Saturday, December 29, 2018

Teaching Young Children, pt. II - Child Size Instruments

One of the main obstacles that can keep a young student from continuing to play the guitar is the instrument itself. There are many teachers (myself included) who have had children start lessons with an instrument which is too big for them or with the action a mile off the neck. An instrument which is 
inappropriate in size or is difficult to play can be a hindrance and deter a student from wanting to play, while one of good quality and of appropriate size can help a child enjoy playing. 

There are good quality child sized instruments on the market made by a number of manufacturers which have both nylon or steel strings. However, there is a “mythos” regarding whether it is better for a young player to start with nylon or steel strings. In my opinion it does not matter because when young fingers begin pushing on strings it will hurt until calluses begin to develop. What matters most is the quality of instruction that young players have in the beginning stages, not what type of strings they use.

The guitars listed here are those which are well built, stay in tune and endure the rigors of young children. This list is by no means meant to be exhaustive, but rather those which my students have used with much success. Keep in mind that the size of player will be proportionate to the size of the instrument they will require. 

If the student is smaller in stature a 1/4 size guitar may be exactly what is needed:

For the majority of young students I have taught a 1/2 size guitar has worked quite well for them. Keep in mind some guitars like the ones listed below are 3/4 size, but because of their body size are well-suited for younger children.

If you have any suggestions for good quality student instruments please let me know!

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. You can learn more about him at Austin Guitar Lessons

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.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Chord Charts, Pt. VIII

Back in January I began a series of posts devoted to the study of rhythm charts, but this month I’ll tackle a similar concept called a chord chart. A chord chart is a shorthand system using only lyrics and chord symbols to outline a song.

Chord charts are probably the most utilized form of “notation” by the average guitarist and are commonly found on the Internet to illustrate chord changes to a given song. Just Google a song title and guitar chords - chances are some type chord chart will appear.

These types of charts are ideal for guitarists who sing and play as song lyrics are laid out with the chord changes above them. Since chord charts are shorthand way to outline a song a certain familiarity with the song is expected.

Why should they player be familiar with the song? First, unlike a rhythm chart, chord charts do not indicate how the rhythm to a song should be played – the rhythm is left for the player to interpret. Second, chord charts may not inform the player how to finger a given chord and the player may choose whatever fingering they like. Third, chord changes may not match up exactly with the words and the player needs to know how long a chord should be played or when a chord change may occur. Fourth, there may be certain “signature licks” in a song that are not always included in a chord chart. Fifth, chord changes may not be indicated in every verse or chorus, so the player must be familiar with the flow of the words against the chord changes.

Here is a sample chord chart for the Elvis Presley classic “Don’t Be Cruel” to practice with. Enjoy!!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Easy Pop Rhythms, 3rd Ed, Pt. VII – Book Review

Last month concluded my series of posts on rhythm charts and included a chart for the song I’m a Believer. This month I wanted to review the book Easy Pop Rhythms (3rd edition) published by Hal Leonard which is a wonderful supplement for further rhythm chart studies. 

Easy Pop Rhythms contains rhythm charts for 20 songs of varied pop styles (country, grunge, 50’s rock, etc.…). The book has gone through several editions and some of the songs have since changed, but here is a listing of several tracks from the current 3rd edition:

· Jambalaya (Hank Williams)

· Rock Around the Clock (Bill Haley & The Comets)

· Wonderful Tonight (Eric Clapton)

· No Woman No Cry (Bob Marley)

· All Apologies (Nirvana)

The rhythm charts included for each song are simplified and only use open chords in order to make the songs accessible to beginning students. Moreover, the rhythm charts also outline the songs structure: Intro, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Solo and Outro. The song listing at the front of the book also denotes what chords are used in each song for easy reference.

Each song also has an accompanying play-a-long track; older versions of Easy Pop Rhythms came either with or without an accompanying CD. However, play-a-long tracks for the current 3rd edition are downloadable via the Hal Leonard website using an access code which comes with the book. The play-a-long tracks all have full band accompaniment however, the melody is not sung, but is played by a saxophone. Additionally, all tracks start with a measure long “metronome click” (2, 3 or 4 beats in length) to set the tempo for that particular song.

Easy Pop Rhythms retails for $14.99 and is a welcome supplement for teachers wishing to have their students gain a thorough understanding of rhythm charts. If you’d like to preview the book you may do so here.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Rhythm Charts, pt. VI – Follow the Chart

This month I’ll wrap up the series of posts on rhythm charts by looking at a full blown chart for the song I’m a Believer. The song was originally written and recorded by Neil Diamond before being covered by The Monkees and later by numerous other artists including Smash Mouth for the 2001 film Shrek.

The downloadable rhythm chart is meant to simply follow the chord changes for the song – I did not put in the riff to be played as it is beyond the scope of what I have been discussing. If you have difficulty navigating the chart follow the directions below.

1. Chord changes begin in m.4 – note repeat signs in

    m.4 and m.33. Play m. 4 – 33 and repeat again.

2. After repeating continue through to m. 41 – note

    the D.S. al Coda at the end of m. 41.

3. Take the D.S. al Coda and ‘jump’ its’ sign in 

    m. 12. Play m. 12 – 33.

4. Notice the Coda sign at the end of m. 33. When 
    m. 33 is completed ‘jump’ to the matching Coda
    sign in m. 42. Repeat m. 42 – 43 six times as the
    song fades out.

I hope you enjoy the transcription and now have a better understanding of how to navigate rhythm charts! 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Rhythm Charts, pt.V - Codas

 This month I will continue the discussion of symbols and terminology one may encounter in a rhythm chart with the topic of Codas. A Coda is the final section of a piece of music and is notated with the symbol. 

 There are two forms of a Coda – there are musical examples which can be downloaded by clicking the link on each term. 

1) Da Capo al Coda: play until the words “D.C. al Coda” are reached, then go back to the beginning and play until the “sign”, until then jumping to the matching Coda sign which marks the final section. 

2) Dal Segno al Coda: play until the words D.S. al Coda, then play from the Dal Segno sign to the Coda sign and finally jump to the matching Coda sign.

It all may sound complicated, but after playing through them a few times it is really quite easy. Next month we’ll be getting in a full blown rhythm chart!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Rhythm Charts, pt. IV - Da Capo

In the last several posts I have been discussing rhythm charts and symbols and the terminology associated with them. This month I'll continue with this series of posts we'll examine Da Capo's.

· Da Capo (abbrev. D.C.): an Italian term which means “from the beginning” or “from the head”. It is abbreviated D.C. and directs the player to repeat the section from a beginning or possibly from the start of another section.

· Da Capo al Fine (abbrev. D.C. al Fine): section should be repeated from the beginning to the word Fine (followed by double bar lines).

Next month I'll be talking Coda's - til then!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Rhythm Charts, pt. III - Volta Brackets

Last month in part two of our discussion on rhythm charts (a shorthand system using standard music notation to map out a song) I covered the topic of repeat signs - what they are and how they work. In this month's post I'll be covering volta brackets - otherwise know as 1st and 2nd endings. There is a downloadable PDF link below with musical example. 

Volta Brackets: these are horizontal numbered brackets (1, 2, 3, etc...) which are used for repeated sections having two or more different endings. 

Next month I'll delve into terms and symbols a bit more!

Friday, February 2, 2018

Rhythm Charts, pt. II - Repeat Signs

Last month’s post introduced the topic of rhythm charts (a shorthand system using standard music notation to map out a song) and their basic components. Over the next few posts I will outline basic symbols and terms that students should be familiar with in order to effectively navigate more involved charts. Each term and symbol is linked to downloadable PDF example.

· Repeat Signs: located to the left and right of a section of music, these symbols enclose a part which is to be repeated (possibly several times). If there is no symbol to the left of the music the player should start back at the top of the piece or at the closest double bar.

Next month I'll continue on the topic of terms and symbols used in Rhythm Charts - til' then!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Rhythm Charts, pt. I

Some time ago I discussed using simple Cowboy Chord Songs  to help get students starting to strum. This month I wanted to continue along similar lines by having students follow a rhythm chart.

A rhythm chart is simply a shorthand system which uses standard musical notation to map out a song for the player. They utilize time signatures and bars and in the standard manner and if there are specific melodic ideas or rhythms to be played these will be indicated; however, the player is usually left to their devices to interpret the chart. Although it may seem like an advanced topic, by playing along with a rhythm chart students can develop an advanced skill as beginning players.

Rhythm charts can contain basic information about a song, but following along with one and interpreting the musical symbols associated with them is a skill worth developing; we’ll start at a basic level and move along from there. 

There are three main components to rhythm chart: 1) the chord – rhythm charts may or may not use a chord graph, most often a player will only see the text name of the chord. (ex. “G”). 2) The rhythm – the notation used above is a variant of standard notation (using “stems” and “flags”) and does not imply pitch. The rhythm may or may not be exactly notated; most often what is written is a simplification and the player is to create their own part. 3) Symbols – rhythm charts will inevitably use traditional musical symbols such as repeat signs, time signatures and various codas.

Next month I’ll delve deeper into how to have students navigate rhythm charts.