Down in the Valley is a great foundational guitar tune that teaches some guitar basics, such as walking bass and fingerpicking (VERY EASY 3-finger approach). Check out this free guitar tab music, in two versions...
Talk about easy guitar songs! Only two basic guitar chords, and an easy melody, but it can be played so many ways.
The first chords I teach a beginner are simple 1-finger chords -- "Little" C and "Little" G. Both use only three strings.
Little C uses strings 1, 2, & 3 (the high-sounding E, B, & G strings), pressing Left Hand finger 1 on the first fret of the B string. Voila -- the three strings now "spell" the three notes of a C chord, C, E, and G! (But a little scrambled up: G, C, & E.)
To change to G7, all you need to do is lean that first finger back on to the first fret of the E string (and get OFF the B string). Suddenly the notes become G, B, & F: the necessary sounds of a G7 chord.
Download free guitar tab music Down in the Valley
After strumming these small chords with a pick or fingernail - or even brushing with the thumb for a couple of weeks, I like kids to switch to finger-picking.
No, I don't use the flatpick exclusively with this arrangement of Down in the Valley. Personal preference. I want the kids to be able to feel where the strings are under their hands. We'll go back and forth from pick to fingers, depending on what we're doing in the accompaniment.
The contact with the strings is so much better using fingers, that even if they struggle, the accuracy at plucking the right string is worth it. Others may disagree with me -- that's fine! (Why are musicians more like cats than sheep? You can't herd 'em!)
With only three strings to worry about, the chords are easy for a first picking song. Push the thumb AWAY, pull the fingers TOWARD you. I have my students use "Thumb, index, middle; thumb, index, middle," while we sing the words or I play the melody on a second guitar. Practice the plucking pattern with open strings until they get the hang of it, then go back to the little chords.
I used to counsel students to "anchor" their RH (right hand) pinky (that's the small finger for you non-American English speakers, or finger 5 for pianists) on the guitar close to the soundhole. It's a common habit among guitarists, but now I avoid it, because it is a habit that must be broken when they go on to classical music...
Did I mention that beginning guitarists might go home from the lesson and become faint-hearted about this new skill? Or completely forget what you were talking about? New things are always hard to do; you need to creep up on them sometimes, and just take it slowly. Don't worry about it if they come back and can't do it, just start over again.
Some time later on, when they've gotten good enough to play full C & G7 chords, we come back to Down in the Valley again, and do our first WALKING BASS. On the sheet below, the measures just before the chord changes show the bass notes walking up or down to join the new chord. (The melody notes are still on the strings above, although they are not meant to be played simultaneously -- play EITHER the chords and walking bass tab, OR the guitar tablature for the melody.)
Download beginner guitar tabs with walking bass
But before we do WALKING bass, we experience bass notes in general. Instead of just a plain strum, we do "Thumb-strum-strum, thumb-strum-strum." (Later, we will do it with the flatpick, when they are so familiar with the expected sound that they will know immediately if they have picked the wrong string.)
I have the kids use a REST STROKE, pushing the chord's bottom string (bass note) away from them with the thumb into a stopped position on the next string, followed by two strums of the rest of the strings. This gives a solid "feel" to the first beat, while the 3/4 time -- waltz time -- encourages a strong bass note.
Singing as you play an instrument seems easy to some guitarists, but is a real big step for some children. I would encourage it bit-by-bit. Have them count the rhythm aloud with you: "1,1,1, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1,1,1, 1-2-3-hold-2-3," etc. If you sing and count aloud as you play, they'll gradually catch the habit.
Down in the Valley is a great piece to play with a group -- singers and other instrumentalists can get into the act so easily!
Do you have a story or a question about teaching guitar? Do you think it is a hard instrument for beginners, or easy? What have been your challenges?
Please note that all comments are moderated, and will not appear until I have approved them. Also, IF YOU ARE ASKING FOR MUSIC THAT IS NOT IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN, YOUR REQUEST WILL BE IGNORED. That's pretty much any music written in the last 75 years...
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...