Guitar Performance: How to Choose a Guitar School

by Chris Holm


There are many types of guitar players, and many disciplines and styles of guitar playing. There are many career choices that you may be aiming for, and to make your education as conducive to the direction you which to pursue, some research is well advised.

Is it possible to have a career in music without a degree?

Of course, but do you know someone who has a career without a degree? Ask them how long it took to be making a living at it. Ask them how they supported themselves and their music until that lucky day came. Ask them if they would rather have had a degree that would have let them teach guitar, or do studio work, as their day job, as opposed to waiting tables, or telemarketing.

No one will argue that "luck" is a big factor in the music world. No one will argue that an education alone is your key to success, and personal ability, doesn't matter.

But, the music world is highly competitive, and few really shine. The more you do for yourself in preparation, the better you will be equipped to make your way in the music world.

An education is much more than learning. It is building relationships, making contacts, and gaining knowledge in areas you might not have developed on your own, making you much more versatile, and the easier it will be to find your career path.

Early Education

There are many avenues for a guitar education. They start as personal lessons at someone's house, to lessons from an institution like a music store, to folk schools, to rock programs, to associate's college degrees in Jazz and Classical, to undergraduate, and master's degree's.

Prior To Secondary Education

It's rare to find courses in Classical and Jazz at your local high school. There may be extracurricular programs, but all high schools vary. With the Guitar not being a traditional instrument of learning, you will have different situations at different primary and secondary schools.

Traditionally, Middle Schools and High Schools have orchestra, symphony and/or concert bands. Your grades and what you learn in those years paves your way into college. However, with the guitar, you may not have the same formal training opportunities.

Your best bet is to find whatever kind of lessons you can as early as possible. You may want to decide your education based on this. You should consider factors such as...

Will there be try outs for college? and, Are there beginners levels?

This all depends on what type of education you're after. The more prestigious the school, the harder to get in and the better you'll have to be for acceptance.

You should contact the schools and speak to faculty in that department regarding what your options are.

Considering Your Future

If you want to teach higher education, you will definitely need a higher education. If you want to write, you should ask about their music theory, and composition courses. If you want to do your own recording, you may want to see if they offer music production classes.

Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself, which may help you decide which schools are best for you:

  • Do you know what you want to be playing for the rest of your life?
  • Do you want to be versatile and be able to find work in a wide array of possibilities?
  • Do you only like one aspect of guitar performance, and want to have a focused training?
  • Do you want to be able to teach, to write music, and to record?

Higher Education

Generally, a music education is more concentrated than a traditional education. The Guitar is unique as well. Prerequisites are less with the guitar than symphonic and band instruments because it is a less traditional instrument.

Four Year Schools

Many four-year schools have their own schools for music, with fewer required courses than a traditional major in liberal arts. There usually are required basic courses, but not always, like other degrees. You may want to consider this if you're not sure that music is the only thing you want to do: Your degree may not be as versatile as other degrees.

Also, there may be other forms of music you're required to learn, such as piano. Many individuals looking for just a guitar degree have difficulty with the idea of taking theory tests on piano or having to develop a proficiency on piano, in general.

Associate Gegrees

Junior Colleges are a good choice, if you are uncertain about your future. You can receive an accredited education with transferable credits, and explore other options, such as music production and management. Generally, the same higher level courses can be found in Jazz and Classical Guitar. There are also schools that specialize in modern formats, like contemporary rock. By starting out at a community college or specialized institute, you get a chance to solidify your choice in your future occupation at a substantially lower price.

Some community colleges only offer guitar as an introduction to a four-year school, and not as a stand alone associates degree. You may wish to inquire about this if it concerns you.


If you're just a hobby level player, or are sure that you only want to play guitar, and know exactly what you have in mind, there are lessons. There are private lessons, and more institutional lessons such as at your local music store.

With private lessons, you can learn only one style, or many. Each instuctor will vary, and his/her credentials should be investigated. Ask to speak with other students as well. Normally you're not locked into any contract, and can switch to another instructor, if you wish to learn another style, or just don't feel it's working out. The drawback is that it can be slow, maybe only a couple hours a week, as apposed to every day, many hours a day, as is the case with higher education.

Choosing a Program: Things To Consider

Degrees Offered

Many schools don't offer a guitar degree, per se, but a great many offer a degree in music performance, composition, or jazz studies with an emphasis in guitar.

Again, this may require piano abilities, and a lot of theory work, not just guitar training. You may wish to get the full details before proceeding.

On a graduate level, you can find Master's degrees in Jazz Music studies and Master of Music with a Guitar emphasis. Music Business Management, Music Education, and Doctorate of Musical Arts are common options, but they may be less specific to guitar.

School Costs and Financial Aid

If your tuition money has been saved up or provided for, you just need to find out your tuition prices, and they vary from school to school. But if you're going to need assistance withdefrayiong the costs of school - including tuition, room/board, fees, and supplies (sheet music, guitar strings, etc.) - financial aid options are very important.

You may find it best to get your degree with as little school-debt as possible. The Financial Aid Department knows the best way to bring you through your education with as many varied avenues of support as possible. This may come in the form of scholarships, grants, work-study employment (on-campus student jobs), and/or internships.

But often a substantial loan figures into the equation, and when you leave school, you have to start paying it off. If you're fairly certain of your income after graduation, then you may be safe as far as paying off your debt. If not, remember that those payments may not be cheap. A couple gigs a week may keep you in guitar strings, rent and food, but leave very little else.

If you're serious about not taking on more debt than you can handle, check with the financial aid counselors at the schools you are considering. If they can help you, then that school may be within your financial reach. If not, you may wish to think it through.


Again, prerequisites vary and are very nontraditional compared to other musical instruments. Check with the department or the chair of the guitar program for information. The most common situation is a try-out where your skills will be evaluated.

Another enrollment consideration is student-to-teacher ratio. The big music schools have a prestigious reputation, and for good reason. A degree from a prestigious school is something that will reflect positively on you throughout your career.

However, you may find that smaller schools have fewer students per teacher, and you may receive more personal attention.


Here are a few things to consider when deciding on the best location for you:

  • Personal preferences, like climate and the social opportunities.
  • Extracurricular situations, like a city with vibrant music scene where you'll be able to play out or play in a band on the side.
  • Internships that the school may offer and its connectedness to the various music businesses in the area.

When you factor these in, with the actual quality of your education, you will come up with the most ideal educational experience.

Other Considerations

A few more questions to ask:

  • How much practice space is there? How many rehearsal halls, and what is the amount of students using them? How modern and up to date are the facilities?
  • For classical, you have less to worry about, but for jazz or rock, your dorm may not be an option for practicing, and if you're required to take piano, will you have adequate rehearsal time?
  • Is the school accredited?
  • Are your credits at a community college transferable?


Musicians who rely only on their natural abilities often find frustration in the many years of waiting for a life-supporting career.

You may find yourself in jobs where you are surrounded by other artists, but the pay is terrible. You may find a decent wage, but you're too exhausted to live your double life as a musician.

An education will provide you with many skills that are helpful to finding many jobs in the field, not just your dream job, but a financially-viable, reasonable position that fits comfortably with your performing. You may also be able to more easily network with other musicians.

A well-rounded education can provide you with the ability to play in other styles besides your favorite, allowing you to play out, get stage time, and get your name out there while you're developing what you really love.

Chris Holm is a Music Writer, Guitarist, Studio Bassist, Multi-instrumentalist, Producer, Manager, and Recording Engineer for the band Cardinal Points. He is also a guitar builder hobbyist, musical activist, and radio host for of an internet radio station at

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