Playing songs effectively is about being able to move between a few (easy) chord shapes effectively in time to music.Teach a child to move (slowly at first) between the chords outlined below in time to music then they will have the tools that they need to develop a rewarding and (self) esteem boosting lifelong skill
The Four Chords that a child should learn first
There are really eight chords that every beginner should learn to move between in the early stages but when they can do it with the "right" four of those chords they they will be equipped to play literally tens of thousands of songs.
There are literally hundreds (in fact probably thousands) of well known songs that use the four chords shown above in the sequence that they are presented. Our kids resources have a series of handouts like the one shown above that allows a guitar teacher to present songs in (or move progressions from more difficult keys into) the key of G. All a teacher needs to do is put the name of the song into the box at the top of the sheet and write the chords (with lyrics if required) onto the staff at the bottom. They are quick and easy to use during a lesson as required or you could scan and photocopy them to use again and again.
Here are just a few of the songs that use the four chords on the handout.....
"Stand By Me"
"Simply The Best"
(a simplified version of) "Every Breath You Take"
"Teenager In Love"
"The Monster Mash"
(Kids love The "Monster Mash" and both the verse and the chorus of it can be sung over the backing track that you can hear by clicking the link below)
There are literally hundreds of songs that use the chords above in the order that they appear on the picture. Once a child can change between those four chords in time to music a whole world of music opens up
Further down the page you will be able to find material using the same four chords in a variety of combinations that will enable children (once they can move between them smoothly and thats what our backing tracks are all about) to play a whole load of classic and current songs (or at lest the "catchy" part that they really want to play.
Those songs include......
"Stand By Me"
"I Will Leave A Light On"
"(I'll Be riding) Shotgun"
"Baby shark" (sorry!)
"Sweet Home Alabama"
"Werewolves Of London"
and loads more
Our kid's guitar resources come with a whole bunch of blank sheets like the one shown above that allows a teacher to present the chords (normally for the "hooks") of songs that kids recognise. The songs tend to be either "classics" like some of those listed above or bang up to the minute hits of today (I deliberately chose older songs for the above list to avoid this part of the page seeming out of date in just a few months from now but the hits of modern times rely on the same chords in the same order) . The blanks are a great way for educators to "future proof" their teaching materials as they provide an opportunity to be bang up to the minute in terms of song choices if required.
If you scroll down the page you will see material relating to more modern songe by artists such as George Ezra, Avril Levigne and Tom Walker but the theory is exactly the same. It should be remembered that there are only twelve notes in music and that there are a finite (and surprisingly small) number of ways in which those notes can be used to a "pleasing" way. Thats why so many songs use the chords of G, C, D and Em
Backing Tracks that quickly get kids ready to play songs that they know
An ideal way to ensure that a child is ready to tackle songs (or at this stage more likely the "hooks" or choruses of songs that they already know) is to have them change chords slowly and in time to music
Here is an extract from our backing track (the handout for it is featured above) that allows children to change chords slowly but while still being in time with music and that will serve as the ideal preparation for working on songs such as the others featured on this page that require them to move between the chords more quickly. To see how our backing tracks combine to ensure that children are ready to start working on songs just have a look at the video below or take a listen to the backing track. By sheer coincidence the chord progression (two bars of each chord changing slowly) works for a load of existing songs including both the verse and chorus of Kid's favourite "The Monster Mash"
The backing track below allows children to move slowly through the chord shapes at first and takes them to the point where they are ready to play the quicker chord changes to be found in some of the songs featured on this page
Take a look at the video to see how to use our backing tracks in order to ensure that kids get to be able to "really" play the guitar
FREE Kids Guitar Lesson Plans
Download FREE Kids Guitar Lesson Plans to go with the video above!
You can download the PDF shown above which contains the FREE kids guitar lesson plansthat go along with the video. The plans will give you a useful and informative overview of the subject of teaching children to play guitar as well as providing a good deal of detail on each individual lesson.
Further down this page there are a bunch of songs that are great for teaching to kids in the early stages of playing guitar We have a bunch of resources that you can download to your phone, tablet or PC that will increase the chances of guitar playing becoming a lifelong passion rather than "something they tried to do but didn't get very far with"
The Best Guitar Chords for Children
Guitar lessons that encourage kids to make real progress rather than just "passing the time"
Before we choose the best easy songs to play (unsurprisingly featuring combinations of the eight chords featured to this point) we should maybe look a little deeper and consider what we are really trying to do here. If we are trying to help children to become guitar players and not just fill in some time before the next "craze" comes along then it would seem to be a good idea to tailor our choice of material presented to them to help us to achieve that goal. This does not mean that the lessons will be less any enjoyable for the kids (far from it) but that they will be presented with a set of challenges that will help them to progress as musicians as well as having a whole load of fun.
Kids are not fools!
Kids are not fools! They all do drawings that we stick up on the fridge and for a while they believe us when we tell them that they are "great at art". What usually happens is that over time they come to believe (rightly or wrongly) that they are not as "good" as some of the other kids that they go to school with who make their drawings look a bit more realistic.
"By the time a kids are old enough to want to pick up a guitar most children have probably been through the "no good at drawing" thing and the last thing that we want to be part of is helping them to convince themselves that music, too is beyond them"
They know that we love them but they stop presenting us with pictures because they come to believe that they are not making any progress as artists. They look back at our enthusiasm for the art that they produced and start to feel a bit "patronised"
If you want confirmation of this just think about your own childhood experience or talk to an older kid who used to draw continuously but who now does not bother at all and you will probably get a story closely related to the circumstances outlined above.
If you think about it too deeply it is tragic. A child closing off an entire area of artistic expression (probably for life) because they come to form the opinion that they are "not good enough" at it to make their continued efforts worthwhile. By the time a kids are old enough to want to pick up a guitar they have probably been through the "no good at drawing" thing and the last thing that we want to be part of is helping them to convince themselves that music, too is beyond them.
Making guitar playing a "lifelong skill"
So now the objective is to help them to start out on a journey that will be a whole load of fun and which will also help them to become "good" at something in the longer term (like the kids at school who were seen as "good" at drawing) We can just forget that they are kids and teach them how to play the guitar "properly" in a way that ensures that they progress from the beginner stage to the intermediate level and maybe even eventually beyond that. Without resorting to hype about personal development and self image and all of that the positive effects of regarding yourself as being "good at something" cannot be overstated
The best guitar chords for a child to learn
There are eight chords (shown above) that guitar teachers the world over use to help beginners (not just children) to play the instrument so a question we should be asking is "which songs would a child like to play that features some of the eight best chords to master"? If they learn some songs (or fragments of songs) featuring the "right" chords then they will be in a position to take those chords and use them in other songs. I dont want to get all academic and start to throw educational theory about the place but if I did I would be writing about "the development of transferrable skills" which is one of the most important elements of developing a high level of knowledge and capability in any discipline (not just guitar)
Three of The Chords (Em G and C) have reduced "one finger" versions which are used for the first few lessons to get kids off to a flying start on guitar. The reason that one finger versions are used with children is that two of the chords (G and C) have full shapes that stretch across the fingerboard of the instrument and in the very earliest stages of playing these shapes can seem a little daunting to a beginner who may have smaller hands.
Easy Guitar Songs For Children
Without delving too deeply into the world of music theory at this stage five of the eight chords under discussion (C A G E D Am Dm and Em) are very well suited to playing songs in the key of G so it is logical to look out for a bunch of easy songs (or fragments of songs) that are either already in the key of G or which can be easily moved into it.
If you take a look at the range of published material out there designed to help you to teach kids to play guitar you will see that a lot of it features songs like "Merrily We Roll Along" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" This music is not featured in those materials because kids have a burning desire to play it but because the folks who make the materials do not have to pay copyright royalties on it. Children typically want to play songs that they hear as part of their everyday lives. Pop songs from now and the classics that they have heard during their upbringing. Present those songs in the (beginner friendly) key of G and you are more than half way there.
Easy Guitar Songs for Kids: "Stand By Me"
This is a nice one because the chord changes do not come along too quickly
2 bars (8 beats) of G, 2 bars (8 beats) of Em, 1 bar (4 beats) of C, 1 bar (4 beats) of D, 2 bars (8 beats) of G (repeated)
Its the same four chords in the same order for literally thousands of other songs out there. This chord progression will also get you "Crocodile Rock" "Every breath You Take" "Simply The Best" "Teenager In Love" and a whole load more
Change the order that the chords and you get the following chord sequence
Above you can see our blank sheet that illustrates the chords in the right order for a whole loads of songs (or at this stage more likely just the "hooks" which is what children tend to want to play) along with a couple of lines of staff so that a guitar teacher can fill in their own chords, lyrics or instructions as required. Its great for songs like.........
Easy Guitar Songs for Kids: "I Will Leave A Light On" by Tom Walker
I Will Leave a (Em) light on (C) (G) (D) Two beats of each chord played round and round. Nice and simple with the singing concentrated in the early part of the sequence. It is worth mentioning here that I always try to get children singing along to chords using music that they are already familiar with as early as possible. It is fun and it turns out better musicians
The chord sequences that you see here turn up time and time again in countless songs. If you were to play the sequence above that works for "I Will Leave A Light On"
but instead sing the hook of 90's classic "(What If God Was) One Of Us" by Joan Osborne or "Complicated" by Avril Levigne and it still sounds great
As with the first chord sequence there are loads of other songs that feature this chord sequence including.....
"Complicated" by Avril Levigne
"What If God Was One Of Us" by Joan Osborne
and countless more
Here are the same four chords in yet another combination..
Easy Guitar Songs for Kids:"Shotgun" George Ezra
Chorus = 1 bar each of G C Em and D
The chords change a little more rapidly for this one and its a great one for improving a child's ability to change between chord shapes more quickly
"I'll be riding (G) Shotgun, Underneath the (C) hot sun, Feeling like a (Em) some-one (4 beats of D with no singing)
Easy kid's guitar songs: The "Three Chord Trick"
Without wanting to go too far into the world of music theory the three chords shown on the blank handout below are chords I, IV and V (one, four and five) in the key of G Major
There is an almost infinite number of songs that can be played using these three chords alone. It should be remembered that what we are trying to do at this stage is however, not to get a child playing as many songs as possible but to encourage them to become comfortable with changing between chords. its not about how many songs they know but about how well they develop the ability to move between chords
Easy Guitar Songs for Kids: "Budapest" by George Ezra
Only three chords (G C and D) in this one and the chord changes dont come too quickly so not a bad one to have a go at during the early stages
Verse = 4 bars (16 beats) of G, 2 bars (8 beats) of C, 2 bars (8 beats) of G
Chorus ("Give me one good reason" etc) = 1 bar (4 beats) of D, One bar (4 beats) of C and two bars (8 beats) of G
Easy Guitar Songs for Kids: "500 Miles" by The Proclaimers
500 Miles: The Proclaimers
This song was recorded by The Proclaimers in the key of E and in that key the chords would be E A and B. The chord of B is not a beginner friendly one so it makes sense to move it into the key of G where all of the chord shapes required are within the capabilities of the novice. Although this song is a good one to present to kids when they have been playing for a while it is not a great one to give them when they are at the very early stages because even though the chords are easy to play they do change relatively quickly (particularly during the verse section)
Verse = 2 bars (8 beats) of G, (2 beats) C, (2 beats) D, 1 bar (4 beats) G
Chorus = 2 bars (8 beats) of G, 1 bar (4 beats) of C , 1 bar (4 beats) of D
There are even a whole lot of child friendly (and fun) two chord guitar songs to keep children busy
Easy Guitar Songs for Kids: "Baby Shark"
Three bars of G and a bar of D repeated until you get to the end of the song or until you lose the will to live? This video introduces four right hand strumming patterns with different levels of complexity as well as taking a look at where the tune might fit into a broader field of study.
Some kids think that they atre too "cool" to play this song but when you tell them that the tune can be used to annoy grown ups they soon come around!
The songs (or fragments of songs) above are nothing more than an almost random sample of a few of the many harmonically simple hit songs that can be used to help a child learn to play guitar. The songs themselves are not important but the logic that lies behind their suitability is very important. They are all playable using a few of the Eight Guitar Chords that any beginner (not just kids) should learn first on the guitar and the chords dont change too quickly. It really is as simple as that. All that you need to do is find a suitable song (or a section of a song) that a child likes, move it into the key of G if necessary and encourage them to play/sing it.
When teaching kids to play the guitar one of the first and most obvious things to consider is "what songs should I help them to play?" At this very early stage the temptation might be to not worry too much just as long as they are playing something and learning to move their fingers around the instrument but the reality is that the choice of material studied at this stage can make the difference between a child developing what could turn into a lifelong passion for the guitar (a good thing!) and the guitar being something of which they come to say "I tried to play when I was young but didn't get very far with it" (a bad thing!).
There is a short section of a backing track that you can hear above that fits with the song by a Southern Rock band about a state that they love and another song about werewolves to be found floating about in a major European capital city that seems to fit with the three chord groove here and it can be fun to get kids singing along to those songs while playing along with the track.
Before we take a closer look at why children should learn a particular eight chords and then go on to play a whole load of songs based on those chords it might be an good idea to take a quick listen to a backing track designed to help kids to play guitar in time to music
The track is actually included in an update to our guitar teaching materials aimed at teachers who might be interested in using guitar backing tracks that go beyond the basics but it works equally well for kids in the early stages of guitar playing who can get around the eight chords that they should learn first. I must stress that this backing track is not suitable for a child's first guitar lesson as the chords change too quickly for kids in the very early stages of learning to play guitar
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