Questions for Planning
- What is the duration of your class?
- Where does this class fit within your larger music program?
- Is this a multiple level program?
- Are there opportunities for students to learn beyond this class?
- What grade level will you be teaching?
- Will you focus on a specific pedagogy?
- Do you plan an multi-stylistic approach?
- Do you expect your students to give public performances?
A Guide To Planning Your First Guitar Class
Begin with the end in mind. Whey you start thinking about your first guitar class, there are many things to consider. Not all guitar classes are the same. To begin planning, consider what the outcome of this class will be. Are you setting up a multi-level, multi-year course? Or will this be one quarter with new students each rotation? Perhaps your intention is only to add guitar to a general music classroom. Understanding how much time you will have with students and where the guitar fits into your larger music program will save you time and help you focus on gathering resources. Before continuing, jot down the duration of your class, where it fits in your music program, and the targeted grade/year level.
Guitar is a versatile instrument. It can be used accompany others, to play solo works or as part of an ensemble. Your class can focus on note reading, chord playing or a combination of the two. The guitar class you create can perform ensembles, or focus solo classical, folk or rock music and techniques. The suggestions below are should provide ideas to help you develop your plan.
Guitar in the United States is a relative “new-comer” to the music education world. Since guitar is such a popular instrument used in so many different styles, there are competing views as to how you should focus the pedagogy in your class. Some suggest you should focus on classical guitar because it relies heavily on reading standard notation and continuing music skills closely associated with academic music studies. Others suggest that a guitar class should focus on rock and popular music because that is the music students want to play. This author recommends that if your class is one year or more, you should plan for a multi-stylistic approach that includes classical, rock and folk techniques. Multi-year guitar programs generally exist in high school.
Some schools elect to have a semester-long survey course of guitar. Again, it is important for students to be exposed to multi-stylistic playing. Even though the depth of knowledge cannot be attained, students in this course can learn notes in the first position and a few basic chord progressions. When paired with a few fingerstyle patterns for the right hand, students can get a taste of ensemble playing, accompanying, simple classical solos and even a little 12-bar blues and improvisation.
There are several ways to focus a one-quarter guitar course. Like the one-semester course above, you could aim for a multi-stylistic approach on a smaller scale. In this case, students may only learn notes on the first three strings and three basic chord progressions. They could play a few ensembles, some solo melodies, and popular and rock tunes in a few keys.
In a smaller unit of instruction, you would want to focus on either chord playing or note reading in order obtain the most basic level of mastery.
Informance, Performance and Pleasure
Many music teachers focus on the performance; the guitar student, however, may not have the same focus. Informances are a way for students to perform in low stress environment. A classroom performance and playing for the secretary’s birthday can be considered an informance. These can be used to build confidence and lead toward a more formal performance. Be aware that some students want to learn to play guitar for their own personal pleasure. When programming music for your class, keep these students in mind.
Now that you have the big idea in mind, check out the section below on Sample Scope and Sequence for your guitar class. Download the Blank Planning Document to get you started!
Sample Scope and Sequence
The National Standards for Harmonizing Instruments as well as Ensembles can be excellent sources for structuring and planning your course. Be aware that they do not state specific skills. These sample scope and sequences are just one possibility for building a comprehensive guitar program. Remember that your curriculum is defined by the music that you play as well as the skills taught. These samples are only to provide an example of skills and sequencing.
Unlike other instruments, there are no specific standard of what to teach first, notes or chords. A survey of popular class guitar method books supports this notion. Some begin with simple chords and others begin with notes. Not all methods that start with notes begin on the first string. Note reading, tablature, and chords all have value to guitar players. These samples try to include techniques that are used for playing many styles of music.
These samples scope and sequences support a multi-stylistic approach for teaching guitar. Many popular songs, classical, and folk musical examples can support this sequence of learning skills. Keep these skills in mind when searching for a method book.
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Classroom Method Books
There are hundreds of guitar method books available for purchase! However, it is important to understand that many method books are written with private instructor in mind. There are important differences between private instruction and classroom setting. For one thing, private instructors are not held to state and national standards based instruction. They are not required to give assessments and they do not generally have multiple students at the same time. There are several method books/curriculums that were created with classroom guitar in mind. The list of books below contains some of the most common method books used in different settings.
The method book you choose should be written for the level and age of your students, as well as your intended pedagogical focus, and desired performance outcomes. Classroom methods usually come with some sort of pacing guide, assessment materials, suggested supplemental material and ensembles. Many classroom methods provide a multi-level option; level one and two. It is important to keep in mind that no method book will provide everything for your class; just like band and orchestra courses, you will still need to supplement material.
The lists below include authors with books for more than one level. Many method series also offer graded ensembles and theory workbooks. The authors of these series are known classroom educators.
- Alfred’s Kid’s Guitar Course – Ron Manus and L.C. Harnsberger
- FJH Young Beginner Guitar Method – Philip Groeber, David Hoge, Leo Welch, Rey Sanchez
- Guitar for Kids – Bob Morris and Jeff Schroedl
Middle School and Exploratory Guitar
Secondary – Year Long or Multiple-Level Courses
- Jerry Snyder’s Guitar School, Book 1 and 2 – Jerry Snyder
- Hands On Training, First and Second Year Guitar, Beginning and Advanced – Nancy Lee Marsters, ed. Edward Prasse, Leo Welch
- Consonus Music Institute – Curriculum and Professional Development – Michael Christiansen
- Guitar in the Classroom – Bill Swick
- GuitarCurriculum.com – Classical Guitar
Ensembles for Guitar
- Essential Elements Guitar Ensembles (multiple series) – Hal Leonard
- Everybody’s Guitar Ensembles – FJH Music Company
- Guitar Ensembles – H.O.T. Hands-on Training
- Jerry Snyder’s Guitar School Ensemble Book – Alfred Publishing
- Donald Miller Guitar Ensemble Series – Mel Bay
- Mel Bay Guitar Ensembles (multiple selections) – Mel Bay
- 21st Century Guitar Method Ensembles (multiple selections) – Alfred Publishing
Guitars and Accessories for the Classroom
Guitars aren’t the only thing you’ll need in your classroom, discover what is necessary and what is nice to have in a guitar classroom. Electronic tuners, capos, straps, foot stools, picks, amplifiers, cables, foot pedals, and much more can embellish a guitar classroom. When budgeting for equipment it is a good idea to know what some of the basic guitar accessories are and how they might be useful in your classroom.
Guitars – There are many choices when it comes to choosing guitars for your class. Acoustic guitars, either nylon or steel string offer the most flexibility for your class. You wont need cables or accessories to get started. Nylon strings offer the most comfort for beginning guitarists fingers. They are more mellow sounding and strings are cheaper. Another reason to choose nylon strings is that the neck is wider, giving more room to make chord shapes without fingers bumping into one another. Acoustic steel string guitars are another possibility for your guitar class. These are the guitars students will likely think they are going to play when they sign up for your class. Steel string guitars produce a louder, brighter sound than their nylon cousins. Many styles can be explored on both types of guitar.
–Size Matters – Guitars come in half, 3/4 and full size. For younger elementary age students, consider purchasing mostly half and 3/4 size instruments. Your middle school and high school class may need to have some 3/4 size instruments for smaller students but, most can get by with full-size guitars. It is always advised to go to a music shop or dealer to help you purchase guitars that are produced from a reputable maker, that are good quality, and able to be serviced.
Electronic tuners – Tuning the guitar is vital for any satisfactory music experience. While you may be able to tune by ear with a piano, an electronic tuner can help you to fine tune the instrument. Some guitars have built in tuners or you can purchase an electronic tuner. For the classroom, it is recommended that you purchase a tuner that clips onto the head of the guitar and picks up vibrations. Ideally, you would have one on each of the guitars. Consider purchasing the kind that have an auto-off feature to save batteries. If your budget doesn’t allow for this many tuners, at least buy a few to be shared in the classroom. Tuners that use microphones will pick up extra noise in the classroom and be less effective in a large setting. However, there are many free apps that are easily downloaded on a mobile phone for tuning.
Capos – A capo is a devise that clips onto the neck of the guitar at any place on the neck, shortening the fingerboard. Effectively, the capo becomes the new nut of the guitar. By changing the position of the nut, the open strings become different pitches. This automatically transposes the entire instrument. One common example is to place the capo on fret two. If the guitarist then plays the A, D, E chord shapes, they are effectively transposing the instrument up two half steps, now playing B, E, F#. Both B and F# chords are barre chords and would not be beginner-friendly chords. Another way capos can be used is to add voices in an ensemble. Using a capo at the fifth fret turns the guitar into ukulele tuning, G, C, E, A. Imagine the possibilities of adding higher voicing in your ensemble just by using a capo. Barre chords can also play higher and lower, but the capo provides the open string timbre that a barre finger does not. Using a capo can be a nice way to transition ukulele players to guitar. Consider that a capo makes playing many popular songs accessible to beginners.
Straps – Guitar straps are helpful when standing up to play. Folk, rock and popular styles generally stand when playing. Providing straps for your classroom instruments would provide an authentic experience. This does mean that you may need to install strap buttons on guitars if they do not already have them. Yes, it is acceptable to put a strap button in a classical guitar. Having straps on guitars means they are mobile and this can be a serious advantage for your classroom. You can create flexible groupings much easier since students can stand up and relocate easily. Students can also form strolling ensembles or perform standing. While there are many different types of straps, it is best to connect the strap at the base of the guitar and at the heel. This way the strap wraps around the body and keeps the neck in a diagonal position. If the strap is hooked onto the sound hole or tied onto the head, the balance of the instrument can be awkward. Straps that wrap around the body mean the guitar can be more “hands free” when moving around.
Foot Stools – The foot stool is designed to elevate one foot while sitting. Classical players elevate the left foot and rest the guitar on the left leg with the neck elevated. While this helps the guitarist maintain a relaxed seating position, staying in this position too long can be hard on the body. A traditional classical foot stool is made of metal and is adjustable for height. If too much weight is placed on the foot stool it can bend. An alternative is to cut 4×6 pieces of wood into 8 inch pieces giving three heights to place the foot. Alternative to foot stools are A-frames. A variety of these can be found on the internet.
Picks – Guitar picks come in many colors, thicknesses and materials. For classroom use it is best to start with a medium size guitar pick. Consider having picks made for your program. Like reeds for a woodwind instruments, picks might be an expected expense passed on to the student. Every guitar teacher should have a pick punch for their classroom there are several brands available on line. A pick punch is convenient when you’ve run out of regular picks. Some teachers sell picks to help raise extra funds for their program and others give them away. Just be aware that picks get lost easily!
Amplifiers – While it is recommended that you use acoustic guitars in your classroom, it is important to provide authentic guitar experiences as well with an electric guitar. A small 10 watt practice amp can provide enough for students to get a feel for using an amp with an electric guitar. It is likely that you will have at least one student who owns an electric guitar and is dying to bring it to school to play. Get out the amplifier when you teach improvisation and let the students play! If you have the budget, you should have at least one solid body electric guitar for students to try. While skills that are learned on the acoustic guitar can be transferred to the electric guitar it can feel slightly different. Too many amplifiers will lead to competing noises in your classroom so be sure to set boundaries with amps.
Cables and Foot Pedals – If you do dabble into the electric guitar in your classroom you will need cables to connect the guitar to the amplifier. Cables come in a variety of colors and lengths. Be sure to get cables that will give the player enough room to turn around. Foot pedals are a fun toy to have in the classroom when you’re adding electric guitars. Foot pedals can be complicated and expensive for beginners. However, a few brands make foot pedals that have multiple effects processors for under $200. One thing to be sure is that the foot pedal you choose can plug into the amplifier you have. Also be sure to know what kind of power requirements the pedal need. Some are powered through the amp but, many require their own power source or batteries.
Guitar Cases – One thing is for sure, you will need to store your guitars when they are not in use. Consider what the case will be used for. If you’re storing guitars in a rack in your classroom consider hard shell cases. If the guitars will be checked out consider a backpack style case. Either way, the case you purchase should have at least some padding to prevent the guitar from being damaged if it is bumped or knocked over. Cases with no padding do very little to protect the instrument. Hard shell cases might be cumbersome but they can be used as foot stools and provide the most protection for your instruments. They will also generally cost more than a padded backpack case. When purchasing guitars, try to have cases included.
Strings – If you play the guitar long enough, a string will break. Certain strings have a tendency to break more than others. For the classical guitar, the D string is the most common string to break. This is because it is the string that is the thinnest wound string. On acoustic guitars, it is the G string that breaks first. Our skin secretes sweat and oils that can be left on the string. This can corrode the metal and cause damage to the wound portion causing it to unravel. Depending on the types of guitars you have, you will want to stock your class with extras of those single strings. Check out the How To page to learn about changing guitar strings.