guitar students

Guitar classes for groups–do you have questions about how to conduct them? 

I have a first article about guitar classes at MTH dealing with details like age ranges, finding a location, group dynamics, materials to use, policies and how much to charge. Below you will find the nitty-gritty of actual class times, songs to choose, and more.

In a 2014 article, I gave week-by-week specifics of a class I was teaching at the time.

Here are things I wish I’d heard before starting my first classes.

 

First Things First

Do they have working guitars?

  • I prefer not to mess with amps, so I require a six-string acoustic—either nylon or steel will do.
  • I need to see their guitars ahead of time unless they tell me the manufacturer and that they recently purchased it from a store I know and trust. I’ve had students show up with guitars so warped they couldn’t be tuned, strings so far off the fingerboard it would take a bench vise to press them to the guitar, strings missing, and strings so old my fingers turned black touching them—and they appeared ready to break at first touch.
  • I want to know if the guitar will hold its tuning. I’d hate to be in class before I discover it must be re-tuned every three minutes! (If you’re thinking that sounds like a toy guitar and that I’ve been in this situation, you would be correct. Don’t ask. It was turquoise blue plastic, so it should have had a great tone, don’t you know.)
  • If I have time, I’ll put new strings on for them. If there’s more wrong with it than strings, I make recommendations to rent one, buy a new one, or get theirs repaired.
  • I keep a watch-out at garage sales for decent guitars, and sometimes rent them to students until they learn enough to go looking for one for themselves. I go through a policy sheet with renters, educating them about the care of the instrument.

While I’m checking out the instrument, I can get to know the student a little. Find out what music they’re interested in, and what they already know (or don’t know) about music in general and guitar in particular.

 

The actual teaching time

Planning is essential!!!!

What do you hope to cover over the course? Jot down ideas and put them in a logical sequence. You might consult a beginner guitar method for ideas.  You might try Alfred’s, FJH or Hal Leonard.

  • Basics: guitar parts, finger numbers, string numbers, fret numbers, how to read a chord chart.
  • Music reading basics: staff, lines and spaces, quarter notes, half notes, whole notes, the music alphabet…
    • I only get into notes on the staff if I have at least ten weeks or a semester.
    • I find out if anyone has had piano lessons. If so, that person can be of help.
  • Rhythm basics: if you have the luxury of time, you can get into reading rhythms. Otherwise, consider how you’ll “check their pulse.” Will you have them clap rhythms after you? Or perhaps strum across their open strings?

If you prefer a ready-made group guitar course, look at Mel Bay, Jerry Snyder or the adult group class book by Alfred’s.

How much time will it take to tune the instruments at the start of each class?

Will I hold one complete class to teach them to change strings?

In a group you might not spend as much time with students individually. You certainly can’t let the rest of the group sit doing nothing while you work with one person. If you have a strategy in place, you can get the class going on something while you spend a couple minutes with one student. Plan for that time.

Ideas for what to do with the group while helping an individual:

  1. Use a backing track you’ve pre-recorded. I use my digital music recorder to create mp3s for them. You could have tracks with a two-chord or three-chord progression. Spend enough time on each chord to allow for students who are changing chords very slowly. You could add a metronome click on the recording to help them keep the tempo. I send an mp3 of tuning notes, too.
    • Early beginners might do a downstroke on each beat.
    • Some might be able to manage a two-four or four-four strum.
    • If you have a more advanced student, he or she could practice a simple finger-picking pattern or even power chords.
    • Show them the bass note of the chords. Some could simply play the bass along with the progression.
    • This way you have an ensemble going. How exciting for the group!

When they can play along easily, you might play the same progressions with some sort of groove, or in different styles. The fun factor shoots higher.

  1. If you have one or two students who have mastered some chord changes, instruct them to lead a certain number of measures on each chord.
  2. Allow time for each student to work on their own piece while you work with individuals. This could take up fifteen minutes of class, or whatever you determine works for you. If the noise level is too distracting, have students mute their strings with a cloth or sponge under them.

 

Be on the Lookout for Songs to Teach

Look for lists of songs with two, three or four chords. Do a search for two-chord country, folk, kids’, or rock songs. Do the same for more chords. Try The Guitar Three-Chord Songbook by Hal Leonard, which includes fifty songs in the first volume. There are three volumes, another book of 3-chord worship songs, acoustic songs, etc.

How often do chords change? Choose songs that stay on each chord for awhile before switching, especially in the first few weeks. Gradually add songs that have quicker chord changes.

Make sure you give plenty of chord review by teaching more songs.

If the first two chords you use are the I and V in a key, let the next chord you add be the IV chord in the same key. After that, your next key could be related. Example: start in the key of G (G, D, C), and go to the key of D next, which adds only one new chord (D, G, A). Or instead of going to the key of D, you might simply add G’s vi chord (Em), for their first four-chord song.

There are dozens of two-chord songs. Hundreds (perhaps thousands) of three-chord songs, and no end to four-chord songs!

 

Train up Future Worship/Praise Band Members

Many churches these days have worship bands. Who will train the next generation of musicians?

Perhaps the church would allow you to teach in their facility for free. Find out their present song list. Often these choruses have three to five chords. YouTube can be a super tool to help your students learn the songs. You could look into Spotify to create a playlist for them.

Inspirational music can be of great encouragement to others, too. Have your students share these songs at a park or other venue.

 

Find performance opportunities for your students

What motivates students to practice more than knowing they’ll be performing in public?

Christmas is a wonderful time to get your students playing. Set up a time for your studio to ring the bell for Salvation Army, and have them bring their guitars and fingerless gloves!

But don’t wait for Christmas. Set up mini-recitals at the local assisted living homes, memory-care units, or nursing homes. The residents not only enjoy it, but music gets brain cells firing like almost nothing else. And the benefits to students go far beyond the musical realm.

Libraries often welcome musical programs.

How about some easy listening at a coffee shop?

 

Wrapping it up

I like to invite guest guitarists to play for the class from time to time. Especially former students! I encourage them to mention how difficult it was at first, and what practice did for them. Also what guitar means to them now. Let them talk about what vocals and other instruments, listening to music, and playing with other musicians means to them.

Before the guest guitarist visits, teach your class a piece your guest will know. Tell the guest so (s)he can prepare something special on the song. Invite the class to play along with the guest on that piece.

Mini-recital to end each class. Spend the final five to ten minutes letting students volunteer to show the others some improvement, what they learned today, or a new song. I never qualify this suggestion by saying “if you’re comfortable” or mentioning nerves. I’ve found that if I’m matter-of-fact about it, most students simply do it. No big deal. I’ll show them what I’m working on currently, too.

A short recital could be your grand finale for the group session. Sometimes I’ve taught them a song they can share at a local church for special music. If it’s well-known, the whole congregation might be invited to join in singing, with your class accompanying.

If you happen to teach voice, recorder or ukulele as well, perhaps you could combine all of your groups for a few pieces!

Group classes can create buzz to promote your studio. And you can use Music Teachers Helper to do your bookkeeping and provide a website!

I hope you’ll give serious thought to teaching group guitar classes. You can reach and influence so many more people with your music!

Let us know some of your experiences in the comments. Music Teachers Helper readers would appreciate hearing your ideas.

 

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http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-little-boy-guitar-portrait-smiling-image37124566At least that’s what I used to say when a parent asked me.

When I began teaching over 20 years ago, my first students were teen-aged or older.  Their hands were fully developed and able to make all the beginning chord shapes.  It was no problem keeping them engaged for a 30 minute lesson.  Then one day, a mom asked me if I’d teach their 3rd grader how to play guitar.  I froze.  The mom is standing there waiting for me as I searched my brain for an answer.  I wanted to say yes, but the thought of teaching a little kid stopped me dead in my tracks.  I had no experience in teaching someone younger than 15.  How hard could it be?  After a long pause…I said yes.  Gulp!

They were guinea pigs to be sure – those first few kids – lab experiments.  Put your little finger here.  Put your ring finger on that fret.  “What’s a ring finger?”, they’d say.  “How come you keep looking at the clock?”, I’d say.

Lately, I’ve been meeting every couple of weeks with two other church music directors.  We get together to share music ideas, support one another, and otherwise commiserate about our work as ministers of music.  Good times.  One of these fellows has started up a music school in his church.  Now that’s a cool idea!  When I asked him how it was going, he got kind of a bewildered look on his face. “There are too many little kids that want to learn guitar.”, he said.  “It takes them half an hour just to make a G chord!”  (He grimaces while grappling with his imaginary guitar.)  The three of us laughed because we’d all been there and done that.

For a young kid, the enthusiasm about playing the guitar flies out the window at about the same time he/she discovers how difficult it is to form the basic chords.  The once gung-ho guitar student transforms into…a clock watcher!  With a reassuring voice, I say, “Put this finger here, and this one here, and this one on the same fret, here.”  Thoroughly convinced to the contrary, the student observes, “My fingers don’t do that, Mr. Shelby.” or, “That hurts my fingers!”  As Dr. Smith from the classic TV series, Lost In Space, used to say… “Oh the pain, oh the pain!”

I wished for a way to teach guitar to young kids engaging enough that they’d forget to look at that darn clock.  The first few weeks of learning how to make basic chord shapes and building up calluses can be tough so the learning needs to be fun!  I needed a fun and engaging way to teach guitar to young kids!

I was prowling around one of my favorite music stores one day, when I came across Alfred’s Kid’s Guitar Course 1.  Hallelujah, my prayers have been answered!!!  I bought a sack full of them and have been using this course for my young guitar students ever since.  Alfred’s has a Course 2 and just recently, they’ve come out with a combined Course 1 & 2 book that even has activity pages!  Would you believe they’ve even got a matching Course 1 & 2 Flash Card setMusic Writing Book, and Note Speller Book as the perfect complements to the method books?!  (Many of their method books come with enhanced CD and/or DVD options, too.)

“I don’t teach guitar to kids!” is something you’ll never have to say thanks to the folks at Alfred’s.  With their help, clock watching has become a thing of the past in my studio.  If you’re looking for a guitar resource for young students that will more than motivate, inspire, and make learning the guitar fun, be sure to check out these resources from Alfred’s Music. (You’ll find sample pages in all the links above.)

I look forward to reading about the methods or resources that you’ve found successful at your studio (whether guitar or any other instrument).  Please share your ideas in a reply below.  That’s one of the things I love about Music Teacher’s Helper – all the great ideas that are shared on this blog.  There are many posts I’ve read here that have helped me be a better teacher.  In my next post, I’ll share a story about two challenging young students (siblings) that I thought teaching would be completely hopeless.  See you next month!

Check out last month’s post:  Why I Use Music Teacher’s Helper

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Last month, a former student started guitar lessons with me after a long hiatus. She was one of my best last year, and unfortunately, lack of upkeep has atrophied her once strong hands. So, I decided to create an exercise routine for her hands! I love yoga for my body, and sometimes I joke around that guitar chords are like doing yoga with your hands. You have to be strong and flexible in order to get into the really tough positions. Afterward, I thought, maybe the other teachers on Music Teacher’s Helper would like to know this routine! I think it would work for piano students too. Be sure to work both hands at the same time whether you are a guitarist or not. In the guitar, both hands must be strong and flexible! With each position you want to really feel a stretch, so push it to your maximum. Try to make the pose perfect and straight. When you point one finger up, point it STRAIGHT up, not bent. When you spread your palms wide, really SPREAD them WIDE.

I put together a video of a condensed routine. I go pretty fast, but you should take your time with each pose. I got a little goofy when naming the poses. See if you can guess which poses I named “Hang Ten,” “Heavy Metal,” “Peace Sign,” “Rock Pose,” “Sun Burst,” “Skyscraper,” “Bad Word,” “Fake Bad Word,” “Pinky.”

Yes, that is a stuck up middle finger in the routine, but who cares? You have to exercise all of your fingers! Laugh a little and tell your student you won’t tell on them 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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