Tea-cher, the one who makes the tea.

Alfred Tanuwidjaja
5 min readSep 19, 2020


To teach, you don’t have to be good at what you do.

I am a guitar instructor.
I teach privately and in schools.
Sometimes, I teach one student at a time.
Sometimes, I teach a group of 3.
Sometimes, I teach a class of 40 screaming kids.

Over the decade, I have seen outstanding guitar players who graduated from renowned schools, top of their classes and also performed with celebrities but… they can’t teach. I have seen guitar players who know nothing much but, they have a large pool of students under them.
Weird huh?

Let me tell you a little more about myself.

I was looked down upon most of the time when I started playing the guitar. I sucked at it and, I still do. One day, I decided that enough is enough and headfirst into being a damn good guitar player.
I needed to teach.
Yes, needed.
There is no way in hell I am going to allow others to go through what I went through. We all have start somewhere and, we suck. I mean, the fundamentals are super important. The earlier stages of guitar learning are super important. These stages determine your commitment to how much you want to progress as a guitar player. But, because of some dick who gave you the taste of being a failure from the start, you gave up your dreams of being the next Taylor Swift.

Level yourself with your student.

Put away your relevant degree/masters and take 10 steps back.
Put yourself in your student’s shoes.
Now, this is where it gets tough…
Everything becomes brand new.
You have to speak, act and play like them. Fanciful terms, elegant finger work or the rockstar attitude will not work anymore. Instead, you have to be very gentle because anything out of the ordinary will scare them. You are walking on a thin line. Sounds scary right? Well, it is not.

What I always do. Work backwards.

Everyone picks up a hobby or something for a reason. Whether it is temporary or long-term, it doesn’t matter. Find out what it is first, before starting or planning your class.

“Hello, Natasha! Why do you want to pick up the guitar?”
WAIT! Dig deeper. Take the lead this time. Be human.

“Hello, Natasha! Of all the beautiful types of musical instruments all over the world, what made you choose this cute little pink guitar?”
“Hmmm, let’s paint this picture together. Say, five months down the road with my guidance, what or who do you see yourself as?”
“Do you want to be like Taylor Swift, performing on large stages with albums of her own or do you see yourself more of a Youtube singer with fans all over the world?”

Most of them pick up the instrument for a reason and it is my job as a teacher to know more. Do not be afraid to lead or open up wider perspectives for them. Now I know that Natasha aspires to be like Taylor Swift or any other similar artist, my fun begins. Do more. Teach more. Teach life. Do more.
Work backwards.

She wants to perform.

I will get her a guitar strap and correct her standing posture.
I will get her to practice in front of the mirror and smile.
Her mirrored image will be what the audiences are looking at.
She can’t be staring down at the neck of the guitar or the floor most of the time. The audiences don’t want to see that too!
*If I follow the teaching syllabus and not know more about her, she would be missing out on this very important lesson*

She loves Taylor Swift.

I will dig up some easy to play Taylor Swift songs, teach her the chords and get her to strum along with the actual song. With this in play, the student’s interest will skyrocket and motivate her to want to learn more. Most of the teachers begin their lessons by introducing chords or other theory buddies. Yes, you can do that but, it will bore the shit out of them in the long run. Why?
APPLICATION. If you do not have an application ready, it will be super tough to tie them down. Instead, let them have the feel of “lip-syncing” to a real song first, in this case, “lip-strumming.” Once they are really happy and interested, break down the songs and start to teach them the proper way of holding the chords, the theory behind it and Taylor Swift’s approach to songwriting. This is a very good method to improve yourself too. Now, you can dig deeper into the structure of the song, different variations to play it, improvisations and singing along to it too!

You don’t need a huge bag of tricks or the “know it all” attitude to teach.
You just need to relate and apply. Bring the joy to them first before anything else. Once the joy is there, everything falls into place. Boring chords will turn into shiny diamonds — more chords equal to more songs!
Boring music theory lessons will turn into a world of composing — more musical knowledge equal to more experimentation!

Lastly, be honest.

If you don’t know how to play the song or answer your student’s questions, tell them the truth.
“Ah, good question! I’ve never thought about that. Tell you what, why don’t you practice this first over the weekend and I’ll do my research and answer your question next week!”
Teachers are not perfect beings. You don’t have to always be right or have the “MR.KNOWITALL” attitude.
We are still learning our craft. We are still trying to perfect our craft.
Most of the time, the newbies are the ones with a wider perspective. While we are busy focusing on our path to become better at our craft, we fail to see what is surrounding us but, they do.

This is the beauty of it all.
We teach one another.
We better one another.

Dear students, thank you.

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