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Discussion about guitar playing from a diverse group of people with different tastes and levels of experience.

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Postby blutic1 » November 19th, 2004, 7:41 am

Lately I have began to teach about a dozen people how to play guitar. All of them are brand new beginners. I have not found very much on how to teach, though I have read some about it in various threads around here. I'd like to know how some experienced teachers operate.

I have played off an on for about 15 years and I have gone though a few teachers. I have not really liked any. I find that most teachers seem to be disorganized and teach things randomly instead of building a logical program where one fundamental leads to another. The first thing I do is give my students a chord sheet that has the basic open chords. I tell them to learn one A,B,C,D,E,F, and G chord. That usually takes a few weeks, but I tell them they must do a certain amount of grunt work before they can actually play anything. Over the course of them learning those first chords, I give them basic strum patterns. Once they have a firm ability to play the chords, I teach them a few simple 3-4 chord songs and get them to play along with the music. Presto - they can now play several songs. I show them how to listen to the chord changes and acquire the strum pattern from the music.

Next, I give them the minor pentatonic scale to learn. With that, we work on alternate picking, bends, slides, vibrato, etc. Then I show them a few lead licks from popular songs.

Third, I play a progression and get them to improvise in the scale. Then we switch parts.

This is an example of how, IMHO, a teacher can create a logical approach where each lesson adds a layer to the student's overall understanding. I hated it when my teacher would show me something like barre chords one week, then finger picking patterns the next week, then want me to sight read a duet the following week. That results in the begining student knowing a lot of pieces of technique but unable to actually play or write music.
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Postby NoteBoat » November 19th, 2004, 10:03 am

I find that most teachers seem to be disorganized and teach things randomly instead of building a logical program where one fundamental leads to another

I found that to be true of most teachers I've had as well, so I resolved to be different when I started teaching. I keep notebooks with a page for each student, and I record what I showed them at each lesson, and any comments on problems. Before the next lesson, a glance at the page tells me what we've done, and I can keep things orderly.

As far as leading from one fundamental to another, I agree in principle, but I'd change your method a bit. You're showing all the letter name chords before they start playing songs... the chords F and B are more difficult than the others; I start showing songs as soon as I've taught two chords. C/G7 or G/D7 is enough to get started with a simple tune, and it keeps students interested and motivated. I start with basic major and seventh chords, but I add some basic minor chords (Em, Am, Dm) before getting into F and B. It lets them play a wide variety of music before fingerings get more difficult.

I also start with the minor pentatonic in teaching lead, but I add the techniques - slides, bends, vibrato, hammer - after they've done a bit with the basic notes. Again, get some accomplishment under the belt before making things more complex.

Two things you haven't touched on are reading and theory... I start sight reading as early as possible, usually at the first or second lesson. Reading is a skill not enough guitarists have, and you have to begin with the basics. A beginner will tolerate repetitions of 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", but a guitarist who's been playing for a while won't - and therefore won't develop reading abilities nearly as well.

The start of theory should be the names of the notes. I start with the open string names, which are always part of lesson 1 for a beginner. After that, I add notes along with reading. The space between letter name notes is confusing for a beginner, so I show them a piano keyboard, and talk about the names coming from black and white keys. By the time they've learned the first position notes, we're ready to tackle scale theory with some background, and it makes later concepts easier to grasp.

A teacher has to do more than just show technical details, like how to fret a chord. You've also got to motivate, encourage, and help solve problems in a positive manner. Some of that comes with time and experience... but you've got to connect playing the guitar with having fun, which means making music. Start learning a song right away, even if it's only the first chord or two of a song... that helps them connect the dots between the technique of fingering and the fun of being a musician.
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Postby blutic1 » November 19th, 2004, 4:12 pm

Thanks for the insight. I agree that one should learn theory. I even took it in college. However, I have not made up my mind about whether sightreading is something that all guitarists should be taught. I think a lot depends on the person's goals. I think everyone should be able to read music but not necessiarly sight read. I started learning it at the behest of my first teacher. I was wanting to be in a Metallica type band but I was learining Mary Had a Little Lamb. I think a guitarist can benefit greatly from a through understanding of theory, but I really don't see the benefit of sight reading unless you want to learn to play from music. Most guitarists learn songs by ear or by tab or by both. One good thing about sightreading is that it lets you hear if you are playing in key or hitting wrong notes. Of course, scale practice does the same.
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Postby NoteBoat » November 19th, 2004, 4:54 pm

I really don't see the benefit of sight reading unless you want to learn to play from music

Well, that is the whole benefit, isn't it? The ability to play songs you've never heard, the ability to play music written for other instruments, the ability to figure out chord voicings without having to find a tab that's correct (or listen to the same 2 seconds of a CD dozens of times), and the foundation to learn arranging, composition, counterpoint, and other things that will open up your musical horizons.
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Postby blutic1 » November 19th, 2004, 10:03 pm

I'm not trying to be argumentitive here but I don't think more than a half a percent of all guitar players want to learn that. Just check out the Music Theory section of Guitarnoise to see numerous threads about people refusing to even learn scales or any theory. I would work on sightreading more if I thought it would benefit me, but I just don't see it. If I wanted to learn something like O'Dowd's No.9 then I might need to sightread. Thus, I don't think it is an appropriate field to spend too much time in with new students unless they tell me they want to learn to read music. In fact I do have a student that plays piano and specifically wants to learn to sightread. Other than people like that I don't think covering more than Hal Leonard's Book 1 is necessary. But I'm here to learn what other teachers think, so please let me know your thoughts.
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Postby undercat » November 19th, 2004, 11:27 pm

This is getting pretty interesting.

I don't think a player can be TOO diverse, being able to sight read is definitely a big part of that. I consider that one of my weak points, and it's definitely limited some of my options. I'm very competent with straight ahead rock, blues, and variations of funk and metal, but more complex forms such as jazz, latino/cuban inspired music, neo-classical, etc, I definitely find myself floundering at times, and while those may not be the primary styles I play, each adds something to my musical vocabulary.
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Postby NoteBoat » November 20th, 2004, 3:49 am

blutic1, I agree that reading is a rare ability. I just don't think it should be - if you went to a teacher of any other instrument (piano, violin, sax, whatever), you wouldn't need to tell the teacher that you wanted to learn to read music; you'd just be taught to read.

The guitar suffers as an instrument. I know a few high school band directors who have guitar classes - only one teaches reading in it. The others figure it's a blow-off class, and just teach them to strum chords. They don't consider guitarist real musicians - and most of the time, they're right.

The real problem with not learning to read is that you are not a self-sufficient musician. You have only four options for music: original music, music that someone else taught you to play, music that you learn by ear, and music that you've already heard and learn from tab.

It's great to write original music... but if you do that, reading is a huge asset. Not only can you capture your music for posterity (or performance two years from now when you've forgotten what you did), but you can take that good lead line and make it a great sax solo - and how the heck are you going to tab it out for a sax player? Or maybe the tune you hear in your head has an interesting samba type beat - you could get some sheet music of Portugese tunes, and pick up some authentic cliches to build your riffs on.

The other three avenues aren't great either... you'd be chained to a teacher, or spend countless hours listening when a few minutes reading would get the same result, or spend hours searching for tab - only to discover it's wrong and start over.

There's one other asset to reading: it is absolutely the fastest way to improve your ear. If you have to create each song you play, you are only exposed to the sounds that you can come up with; if you have to learn each song you play, you are only exposed to new sounds as quickly as you can learn the tunes. How long does it take to learn or create a 2 minute guitar piece in an entirely new style? It takes only 2 minutes to sight read... and even if you can't do it at sight, but you know standard notation, it's no more than 5 or 10 minutes. If you take an hour to learn that 2 minute tune, a bad reader will be exposed to SIX TIMES the number of sounds in the same amount of time - so their ear will improve much, much faster.

Don't get the idea that I stand over my students with a whip and drill them on written scales. In early lessons, I may spend 1/3 of the time on reading. With intermediate guitarists learning to improvise, I may spend 1/10 of the time on reading - just enough so it's not ignored. With an advanced guitarist, we may spend nearly all the time reading, but it's because that's the fastest way we can get through stuff... at that point, I'm not teaching reading, I'm just using written pieces as the starting point for work on technique, analysis, or whatever.
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Postby Call_me_kido » November 20th, 2004, 6:09 am

I think its great you guys are analyzing the teaching process. Alot of students seem to be very discouraged in the beginning because results are desired quick and effortlessly. A disorganized teacher is the the worst cornerstone for the knowledge to lie upon. I wish GN had more exposure to a teaching population, Im sure they would learn alot from both you guys and the thread in general.

Oh well,

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Postby Nick » November 20th, 2004, 6:59 am

there are a lot of teachers here on guitarnoise

About sightreading, I get a heck of a lot of joy out of being able to play something almost immediately.

It isn't hard to learn. If you do it like noteboat suggests, just a little per lesson, it's really easy to become fairly proficient in less than 6 months.
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Postby Moonrider » November 20th, 2004, 1:50 pm

I'm gonna chime in here, and point out that if I *hadn't* been able to sight read, I'd have missed out on one of the best gigs of my life - playing with the pit orchestra in my daughter's high school plays.

I'd usually wind up getting the music a few days before the dress rehearsals. If I'd actually had to learn the parts, there's no way I could have done them well enough to play.
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Postby corbind » November 20th, 2004, 2:35 pm

Nice post. Here we have some thoughts going on!
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Postby MP173 » November 20th, 2004, 7:50 pm

Hi folks:

I have been here at GN for over 2 years now, but this is my first post. Noteboat, I have your book and have enjoyed it.

I took up guitar 4 years ago and took a year of theory...from an orchestra teacher of all folks. He taught me the basics. I still have a lot to learn in terms of theory...and guitar.

I have difficulty with quickly reading stacked notes, or chords. I can figure them out, but it takes time. Any suggestions?

Also, my 10 year old has expressed interest in learning to play.

I would appreciate any comments on teaching a youngster, particularly you own child. Thanks.

ed
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Postby PappaJohn » November 20th, 2004, 8:28 pm

My grandson and I are taking lessons (he's 8 ). Although we are working on different things, our teacher is taking an approach like NoteBoat describes. I wouldn't have it any other way, and I think my grandson agrees. He's already looking at the music to other songs and trying to play them, he wouldn't be doing that if our teacher wasn't incorporating sight reading into our lessons.
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Postby NoteBoat » November 21st, 2004, 4:26 am

Stacked chords can be tough, especially if they have six notes and mixed accidentals - I have to stop and figure them out myself sometimes!

Start out with a couple simple things... if a chord has no accidentals, it's natural to the key. It's going to be a I, ii, iii, etc. Lots of music is made up of only chords native to the key. All you have to do then is figure out where you need to be on the neck, and which chord it is.

It's a matter of practice, of course, and eventually you'll get all the common chords down at sight. For the others... well, when I look at a chord, I'm starting with the top and bottom notes. If the bottom note is low A (second line below the staff) and the top note isn't on a ledger line, I'm in first position... if the top note is on a ledger line, I'm in fifth. (This won't always hold true - I could be in third or fourth, but it gives me a rough idea of where I need to be on the neck, and whether or not I need to change position.)

Then I go from the top down. The reason I do this is that when you sight read 'live', you're hearing what others are doing at the same time, and the demand to play in time is a big one. You don't want to entirely skip a chord, because you don't know how the other instruments are scored... years ago I was playing with a jazz band, and I sat out a chord because I couldn't figure out the whole thing in time. Turned out I was the only one supposed to play on that beat, and I never forgot that embarrassing experience.

So maybe I can only find the top two or three notes, plus the bass. Maybe I guessed it as 8th position, and I needed to be in 7th - I grab what I can from the wrong place. If I can get the top few notes plus the bass, the odds are pretty good that nobody's going to notice.

When I practice, I've got the luxury of getting it right. If I don't, I play through the measure to the next one (so I don't develop a habit of hesitation - it's important to play through errors), but once I've done the next measure, I stop, go back, and figure out what I should have done. I'll play the problem measure slowly several times to understand what's going on, figure out if there's a different fingering I can use, or a more efficient way to make the change, and then I try the piece in tempo again from the top (or the top of the section if it's a long piece).

Like most things, if you work at it every day you may never achieve perfection... but you'll be better at it next month than you are now.
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Postby Nick » November 21st, 2004, 5:55 am

if you are still working on chords with fewer notes, try making yourself some flash cards.

They work wonders.

Include the key signature and the notation on front and the chord name(s) on back
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