Teaching Children Guitar
Teaching children to play guitar takes a slightly different approach to instructing older people.
Kids are less likely to take on board the notion that they have to practice technical elements of guitar playing for their own sake or for some reward (a better technique) at some indeterminate point in the future. Basically "if it ain't fun NOW they're not doing it!" and the teacher who does not take this simple fact on board when teaching kids to play guitar will simply not cut it. The following material looks at some important factors to take into consideration when teaching children to play guitar
Teaching Kids Guitar: The New Reality?I've seen the books and the "teach kids to play guitar" stuff thats out there and some of it (while worthy) is a bit wide of the mark.
"Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" "Merrily We Roll Along" and all sorts of stuff like that? They have Playstations and School Of Rock for crying out loud!!
Show me a nine year old kid who wakes up with a burning desire to play "Twinkle Twinkle" and I'll show you a child stolen from the 1950's and beamed into the present day (and to be perfectly frank he or she would probably have been a bit of a wierd kid even in the 50's).
The only real reason that the stuff like "Frankie and Johnny" and "Merrily We Roll Along" is in the guitar books in the first place is so that the publishers don't have to pay the composers and owners of the songs because they are out of copyright. The fact that a tune is out of copyright presents no incentive for a nine year old kid to want to learn it on their guitar .
As Guitar and Bass Teacher's we have to compete with the free stuff that's up there on youtube (some of which lets face it is very good) so it would seem a bit silly to rely on out of copyright tunes that are recognised by an ever decreasing number of people?
Even though the approach to teaching children guitar differs slightly from working with older students the basic objectives with regards to chord work and single note stuff are absolutely identical. We need to get them to a place where they can........
Step 1: Form basic ("kid friendly") guitar chord shapes
Step 2: Move between those shapes in time with music
"Kid Friendly" Guitar Chords
Kids with "smaller hands" may benefit from being introduced to some of the beginners chord shapes in a "reduced" form (that is to say with some of the guitar strings not being sounded which in turn eliminates the need for kids to press them down onto the neck)?
If you study the picture below which shows two versions of a handout that goes along with an early stages (or even a first?) guitar lesson that requires the student to move between the chords of G and Em (playing a single strum of each chord as it changes) you will observe that the G chord (which in its "full" form requires that the student should be able to stretch right accross the entire width of the neck to play the bass notes to be found on the E and A strings) can also be played with a single (the third) finger just so long as only the four thinner strings are strummed or struck with a plectrum (the X's above the E and A Strings on the diagrams indicate that the student should not strike or pluck those strings).
By following the diagrams a kid can be moving between two very important and great sounding chords within minutes of being introduced to the guitar. Great for developing that all important feeling of "Hey I Can Do This!" which will encourage kids to pick the guitar up between lessons
Full and "reduced" guitar chords for children with "smaller hands"
Moving between chord shapes in time with music(it is enough at the early stages to ask kids (and adults come to that) to play only a single downstroke with the strumming hand?)
Kid Friendly Guitar Backing Tracks for Beginners
Helping kids to learn the "right" guitar chords and getting them used to changing between them in time to music? Below is a video that I stuck up on youtube that takes a look at how a guitar teacher might use one of the teachwombat backing tracks during a child's (or an adult's come to think of it?) first guitar lesson in order to get them to (not only) change chords (but to do it) in time to music. Not a bad outcome for a kid's first guitar lesson?
An important part of the $25.00 "Deluxe Guitar Teacher's Download" available from this site are a set of twenty backing tracks (standard mp3's) with 46 handouts which is all that you need to get started teaching effective kids guitar lessons. The tracks are based around the eight chords that a beginner should learn first and a combination of full and "reduced" chord shapes (one finger versions of C, G and Em) can be used as required.
At the end of a lesson you can drop the backing tracks onto CD's and mp3 players or even email them to your students if you like?
You might also like to take a look at our page dealing with the "First Eight Guitar Lessons" that form the basis of a teaching programme for younger and older guitar students alike.
Kids Guitar Chords
You can read a more detailed explanation of how the handouts and backing tracks might be used if you visit our "First Lesson" page which gives a detailed guitar lesson plan suitable for a complete novice (kids and adults)
The progressions and the backing tracks are especially devised to help the teacher to put together the first few months of guitar lessons for a complete beginner.
With beginners it is often a good idea to resist the temptation to teach them loads of chords. Instead experienced guitar tutors know that a much more effective technique is to teach them a few guitar chords that will allow them to do loads of things?
Again the eight chords (C A Am G E Em D and Dm) that you can find on the "First Guitar Chords" handout will usually provide a sound basis for (at least) a couple of months of weekly guitar lessons.
Modern Day Guitar Chord Studies For Kids
Below are details of a few songs that I find that kids (and adults) just starting out seem to get a buzz out of being able to play.
"Wild Thing" (two strums on A followed by two on D two on and E chord and finally two more on A) always seems to go down well and has the advantage that there is a gap between each chord change so that students have plenty of time to move their fingers on the guitar neck.
"Rockstar" by Nickelback (two bars each of A D G and A again for the main part of the verse) and "500 Miles" by The Proclaimers (G C and D) also seem to hit the spot. In addition I have also had some good results results teaching power chords to kids using "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" by Green Day ( the verse features two even strums on F followed by two on Ab, Eb and Bb repeated for the verse until you get five strums on C). This gets students used to moving power chords around the neck and prepares them for the full bar chords to come.
Children's Guitar Chords for Smaller Hands
When first introducing Children to guitar chords it can be a good idea to speed progress by teaching them to play three and four note versions of some guitar chords suitable for kids rather than the full voicings favoured by more mature learners.
The teachwombat guitar teaching resources feature chord sheets aimed at guitar students with smaller hands designed to give results and encouragement to younger players. Once they have got used to the "easy" versions of common chords and their dexterity and reach improves they can be gradually encouraged to move on to more conventional shapes as appropriate
A Handy Guitar PracticingTip for Kids
Studies have shown that a child's effective atttention span in minutes is roughly equivalent to his or her age in years and armed with this information we can help them to progress without really practicing to much formally. You can get to see great progress in playing by simply getting kids to practice guitar during the commercial breaks on TV. When the adverts kick in they should mute the set and play. That way over the course of an evening's viewing they get to develop square eyes and a better guitar technique.
Guitar Chords For Children's GroupsA trick for teaching small groups of younge kids is to "spread the chords around". Get each student to hold down a single chord, turn on the backing track and point at the relevant player when it is time to change. The more able guitar players can still change chords as required but everyone gets to stay involved and (hopefully) encouraged.
Guitar Teaching Games for Groups of Children
Another device that I find useful when teaching guitar to groups of children is a variation of the old children's game "Simon Says" where you would say (for example) "Simon Says E minor" before counting in 1-2-3-4-. If you dont use the phrase "Simon Says" then no matter which chord you tell them to strum they are not supposed to play it?
The game provides a great fun way of getting kids familiar with guitar chords and the element of competition introduced seems to have the effect of concentrating the mind. It is perfectly possible to get great results from a group using this simple game and the chords on the "First Guitar Chords" sheet for an entire lesson. They are learning to move between chord shapes (you can shorten the count in to "3-4" to speed the changes up if required)
In order to see real progress in kids guitar playing it is neccesary to get the parents on board to help ensure that when the guitar comes home from the lesson it is taken straight out of the case and tuned. Children can't practice on a guitar that isn't in tune and just as importantly when they get home from school or guitar group they just want to dump their stuff (usually on the floor) before running off to park themselves in front of the XBox. If parents are not vigilant then a week can go by without the instrument ever leaving it's case. The results in terms of progress and acheivement (as well as let's face it guitar teacher's eventual income?) are obvious.
Children's Guitar Lessons
Single Note FavouritesChildren wanna play guitar stuff that's relevant to them. I teach guitar to kids aged eight upwards and their parents are typically in their late 20's and early thirties. The music that these kids hear at home reflects that reality. Faves at the minute single note wise are the Simpsons Theme That three note thing from Shrek and (strangely?) Smoke On The Water(!) You can still get them into playing the odd Christmas Carol on the guitar because as streetwise and cynical as todays children may regrettably be they still love the season of getting free stuff but in the main, along with the classic rock they want to play the music of now (or at least of the fairly recent past).
It may be a good idea (not just with children?) to teach fragments of songs on guitar rather than whole complete pieces of music? This way your customers feel as if they are learning more and are less likely to get bored and frustrated by being forced to bang away at the same thing for hours on end?
Here are a few ideas that I have found effective to mix and match during recent kids guitar lessons aimed at children who are complete beginners
Its nice to have a few sheets with versions of simple tunes and figures which use only a single string for absolute novices (this also has the advantage of allowing students to get a pleasing result from a guitar that may not be properly in tune)
The theme from Shrek
Police Siren (E string 3rd fret to the E string open and repeated as required)
Smoke On The Water (single note version starting from an open A string)
The teachwombat guitar teaching resources have a range of sheets with JUMBO sized Tab and notation so that you can easily create your own "Master copies" of often used fragments or licks (these sheets have large graphics designed to be studied from a distance ideal for shorter segments of music) from there it's just a case of scanning or photocopying the originals to ensure that you have a library of material that you can add to and use over and over again.
There is money to be made (and a lot of satisfaction to be derived) from teaching guitar to children but as with "regular" instrumental instruction the key to an effective, stress free (and profitable!) lesson is preparation.
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