Organize the Classroom
The classroom you teach guitar in may also be the same space where other music classes are taught. If that is the case, you will need to start your organization by considering where to store the guitars when they are not in use.
Guitar storage can be on a special guitar rack, in a closet or wall mounts where your guitars hang. Cases will help protect your guitars but, if you choose to hang the guitars be sure the are not in a walking path so they do not get knocked down. If students are taking guitars home be sure to buy protective cases and for even more convenience, try and get them with pockets for music books.
Numbering your guitars will help you organize classes. You can do this by simply writing a number on the label in the soundhole. Stick a piece of painters tape to the back. More permanent solutions are to use a paint marker or have metal tags fixed to the back of the head. When you have multiple students playing the same guitars class after class, the numbered guitars will help you assign a specific guitar to a specific student. If you see problems with the same guitar, you will be able to detect if the issue is one caused by the manufacturer or a student. Numbering guitars and students will also come in handing for assessment. (See the section on Assessment in the Classroom below.)
As discussed in the section above, think about your seating arrangement. Will students be on chairs? Will the chairs be out for the entire day or just for this class? Make sure to have a plan for how students will get chairs from their storage place to the sitting place. Tell them the procedure for getting the guitar from the storage place to their seat and how to return the guitar at the end of class.
Organizing your classroom is not just about organizing the “stuff”, think about the pacing of your class. As with all classes there are some formalities that need to be done each class. Each class should consist of a little review, something new and something that will encourage engagement. (Check out the Top Ten Fun Friday Songs for Beginners on the Additional Resources Page.)
Teach students to tune the guitars, have them complete a warm-up exercise, learn a new riff or complete an ongoing theory workbook while you’re taking attendance. A typical guitar class period could look like this:
- 3 minutes – attendance/tuning
- 4 minute – left hand warmup
- 3 minute – right hand warmup
- 3 minute – song review, echo play, chord review
- 5 minute – introduce new material (notes, chords, technique)
- 5 minute – drill new notes (teacher led, student/partner drill)
- 10 minute – apply in song
- 10 minute – apply in a different song or refine performance selection
- 10 minute – Fun Friday Song
- 3 minute – review/wrap up
- 3 minute – clean up
When thinking about organizing your class you also need to consider what students will do when a string breaks. Will you change the string in class or do you have another guitar for the student to play? Having an extra guitar or two on hand will really help in this situation. What will they do with their guitars during a fire drill?
There are a lot of extra things that can go with a guitar class. Besides guitars, books, stands, and tuners, your class might have straps, footstools, or picks. Make a plan for each of these items.
As music educators, there are several things that can be applied from your other music programs to guitar class when it comes to organization. Remember that an organized classroom builds your students’ confidence in your ability as a teacher.
Here are some suggestions from experienced guitar teachers:
- multiple places for storage of guitars – prevents crowding in one place where damage can happen – How does your room flow?
- extra guitar for broken string – change strings after class
- tuning – teach students how to tune to save time, this takes time to learn
- units of instruction – plan in themes or units for material, progressions and songs in a certain key support this learning
- number guitars, books, equipment, etc. and assign each student a number – record the number on your seating chart
- name guitars after famous guitarists – give a research assignment based on the assigned guitar or genre
A little bit of organization will significantly improve student satisfaction and learning!
There are several possibilities for seating. One of the best things about the guitar is its portability. Use this to your advantage in the classroom!
Rows: Place students in rows six across with a gap between every two students. This way students have a partner to work with and you can walk down isles to easily access students. This makes passing out material easy and attendance a breeze.
Orchestra Seating: Sit students in arch seating just as you would a string orchestra. When playing ensemble arrangements set your part ones where the violins usually sit, to the conductor’s right. Audiences are familiar with this arrangement as well. Consider this arrangement for concerts with a large group.
Small Ensembles: Organize students into smaller ensemble groups of three or four to a group. These students will alternate parts for different songs. The benefit of this arrangement is that students can get to know each other and work together. Small ensemble groups also allows for flexible grouping based on data and observations. You could treat these groups like centers as well.
Chairs or no chairs? If you use chairs in your band, the same chairs can be used for guitar classes. If sitting on a chair remind students to keep the neck of the guitar in an upward angle. A foot stool, hard guitar case or neck strap will help secure the guitar in this position for sitting. If these are not available, students can sit on the floor. Elementary teachers often find this a more convenient option. Sitting with legs crossed means students can rest the guitar on the right leg and keep the neck in the upward position. When sitting on the floor you will have to remind students not to slouch over the guitar.
Assessment in the Classroom
Assessment is necessary in any classroom, both for the teacher to know what the students need, and for the students to know how they are doing. In the music classroom assessment comes in many forms. Most often music teachers informally assess their students as they listen and give feedback.
While guitar classes can be structured like other music classes, it is important to keep in mind the kind of student who signs up for guitar. Students who choose guitar as an elective generally have a different concept of studying music than students in band, choir and orchestra classes where performances are an expected part of the curriculum. While students may secretly want to be rock stars, most of them are more interested in playing with friends than on a stage. Try to avoid singling out students for assessments.
One way to do this is to allow students to work in small groups on an ensemble while you assess individuals in a different area of the room one on one. This way, you can assess students’ understanding of musical concepts and skills on the guitar as well as give personal feedback while correcting issues. Students do not always hear specific instructions in a large group setting. If you’ve assigned numbers to your guitar, you can randomly call students up by their guitar number so as not to call attention to a student.
Another idea is to get students to record themselves playing. Video recordings can be very good if students watch their performance and try to make their own corrections before submitting. Often video assessment makes students practice much more than they would have for a face to face assessment.
Group assessment is another idea for assessing playing skills. Guitarists play in many settings. Small ensembles are most common and giving students a different part to play as part of an ensemble will help you assess the individual parts. In this way you are making assessment authentic for your students.
There should be a variety of kinds of assessment in your class; all of them should lead to authentic experiences in playing guitar. A combination of skills and musical literacy are vital to the foundation and growth of any good musician. Check out the links to see sample rubrics and checklists for assessment.
Click to open
Eventually a guitar string will break in your class. There are a number of reasons this happens, exposure to the air and oils from the skin are the two main reasons strings break. If a new string breaks you may want to look for another reason. There can be sharp edges on a fret, the bridge or a nut that are casing the breakage. Make sure to only play with fingers or a pick and not a coin or other metal object. Starting with clean, dry hands and wiping the guitar strings off will help prevent issues. Check out these videos to help you see what to do when a string does eventually break. To help things go smoothly, you’ll want a string winder and some wire cutters. For acoustic guitars you will also need a bridge pin puller.
Students often express their interest in electric guitar and some may even have electric guitars at their home. Knowing a little bit about amplifiers will come in handy for you as a teacher. When you get to power chords or improvisation, it is always a good idea to get out the electric guitar and plug it into an amplifier. Each amplifier is slightly different. Check out this video to establish a good basis for understanding all the knobs!