I'm New to Guitar Teaching, No Education In It

by Jonas
(Sweden)

Jonas

Hi, I'm new to guitar teaching and have no education in it. Tried to teach my daughter and her friend and the first session was just disaster when the friend almost cried when I showed the first exercise and wanted them to try it themselves. The atmosphere got very awkward and I felt very down afterwards.

Dana
I'm not surprised there was great frustration at the lesson; unless someone has a musical background (such as piano lessons), they must take very small steps at first.

Jonas
After 3 sessions I refused to have her as a student as I felt she frequently rejected my material (didn't try to mimic my exercises, didn't want any homework, didnt do her homework etc) and since it was unpaid I had that option.

Dana
Jonas, even if it is PAID you still have that option! But... What was she wanting to learn? What were her expectations? Perhaps you and she have very different ideas about what guitar playing is like. Was she hoping to play like you? Perhaps she was surprised that work was involved?

Jonas
The 2 girls were not on the same level; my girl coming from 2.5 years of piano lessons, I found her absorbing my stuff with ease and self-confidence.

Dana
Yes, a piano background makes all the difference! It gives one a feeling for how the notes on guitar strings overlap, and the musical alphabet is understood... Also, just why there is no "E sharp" or "B sharp"(or "F flat" or "C flat") only makes sense if one knows how the piano keyboard looks. Piano students already have good finger coordination. It is hard for experienced guitar players to remember how difficult it is to use the fingers and hands in new ways, as a beginning student must do.

Jonas
So I decided to teach only my own girl in our home, and for the most part I really enjoy it, but constantly I ponder about what is suitable material and what is not, and how to make the lessons fun and rewarding.

Dana
Are you using a guitar method book as a kind of foundation for your teaching? This approach can take some anxiety out of planning; using the book as a roadmap, then supplementing with your own favorite exercises and songs. There are so many books out there, but a basic one that leads beginners along in notereading, correct use of a flatpick and of fingers, chord construction, and techniques such as slides, pull-offs, and hammers, will form a good background for the songs you choose to work on.

Jonas
I want to approach melody and bass line playing, striving to make the fingers independent, so in the everyday homework, I have the C-major scale up and down the 3 first frets, and "finger-gym" on all positions over the 4 first frets. Is this appropriate for an 11 year pupil? (She doesn't seem to mind doing it.)

Dana
Jonas, I have to admit that none of my students are doing scales right now, except for fret-by-fret (chromatic) scales up and down the neck, for flatpicking practice. The reason for no scales is that there are no scale passages showing up in their actual music yet. In the context of a song such as Down in the Valley, where the bass line walks up and down part of the C scale, scalework becomes meaningful. I believe that when they start playing more classical music, then that will be the time to start with formal scales. (Many teachers will surely disagree with me.) The most fun way to acquire skills is through the repertoire, the music chosen. Unless the scale or technique is part of the music they are playing, it won't be relevant, and students tend to resist -- or ignore -- exercises they can't see the need for. Also, we have a limited amount of time in a lesson, so I try to do what seems most urgent!

Jonas
Further, should you rely on tabs or learning by heart by listening to a piece repeatedly? Pete Seeger, for example, says for folk music, don't use a printed page because it's an oral tradition.

Dana
I use both methods, and also standard notation. (Personally, I believe that reading standard notation with ease should be the goal of all musicians, but tablature is wonderful for beginners, and learning by ear is a very important skill for guitar players in particular. I don't agree that you shouldn't start with a printed page, because students have to have something to look at when they get home! The printed page is a map... musicians will alter it anyway. Besides, it works both ways: if you get stuck on someone else's interpretation (having listened to it over and over again in order to master it), you may find it difficult to re-interpret it, and make it truly your own. When I learn a new piano piece, I always try to avoid listening to another pianist's rendition until I have a good idea how I want to shape it. My two cents' worth!

Jonas
I have an old Seeger concert on tape which ends with The Water is Wide. I found it to be in the key of D with dropped D tuning and a very nice but simple bass line. Is dropped-D too much for a second semester student?

Dana
No, I think that's okay, but I don't think the song itself works very well in D for a beginner, because of the F#m chord (and Bm, which is hard enough for a beginner). Instead, my preference would be the key of C -- okay, the F chord is hard, but they can use a little F chord -- or the key of G, also with a hard chord, Bm. But TWO hard chords can make a new song NO FUN to learn, for a beginner.

Actually, I don't consider this a "beginner" song, because it uses six different chords, plus (in my version) a suspended chord. A motivated adult beginner, but not a kid. I'd wait until they mastered some songs with just 3 chords first. A kid who really wanted to learn it, certainly could... the motivation would make all the difference. But I'd have them play it in the key of C and capo up to D, myself, if they were wanting to play with a group that was doing it in D.

Jonas
I might add that the homework dose I require from my soon-to-be 12 year, is 15 minutes of daily exercise, of which 3 minutes is the C-scale and 3 minutes is finger-gym, and the rest for the weekly assignment. I want the effort to be reasonable, and if possible not induce feelings of chore & bore, but I do want a daily regimen. I often have to remind and push her a bit to adhere to this, but once she gets down to it, she doesn't seem to mind. (I suspect that it's harder to maintain "respect for the homework assignment" when you have parent-teaching as opposed to a "proper" teacher down-town.) I often smile to myself when over-hearing her homework from another room, as she pretty soon tends to digress from the assignments to her own favorites and small composing projects. And I try to be very gentle when I remind her that she has to do her assignments first, before the free "fun section". Do you have any thoughts about this?

Dana
YES -- I LIKE YOUR APPROACH. Definitely I would praise and encourage her constant playing of favorites and composing. Do you ever play the scales and finger-gym along with her? It can be more motivating for some kids to play together with another player, or take turns -- first you, then her, then you again, etc. I'd like to know what you do for finger-gym.

Using a metronome for racing against her own former speeds, or to keep strumming steady, can be fun if not overdone.

Jonas
It's a challenge trying to teach my daughter, and I won't tell you it works like a charm, but occasionally, in particular when we do mutual favorites, it's pure bliss, and easily the most fun thing I ever did with my daughter. It's also uplifting to see her potential and realise that she could be a better player than I ever was myself, if only I could nurture and guide that talent, and also give her a "proper" teacher, when I have no more to offer her.

Dana
I DEFINITELY agree!





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