In part 1 of this series, How to Teach Guitar Lessons for Beginners, we outlined skills that most students should be able to demonstrate within three months of studying the guitar. Now, let’s narrow this list down to skills a student should reasonably be able to demonstrate within one month and explore how we can teach these skills.
Beginning Skills/Goals: The First Month
Before we review one possible order for presenting these skills and develop lesson plans for the first four weeks of instruction, a discussion of the importance of developing good habits is in order.
Lifetime Learning Behaviours
The first several months of instruction is arguably the most important period of growth for students in terms of developing the cognitive, physical, musical, and lifestyle habits that will enable them to remain engaged, succeed, and enjoy the process and discipline of learning to play an instrument. The habits/behaviours your beginning students are forming will become the foundation of how they relate to the guitar forever. For this reason, it is imperative that a teacher place a high value on teaching specific learning and practicing strategies along with each new skill.
‘The habits/behaviours your beginning students are forming will become the foundation of how they relate to the guitar forever.’
If you take your time when presenting new skills and help your students build good habits (both physical and mental), the process of learning the guitar will be immensely fun and gratifying.
Confusion and Error
Your student should always feel a sense of ease. If there is any frustration, one of two things is going on: your student is either experiencing confusion, or trying to perform a task which is too difficult for his/her current ability level (this includes playing too fast). Both of these problems are easy to solve.
Emphasize sensitivity to confusion. A little is normal for any new endeavour. The trick is not to proceed if your student is confused (not immediately able to demonstrate the skill you are teaching/modelling). Stop and clarify, then continue.
‘A little [confusion] is normal for any new endeavour. The trick is … to … stop and clarify, then continue.’
If an element seems too hard, break the objective down even further or model practice with your student for a more extended period of time.
Make sure to model and practice keeping a steady beat with your student in every lesson, even if only using the first several chords in a progression. Using a drum machine during the lesson to model playing in rhythm can be very engaging. Rhythm is the prime organizer of physical behaviours.
Game Plan for the First Lesson
All right, let’s take a look at a skeleton of the first lesson. The student’s target goals for the first lesson are based on our one-month skillset inventory:
- Locating pitches by string/fret number
- Positioning the guitar efficiently
- Demonstrating efficient left-hand positioning
- Playing in rhythm with a metronome
- Playing the beginning chord progression G-GMaj7-G7-Em-C-D7-G (using partial chords)
- Reading a chord diagram
As you can see, there is a lot of ground to cover in a first lesson, especially for a 30-minute lesson format! Each one of these elements represents several subskills that must be taken into consideration.
My first lessons usually take between 35 and 45 minutes for teens and adults. For younger learners, depending on the maturity level of the student, I usually divide this lesson over two (or sometimes three) 30-minute sessions and spend more time modelling and practicing each subskill until the student can demonstrate proficiency.
Detailed Lesson Plans
I have assembled four complete lesson plans to guide you through your first month of teaching a new student. Download the PDF here (no signup required!).
In our next post on how to teach guitar lessons, we will look at specific strategies to use when presenting each of the elements above.
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.