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Thomas Foster
Thomas Foster

How to Teach Guitar Lessons for Beginners

Thomas FosterIf you have a passion for the guitar, chances are you enjoy sharing your knowledge.

This could be something you are doing as a source of income, or are thinking about doing to make money or as a way of enriching your own children’s lives. In any case, knowing the basics of how to teach guitar will help you achieve your goal.

The Challenges of Preparing Guitar Lessons for Beginners

Teaching beginning students can seem challenging. Often, even using a beginning guitar method book can be frustrating for some students with no experience in playing music. The reason for this is that beginning pop/rock guitar methods often start out with skills, such as playing full chords or scales, which may be too complex for some students to process without being provided with a bit of context first.

‘Often, even using a beginning guitar method book can be frustrating … engage your beginning students by matching specific skillsets to individual ability level.’

When students work on material which is too high for their ability level (even if the skill is pretty basic), they will build in faulty technique and arrhythmic tendencies. These habits will affect the student’s potential for mastery of the instrument as well as the amount of enjoyment they will experience in succeeding in every step of the learning process. In this article series, I would like to provide you with a blueprint that will help you engage your beginning students by matching specific skillsets to individual ability level.

How to Teach Guitar

Students of any level remain motivated and engaged in the process of learning only if they are met within their zone of proximal development. This means that new concepts presented should be challenging enough to hold a student’s interest yet easy enough for the student to accomplish and feel success within a relatively short amount of time. In order to meet each student within this zone, the teacher needs to use an effective sequence for presenting core skills.

Let’s begin developing our blueprint by defining basic skills that a beginning student should be able to demonstrate within three months. We’ll target students in the age range for traditional lessons. There are specific approaches to use with younger learners (from age 4 to 7ish) which we will explore in an upcoming article.

‘Think about what … you will teach. What strumming patterns? … What chords will you introduce first?’

Before reviewing the following basic-skills chart, make a list of specific skills that you feel a beginning student should have developed within three months. Examples of beginning skillsets are holding or positioning the guitar properly, demonstrating efficient left-hand and right-hand function, and being able to play basic chords and scales.

Think about what chords you will teach. What strumming patterns? Also, start thinking about the sequence of presenting the concepts. What chords will you introduce first? What strumming patterns will you introduce first?

Feel free to review any method books you are familiar with. Method books can be a great resource when designing instruction, especially for more advanced students. However, many methods for beginning students have radically different approaches and almost universally do not contain enough supplementary exercises to ensure competence with each new skill.

The following chart lists skills which, by the end of twelve weeks of instruction (I think many would agree), most students should understand and be able to demonstrate:

Beginning Skills/Goals: The First Three Months

Goals for Guitar Lessons for Beginners

The targeted beginning skills/goals listed in the chart will become a point of departure for developing your beginning lesson curriculum. Next, we have to complete a task analysis of each skillset. Subskills or a task analysis for a skill, such as efficient left-hand function, would include proper wrist alignment, position of the elbow, firm tip-joints, enough flexion in the left hand so playing is on fingertips, positions of the thumb behind the neck for differing situations, thumb pressure, and proper fretting position.

In part two of this series, we will take a look at the task analysis for the basic-skills chart and develop a game plan for the first month of guitar lessons for beginning students.

About the Author

An instructor with FretboardZen and long-time student of the world-renowned classical guitar teacher Aaron Shearer, Thomas Foster is currently completing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music.

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