The Do’s and Don’ts of Teaching YouTube Music Lessons

by | Apr 27, 2020 | Music Promotion

Ian Stich of StichMethod Guitar breaks down how to break through teaching music online  

Ian Stich loves to teach. It’s a love that shows in each of his StichMethod YouTube videos as clearly as the patches of grey on his beard (the standout feature on any StichMethod merch). It’s a love that drives huge numbers of followers to his channel, his Skype private lessons, and his annual in-person guitar workshop.

It’s also a love that shines through in conversation, as Stich’s passion for the guitar (and musicians) permeates his life story, from playing in bands his whole life to realizing he had a knack for teaching. Much like the jam bands he focuses his channel on (along with a healthy dose of blues and guitar heroes), Stich’s playing and teaching journey has been one of going with the flow and taking opportunities as they come – all with the love of music at its heart. It’s a method he recommends to others looking to get started teaching online.

While Stich has been teaching guitar for twenty-five-plus years, the vast majority of those were offline. Three breakthroughs eventually led him to StichMethod: a single note at a Phish concert that opened up the guitar to him in a whole new way, an unexpected payday on a cat-themed game show (which allowed him to initially make the leap to teaching full time), and a good friend harassing him to get online (Sean Daniel, who has a massive YouTube following of his own).

The result is a channel that focuses on helping people feel good about themselves through guitar. And it’s this point that Ian is most passionate about in our conversation – the idea that the people are coming to his channel looking for help, and he (or you) can be happy to deliver. That mindset, along with the following dos and don’ts, will lead a killer YouTube channel – and a lot of joy along the way.

Do – Believe in What You’re Teaching

Before Ian’s transformative Phish inspiration, he taught guitar in a traditional way. “Before that [moment], it was: here’s some blues scales, here’s this, here’s a song...but [after] it was: we’re going to the beginning of how this works.” That change also included the Neverlost pentatonic, an approach to unlocking the guitar that is his most popular contribution online. The main reason for its success is how much viewers can tell Ian believes in its effectiveness. It doesn’t have to be sold because it’s clear that it works.

Don’t – Wait Until You Have Fancy Equipment to Get Started

When it came to video and mic equipment early on, Stich relates, “…I was like, eh – what am I going to use to film it? My MacBook. With that camera. And the microphone.” Ian laughs at the memory, but it’s clear that – especially when first getting started – it’s important not to get bogged down with thinking you need expensive lights, cameras, and mics. “I’d film a video, and people would be like, your production sucks…but I was like, I don’t care…don’t judge the message by whether it’s 4k and pretty.” There are plenty of incredible looking videos that don’t offer much value.You can always get better gear later, but don’t wait for it to get started – and even if or when you do have that equipment, focus on your content and ideas. That’s what people really want.

Do – Allow Multiple Ways for People to Support Your Channel 

It’s clear from talking to Stich for any amount of time that money is not a driving factor for his teaching. However, he also realized early on that people want to show support and appreciation for what they’ve learned and often vote with their dollars. And while he offers merch through his site, he quickly found that people were really just buying it to support him. “There’s this myth of merchandise…I feel like no one really wants merchandise. They want to support your channel – they want to support you.” Now Ian offers items of value across the price point spectrum: lesson charts on the low end – all the way up to his weekend guitar workshop. With these options, anyone who wants to support his channel can, even if he would do it all for free (which he totally would).

Don’t – Compare Yourself to Other YouTube Teachers

With so many music lessons available online, it can be easy to get caught up in competition, inadequacy, or a feeling like you’ll never break through. Stich has an easy solution if you can stick to it. Don’t pay attention. As he says, “…to this day, I still don’t watch YouTube. I don’t – I don’t watch it for guitar lessons.” Instead of getting caught up with what others are doing, he forged his own path and didn’t look back – or look at anything else that’s out there. “You need to be content rich, and idea rich. Just make your message as strong…as possible.” The rest will sort itself out.

Do – Try to Predict What Questions People Will Ask – and Have the Answers

Like the Boy Scout motto to Be Prepared, a good teacher needs to be ready for whatever comes their way. “To be a good teacher, you have to preemptively know the questions you’re going to get asked – you have to almost predict it.” This can be a hard task. As Stich elaborates, “You’re teaching someone who doesn’t know the language yet…you have to sit in the student’s chair and listen to what they’re saying and try to communicate it back in their language.” Being able to communicate answers clearly is especially crucial in a medium like YouTube and being as prepared as possible will help make that communication possible.

Don’t – Plan Too Far Ahead – Go With the Flow!

While being prepared is key, it’s also important to let go. One thing that stands out in any StichMethod video is Ian’s willingness to make mistakes and not focus on perfection. “That’s something that comes from the jam band world,” he says. “When you watch Jimmy Page and Trey [Anastasio] and Jerry [Garcia], they mess up all the time. And you’re not going oh, he screwed up – ok I heard that, but wow, that next note blew my head off.” It’s this same mentality that keeps StichMethod fresh  – and can do the same for you.

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