize a bad habit cropping up.

They don’t need to go spend a bunch of money on a webcam, but if they have a really bad webcam or they’re using their phone camera and it’s not very good, it’s really not even going to be worth it.

→ Learn more about the pros and cons of online music lessons.

Q: That’s great advice. Good to hear your perspective on that. Thanks.

Your website talks about how you have a particular way to help beginners have fun and start enjoying the instrument as soon as possible. That’s something I believe is really important. I’ve seen far too many beginner musicians put into the grade system and given a repertoire they’re not interested in. It can be so frustrating and disheartening for them. I’d love to hear about your philosophy there, and how you go about that. How do you inspire a beginner with passion for their instrument?

I’m 21 years old. I’m fortunate enough to remember back when I was first starting. I remember, so vividly, my musically passionate mentors that cared for me and inspired me. For me, it was always one song. Like with my friends, there was always one song, and once we could play that one song, that’s when it crossed the threshold into being fun. I remember very distinctly the first time someone taught me the main riff to “Day Tripper” by the Beatles. Boom-do-do-do-do-do… you know?

Once I was able to actually play that, it was so much fun. I remember sitting in my room for a half-hour straight and playing that riff over and over again like a human loop station.

I focus on teaching beginners like I learned. We hone in on what music they’re interested in. Then we see what we can do to start playing that music as soon as possible. That’s the thing. Once music becomes fun, it’s something that you’re going to do without thinking about it, and without having to set a timer on your practice log or anything like that.

At least that’s how it was for me. Once I started enjoying music, I started practicing for hours. Not necessarily because anyone told me to, but just because I was having so much fun.

Working with the student on what they like and what they’re enjoying is really essential, and also getting feedback from them. Actually ask them if they’re actually interested in the things you’re working on. “Is this something you want to continue pursuing or would you rather move on to something different?” That’s really important: open transparent communication and—especially for beginners—focusing on things that are going to make them want to practice.

Q: I can see how that’s a great way to begin the student-teacher relationship.
I know you do emphasize some things which, for a lot of students might be baggage rather than the fun stuff—listening skills, ear training and music theory, learning at least the bare essentials. What do you do then if your student’s just showing no interest in that and you know, as the teacher, as the more experienced player, that they’re going to need those skills and they are worth spending time on?

dylan-headshot-by-kari-taylorEvery student’s a little different. The whole of time I spend pushing that on them, I’m trying to read them to see if they’re actually being engaged by it or not. The key is to teach the music first, and learn the essences of music from the context of songs that we work on.

Once students learn a few songs, they begin to see the common thread that runs through them—chord progressions, scales, any music theory idea. When they find out that knowing these concepts makes it easier to do more of what they want, they’re willing to put some time in.

Eventually, they even start to enjoy the music theory stuff in its own right. And since we do a lot by ear, the interest in ear training can develop the same way.

Thank you Dylan! Your solid, student-centered teaching approach, along with the other aspects of your career, continue to inspire us here at Musical U.

Dylan Welsh has already accomplished so much in his 21 years. Enjoy his story of his musical life as well as terrific music career advice in Choosing Music, and more guitar teaching and learning tips here. And you can find out even more about Dylan, his teaching, performing, and studio work on his website.

And remember, teaching—online or in person—can be a rewarding addition to your own music career.

Learn more about the pros and cons of teaching, and taking online music lessons.

Photos of Dylan by Kari Taylor