Paul Gilbert Explains How He Approaches Teaching Students Guitar: ’I’ll Pretend They’re Robin Trower’

Guitar virtuoso Paul Gilbert reflected on his approach to guitar lessons and how he teaches his students.

Apart from being an incredible musician with impeccable guitar skills, Gilbert is also an all-around awesome dude. And while it may not seem like an important trait to being a professional musician, it’s exactly this that helps him be an awesome instructor.   

Even though with great success behind him, both solo and with bands like Racer X, Paul is still very humble. So much so that, as he told Rick Beato in a recent interview, he feels thankful to be teaching young students.

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“Well, I get to sit in the teacher’s chair, which is generous of the student,” he responded to Rick Beato’s question on the matter (transcript via Ultimate Guitar). “But really, it’s just people talking about music together.”

“Hopefully, I’ve had enough experience where I can come up with a solution to a problem or just an idea that keeps them excited about playing.”

The secret to successful lessons, according to Gilbert, shouldn’t be all that complicated. At the end of the day, it’s about making everyone happy. Of course, this doesn’t mean that they won’t learn anything. But none of it would make sense without this aspect.

“One of the things I have to keep in mind is If I want them to be happy — but also want myself to be happy,” Gilbert continued. “So, often I’ll show them two things. And I’ll say, ‘Well, this what you asked for, so I’ll do my best to show you how to untangle it. But I would love it if you played this, just because I think it’s gonna help, and I’d love to hear it.'”

Going into more details of his teaching practices, Paul also explains that he loves to treat his students as if they were professionals themselves. He added:

“So, I’ll make them an instructional video for a bass part. Now, this is a video for a professional, a person who does not need help, technically, right? I’m just teaching them the song.”

“That allows me to keep a level of respect — treat them like they’re a pro, and just teach them the song,” Paul explained. But it doesn’t stop there. To make a student really feel like a pro, there’s the other aspect to it:

“And also, I ask them to do that back to me… That takes the nervousness away.”

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It’s a somewhat progressive way to teaching an instrument and giving any sort of music lessons. But we’re talking about art, and anyone can participate in it, even if they’re beginners. So Paul approaches it as if they’re one of his heroes. He added:

“One other trick is, I’ll pretend they’re Robin Trower. I can get too high energy and too excited, [but] if I was making a video for Robin Trower, I would want to cool down because he’s cool… You know, slow down my manic pace a little bit.”

In an interview from 2023, Gilbert also addressed the issue of playing fast. Although he’s one of the famous “shredders,” he feels like focusing on the speed can be somewhat of a trap. Addressing the “dangers” of playing “faster, trickier stuff,” he said:

“It’s so easy to get pulled away from the vibe because you’re like, ‘I just want to get it right. I just gotta metronome this for the next five years, and then maybe, meanwhile, it’s all the rock and roll.'”

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“The force of the emotion has left the building long ago. That’s so precious. You gotta keep that at all costs.”

“So to me, that’s the cool thing about the rock ‘n’ roll do-it-yourself method with a lot of my guitar heroes — if you hear Yngwie or Eddie Van Halen playing fast, they don’t play the same. It’s not like, ‘Okay, we both are doing exactly the same patterns.'”

“No, that’s the method. They’ve all got their own fingerprint, and when they get to that level, whether their own physiology and their influences gave rise to this particular way of approaching the faster stuff. And the same thing when you hear Neal Schon [Journey] play fast, and it’s a whole different animal…”

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“Or Gary Moore or Michael Schenker. There might be overlap here or there, but essentially, you’re gonna be able to spot who it is. To lay down a rule like, ‘Oh, it must be exactly…’ to me, that’s like crippling yourself. Just take what works and run with it.”

Photo: Lars Horstmann (GS2019 – Paul Gilbert)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.