How to teach kids to play the guitar: First kids guitar lesson
Kids Guitar Lesson 1
First Kids Guitar Lesson using two of the eight chords that children should learn first
You can download and print a free "at a glance" lesson plan as well as the certificate of achievement shown above for this lesson from this page
The first five Kids Guitar Lessons
Before going into the first lesson in detail you could look at our short video covering the first five kid's guitar lessons
This First lesson will get kids off to a "flying start" on guitar
This series of lessons with backing tracks and chord sheets that you can download to your phone tablet or PC is designed to start kids off on playing the guitar "properly" rather than just giving them something to do until the next craze comes along. It uses a method that experienced guitar teachers the world over employ to start children off on the road to becoming guitar players
A short overview of how to teach children to play the guitar
This first lesson is designed to make a child familiar with two of the eight chords that a younger guitar student should learn first The reality is that mastery of the eight chords (C A G E D Em Am and Dm) is the tried and tested method of teaching beginner guitar students irrespective of age. The main difference between teaching adult beginners and teaching kids to play guitar is that during the early stages of study children are often presented with "reduced" one finger versions of some of the chords (G, C and sometimes Em) to take into account of the fact that their motor skills and dexterity may not yet be fully developed and that children with smaller hands may find it discouraging during the very early stages to stretch their fretting fingers over the entire width of a guitar neck (as they are required to do with the full G and C shapes). It should be stressed that these shapes are only normally used during the first stages of playing and that within a few weeks kids are normally working with the "full" chord shapes quite happily
The eight chords (C,A,G,E,D,Am,Dm and Em hence the common name for them-the CAGED System) have become accepted as being the best way to help a beginner to make rapid progress on the guitar and this first lesson uses two of them which use the same finger (the third) of the left hand to produce a (hopefully) pleasing sound.
It is important at this stage to stress that there are two things going on in this lesson. The first is for a child to learn the chord shapes and the second (just as important) outcome is to sound that chord in time to a backing track or at the very least a metronome. We sell backing tracks and handouts suitable for both kids and adults but the reality is that if you have the time and technology you could probably make your own.
This part of the site features five lessons designed to get kids off to a flying start on guitar and loads of freebies designed to help you to make your guitar teaching more effective and enjoyable. Every page features a free downloadable "at a glance" lesson plan like the one below (the pages themselves go into more detail about each session).
The five lessons are geared towards creating a situation where a child is comfortable forming and moving between the eight chords that guitar teachers the world over use to teach children and adults alike.
here is a short video that takes a closer look at this lesson
This links offers some quick help in tuning a guitar for a kids lesson
There are many free guitar tuning apps that you can download to your phone, tablet or PC and loads of videos up there on youtube that let you know how to use them. Whichever way you choose to get to the point that the guitar is in tune it is important to remember that even if the correct fingers are being deployed properly and the guitar is being strummed or picked in perfect rhythm if it is not in tune it will sound awful!
Anyways........ back to the lesson............
Step 2: Show the child how to play the G Chord
Even for kids who do not have particularly small hands it can be a great idea to use the "reduced" one finger version as the simplicity of learning two shapes which use only a single finger (the third) of the left hand produces impressive sounding results from the beginning and helps to create the belief that "they can do this"
Even though one finger (the third or "ring" finger of the left hand) is used for both shapes it really does matter which finger is used as when the "full" versions of the chords are covered during the course of the next few lessons the student will only be tasked with adding fingers to the shape that he or she already knows
Step 3: Show your student how to form the Em chord
The material referenced above features a "reduced" one finger version of the Em chord but the reality is that the full version of the chord (introduced in the next lesson) will present no problem with regard to stretching for even the smallest hands. The one finger shape presented here is really used for the sake of simplicity and to get a child off to a flying start. If you wish it is perfectly possible to use the full Em shape if desired.
Step 4: Have your student(s) move repeatedly between the chord shapes in their own time
This is an important stage and (although we sell chord charts etc) it is important to realise that "the knowledge is no good if it stays on the paper" Be sure that a child can play the two shapes from memory without access to the charts before moving on to the next stage
Step 5: Introduce a count of 1-2-3-4
Playing the guitar is about more than learning chord shapes. Every bit as important is the (often overlooked at this stage) ability to strum a chord in time to an instruction or with other musicians. This is a great time to introduce the concept of tempo and "counting in"
Have your student count rhythmically from one to five. Then have them count and replace the word "five" with a single downward strum of the G chord. Do the same with the Em chord and repeat the process for a few minutes until they get used to the idea of replacing "five" with a single strum. It seems like a small thing but it really is quite an important skill. Being able to respond in time to whatever else is going on is an absolutely fundamental musical skill and is vital before progressing to the final part of this first lesson (where the FUN is!)
Step 6: Play along to a backing track
Click above to hear a snippet of the simple guitar and bass backing track that goes along with this lesson
Play a backing track (did I mention that we sell them?) where the chords change from G to Em (two bars of each chord repeated for a few minutes). As the track plays speak to them and let them know when the chord is changing (say something like .........."G......1-2-3-4") Continue with this "counting in" for as long as required. The important thing is that the child is getting used to changing between chord shapes in time to music.
It can also be helpful (and fun) to ask children to sing along with the strumming pattern that they are using. For the "down-up-down-up" strumming pattern used in the video below I currently use the phrase "sau-sage-and-chips". Using this sing along technique is not just for fun though as kids who may struggle when being asked to play an unfamiliar set of "down-up-down-up" movements with their strumming hand often find the task easy when joining in with the sound of their own voices.
Step 7: Give out the certificate that you can download from this page and encourage the child (or children if you are teaching a group) to practice before the next session. Let them know what comes next
What comes next is two new chords and more practice based on changing between them in time to a band
Look at the video below (which even makes sense with the sound muted) The video looks at a series of lessons geared towards getting kids off to a flying start on guitar
Let kids (and their parents!) know that progress is being made!
One of the differences between teaching adults and kids to play the guitar is that older people tend to look at you in a strange way if you give them something like this free certificate of achievement at the end of a guitar lesson. Kids on the other hand love them. I had been teaching kids to play guitar for many years when I came up with and started to use this type of resource and I was stunned at how well materials such as this go down with my younger learners.
You can download another certificate which can be awarded when students have mastered all eight chords and can move between them from the page Kids Guitar Lesson 5
If you are interested in the more theoretical side of teaching you could take a look at our guitar pedagogy page which looks at theory, technique and repertoire, the "three pillars of guitar teaching"
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