I looked at these questions:

And am wondering on a similar topic.

I've re-started taking guitar lessons, with the goal to be able to play jazz music freely without having to know and practice the piece beforehand. So I want to learn improvisation, playing by ear, accompanying a soloist, etc...

Trouble is, I have 0 musical understanding. My ability can be summed up as: "Through repeated practice I can teach my fingers to do something that makes a guitar play music".


I started taking lessons with a fun teacher who really helped me get back into guitar playing, understanding equipment (I bought my first e-guitar with his help). He also gave me some nice pieces for level, and I learned to (slowly) read notes.

My life partner is a classical singer (opera sopran), and is also taking lessons, when we happened to talk about how I could possibly accompany her as a guitarist. She mentioned this to her teacher, who referred me to another guitar teacher who apparently has played a few concerts guitar/sopran duet.

So I went and said hello to this new teacher, and practiced for an hour together, after which he made a few suggestions for training, that included comments on my body position, scales, finger technique for right and left hand, Etudes, interval training, ... he said that if I want to be a good Jazz guitarist, I should first build a solid foundation in classical guitar.

My Dillemma:

I really like the new teacher's approach, since I feel that it addresses the basics hat I have never learned, and that he can guide me step by step specifically tailored to my lack training in certain abilities. Plus he also genuinely seems to be interested in me becoming a better guitarist. But he doesn't seem too interested in Jazz - I idolize music by Luiz Bonfa and Pat Metheny, not Segovia.

My old teacher on the other hand supports my goal, but there is only weak structure in my lessons and not much focus on fundamentals. It's kind of like self teaching and having someone to check you once a week. I think it would be really fun to practice improvisation with him, since I really like the way he plays and approaches music, but I honestly am not yet at the level where I feel comfortable improvising at all.

Additional Info: I practice at least an hour daily, currently alternating two classical days with two Jazz days. I'm also working on preparing to play with a Big Band, although I don't know if they will take me. At the moment I will continue with both teachers, but I haven't told my old teacher about the new one yet.

Options I'm considering:

  • Switching just to classical lessons, and practicing Jazz on my own (using Notes from the Big Band and three Jazz Booklets I have).
  • Continuing with both teachers at the same time, but I want them to be aware of this.


  • Should I continue with both teachers?
  • How do I tell my old teacher about the new teacher?
  • Perhaps this is best rephrased as two questions, but for me the one is strongly connected with the other. May 29, 2015 at 10:56
  • 1
    I wonder how many jazz guitarists have "a solid foundation in classical guitar"? It looks like you have more than one goal which seem to be in conflict. May 29, 2015 at 13:28
  • Have you discussed this with the teachers? Will either mind if you study technique with teacher 2, jazz improv with teacher 1?
    – Laurence
    May 29, 2015 at 13:37
  • @LaurencePayne Not yet, I'm a bit worried about telling my first teacher that I think I can learn something better with another. Although it is inevitable that I talk to him, I would like to be aware of how high might take this from his point of view. May 29, 2015 at 13:38
  • Re: "How do I tell my old teacher about the new teacher?" you may consider posting a version of this question to the Interpersonal Relationships SE site, where people often ask questions about how to have sticky conversations.
    – Max
    May 3, 2020 at 23:16

4 Answers 4


It appears as though you have stumbled into the fact that different teachers are appropriate for different levels of skill. Some teachers are fantastic for providing a strong foundation, but aren't able / interesting in wading into the loftier aspirations of their pursuit. Others are perfect for experimenting and for reaching far into the unknown, but are not at all interested in working on scales - it's boring for them. Others still are great at what they do, but are lousy teaching it.

As a famous composer once said to me: "you will need your second teacher differently than your first". Since then I've had many teachers, and I've needed all of them differently. When I first began, there was much hand-holding. Over time my lessons changed from asking basic questions to having lengthy philosophical discussions.

Shifting gears slightly, sometimes there is a difference between what you want and what you need. If what you want is to play jazz, the solution is simple: Buy a real book, a fake book, memorize them both, go into a wood-shed and play through everything until you bleed jazz. Listen to recordings, learn solos of other instruments (Charlie Parker's Omnibook will show you how to shred) and then play a many many many live gigs with other jazz players. Yes, you'll be terrible at first, but then you learn.

I know many jazz / rock guitarists that have a foundation in classical guitar. Classical teaches you how to move around the fretboard, and most importantly for guitarists, it teaches you how to read music. There is absolutely more than one correct way to achieve your goal. Whichever your path, it will influence your playing.

So I suppose the questions here are: "What is it that you want? What is it that you need?"

Regarding your teachers, it sounds like they are teaching you different things. Yes, either of them might be a little upset at first, but you could tell them that you're just looking for a different perspective. For composition, teachers prefer that you get as many perspectives as possible, so if you were my student, I would be happy.

If you decide to tell them, their reaction will depend largely on your reasoning for having the other teacher. A less tactful reasoning may leave your teachers personally offended. That being said, what you do on your own time is not really their business, not unless what your doing affects your guitar playing. You don't have to tell them if you don't want to - it is your choice.

A trombone friend of mine was taking lessons during his doctorate, and realized he wasn't getting anything out of the lessons. So he contacted another professor at a different university and set up private lessons. He never told either teacher about the other, and he took lessons this way throughout his doctorate - going to two lessons a week.

Your question assumes that you must tell the teachers. Remember that it's your choice. If you do tell them, remember to qualify your reasoning tactfully and honestly. You can't control how they will react, and even if they don't like your reasons, they can at least respect your honesty.

  • 1
    Agreed especially with the last point. Telling the teachers about each other doesn't seem to accomplish anything, but learning different things from people with the relevant expertise is exactly how it should be done.
    – user28
    May 31, 2015 at 16:28

How do I tell my old teacher about the new teacher?

"Teacher 1, I wanted to let you know. I've been getting a tremendous lot out of studying with you. I really like how you're supporting my goals in jazz. Recently, I've been convinced that I would be better able to realize my ambitions with some more formal pedagogy and drill. But since I don't want to mess with the success of what we're doing, I've decided to supplement our work by studying with a Classical instructor, in addition to continuing with you. That way I can get that training too, and continue to work with you on jazz."

I would sincerely hope that both your instructors would be cool with it. Yes, it's possible that one or the other would get all possessive, but that's not normal or expected. I think most teachers would take your deciding to study with two instructors as once as evidence of your seriousness about music.

If you were a student in a conservatory, you would have multiple teachers, same as any school student. Having multiple teachers is not pedagogically problematic.

And I'm a big, big fan of cross-training. Whether that's across different styles, or different instruments, or whatever: multiple perspectives on music making is a great boost to one's development as a musician. I think your plan is a good one.


Should I continue with both teachers?

No. I think you should ditch the classical guitar guy.

...he said that if I want to be a good Jazz guitarist, I should first build a solid foundation in classical guitar.

Which is really saying "I neither know, nor like the music that is your passion. Therefore I will recommend you learn the music that I like and know so I can keep you as a student."

How do I tell my old teacher about the new teacher?

Be honest. Tell him you liked the structure that teacher provided, and ask if can he provide that. I think he both can and will if you specifically ask. If not look for someone new.

The classical teacher won't make you a real-deal jazz guitarist. You need to take lessons from a Jazz guitarist. The goals, methodology, priorities and overall world-views are quite different for teachers of various genres. We have 3 basic categories:

  1. Popular Music Teachers (i.e. Rock, Blues, Metal, & Singer Songwriter folk) These are all horizontally improvised styles, played on steel string acoustics or electrics. The string tension of the acoustic and the bends on the electric require using the larger muscle groups in the wrist (the net effect being the thumb will be up top, and the guitar will be worn at waist level standing). The emphasis will be on improvising, technique, songwriting, ensemble playing and being able to sing and play simultaneously. Theory is important, as is playing by ear, sight reading is simply not a priority.
  2. Classical Guitar Teachers teach (surprise) classical music which has little to no improvisation, and is played on nylon string guitars. It is also played sitting down. The hand position is entirely different, the emphasis will be on solo(i.e just you) playing and sight reading, theory is important for practice and composing, its not applied "on the fly", singing and playing by ear are not priorities for performance (although solfege and ear training are incorporated very effectively by good teachers).
  3. Jazz Guitar Teachers teach a genre where improv is even more important than in rock, blues, etc. but it is approached from a very different perspective (called vertical improvising). Jazz is played on electric guitars (mainly), but since string bending and wrist vibrato are not part of the idiom, it can be played effectively with either the thumb up top as in blues or behind the neck like classical. Theory is highly important, sight reading is important but different than in classical (you are not reading music notated for the guitar specifically), and in an ensemble you have the responsibilities of a keyboard player, rather than a singer-songwriter.

If you understood none of that don't worry, just understand that they are different.

The point is that any teacher (including myself) is going to be biased towards one of the three perspectives, and they are quite different. That's a good thing, because that bias will rub off on you as having instincts appropriate to the style you are playing.

If you want to play Jazz you need to start improvising Jazz now. A classical teacher won't teach it, a rock or blues teacher will teach you to do it the wrong way for jazz. So get your jazz teacher to provide more structure or find a jazz teacher who will.

(FYI- I teach rock, metal, blues, and folk.)

  • Please explain vertical and horizontal improv. Never heard of them.
    – Tim
    Mar 20, 2023 at 8:54

Be careful with that, if you are in a small city, they could know each other, be buddies etc. It was happening to me, when I was switching my teacher.

  • Hopefully if they do know each other they won't have a problem with it, because that could be problematic. Ideally their aims in teaching would never be flat-out contradictory, but one can only hope...
    – user45266
    Dec 4, 2018 at 5:20

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