Sunday, November 11, 2018

Teaching Young Children, pt. I – The Three Things to Expect

When speaking to guitar teachers it is not uncommon to find that many do not like to or are not comfortable teaching young children. There are a number of reasons for this, but the most common theme is that most guitar teachers are not sure how to approach working with them. In this next series of posts I will be tackling some of the “in’s and out’s” of working with younger children.

Before getting started let’s define an age range for the young children I will be discussing – for the purposes of this series of posts I’ll set the age range from 5 to 8 years old; students from kindergarten to third grade. That may not seem like a large age range, but developmentally speaking for children it really is. What does that mean for guitar teachers? It means you’ll have to know your audience and expect these three things when working with young children.

First, realize that time can be an important issue when teaching young students. The typical length for a guitar lesson is 30 minutes and when working with young students that can be a very long time. Not in the actual length of time, but in a child’s ability to maintain focus and sit still. Many young children become “fidgety” after several minutes of prolonged concentration, so plan on having a variety of topics to cover in one lesson. Moreover, incorporating some type of movement activity will always be beneficial. Additionally, the time of day for a lesson can be important – if it is early in the day a young student may be more attentive or if late in the day less so because as they may be coming from activities such as school, a play date or family function.

Second, teachers should be aware that young guitar students will lack in the development of their fine motor skills or “use of their smaller muscles, like muscles in the hands, fingers, and wrists. Children use their fine motor skills when writing, holding small items, buttoning clothing, turning pages, eating, cutting with scissors, and using computer keyboards”. Teachers need to understand how to help students develop their fine motor skills as they relate to guitar playing.

Third, expect there to be a great deal of repetition in the early stages of development. Do not be fearful of spending several lessons covering the same material; young children learn through repetition. Many teachers believe they need to cover new material every lesson and that is not the case with young students - they will benefit from reviewing material.

Next, month I’ll talk about recommendations for child size instruments.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Items Every Teacher Should Have In Their Studio

As any music teacher can tell you, the studio environment has a strong impact on lesson flow. The resources a teacher has at their fingertips shape their instructional methods as well as the motivation of the student. If students are receiving lessons in a cluttered, poorly outfitted dump, they are less likely to take their lessons seriously than if they are studying in a well-decorated, fully outfitted, and comfortable environment, so putting some time and effort into how you set up your studio is a worthwhile endeavor. I’ve created a list of things I feel are beneficial to the teaching environment divided into those that are essential, those that are a useful addition, and those that are a bonus.


Two amplifiers - If you teach electric guitar, you’ll need an amplifier for both you and your student. While you may not play much in your lessons, you’ll want to have it handy for when you need to demonstrate a technique.

Two chairs - This may seem obvious, but you should give a little thought to what kind of chairs you use. For students, I like a stiff folding chair with a little padding to keep their posture upright. However, since the teacher will be sitting there for hours on end and frequently pivoting from student to PC, bookshelf, etc., I recommend a softer, swiveling desk chair.

A music stand - Again, this may seem obvious, but the type of music stand should be given some thought. A flimsy, portable stand which keeps falling over will make lessons a clumsy experience for students. A sturdy, adjustable stand is best, though be careful that the screws are kept tight or the stand will begin to tilt.

A desktop computer - The myriad resources available on the internet or storable on a PC for quick reference has eliminated much of the need for sloppy, handwritten transcriptions. While a laptop is serviceable, a desktop computer with a large monitor is best for allowing students to see information pulled up on-screen.

A bookshelf - You probably have a ton of books you use for teaching guitar. Here’s a tip: having fewer books is better. For all the books you own, you probably only use a small percentage of them. To reduce clutter and time spent looking for the right book, reduce your bookshelf to only the ones you use to teach.

Copier/Printer - This goes along with the previous two items. You should be able to quickly print or copy pages from your PC or books.

A Tuner/Metronome - While there are many metronome and tuner apps available, I believe having battery-powered versions on hand is best as they can be kept on the stand and used free of other distractions.


Zoom Recorder - I adapted this idea from my voice lessons. A little Zoom H1 recorder can be used to tape lessons that you can share with students via Dropbox. If your students are having trouble recalling lesson information, this gives them a recording to reference.

Wall Art/Decoration - Here’s an easy way to brighten you studio: ask your younger students to submit artwork of guitars and music. It’ll be a huge boost to their self-esteem to see their work framed on their teacher’s wall.

A Couch - This is a “must” if parents sit in on the lesson. Make sure to sit in it and take in the view from their perspective; parents are spending upwards of 20 hours per year there. The couch will also serve as a noise dampener to keep sound from reverberating off plaster walls and hardwood floors.

Carpeting - Speaking of dampening noise, hardwood floors and drywall can cause a lot of echo. Cut down on this with a few area rugs to cover the floor while sprucing up the welcoming look of your studio

Extra Guitar Stands - If you have your students doing any kind of writing assignments, it’s best to have a stand for them to rest their guitar on so they won’t have to lay it on the floor.

Pedal Board - Effects are just as much a part of the instrument as the guitar itself. Setting up a pedal board with a few basic effects so you can show your students how to use them will greatly aid their development.

Hole Punch - I have all my students keep their music in three-ring binders to cut down on clutter. Punch every piece of music for them and instruct to place it securely in the rings.

A bowl of Extra Picks/Extra Strings - How many times has a student shown up to a lesson without a pick or broken a string mid-lesson? I collect all the lost picks off my carpet and keep them in a jar on my desk. I also use a broken string as an opportunity to show them how to change one out.

Mirror - Sometimes a student needs to see themselves to correct posture issues. Hanging a tall mirror on the wall across from their chair allows them to check their position.

White Board - Sometimes you’ll have a teaching idea you’ll want to flesh out quickly without wasting paper; a whiteboard is a great tool for this. You can also use it to write jokes or questions of the day!


Recording Equipment - If you teach songwriting or any of your students fancy themselves writers, it would be great if you had some equipment on hand to capture their ideas.

Additional Instruments - If you can play any other instruments, it would be wonderful to have a few available to accompany your students and give them a more realistic live playing experience.

Awards/Recognition/Progress Board - Students love to have their achievements recognized. Writing their accomplishments on a board will boost their sense of progress through public recognition.

This months post was by guest blogger Chris Primeau. Chris is a guitar teacher based out of Austin, Texas and you can learn more about him at his Austin Guitar Lessons page. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Lead Sheets, Pt. IX

This month I will be wrapping up a lengthy series of posts which pertain to reading charts. In previous posts I have discussed rhythm and chord charts, and with this final installment I’ll cover lead sheets. 

If you are unfamiliar them, a lead sheet notates the three basic elements of a song - the melody, lyrics and harmony. The melody is written in standard notation, song lyrics are written as text below the staff with the words corresponding to the appropriate melodic notes and the harmony is specified with chord symbols above the staff.

Here is a sample lead sheet for Yellow Submarine by The Beatles to practice with.