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For Teachers: Choose Words Carefully

The subtitle of those post would be how the right words can say the wrong things.

This is an especially important topic for those teaching young people. During my guitar pedagogy class this semester we discussed quite a few things. But one of the first was about developing technique. Playing the guitar is not a natural thing. But the movements that we start with should be modeled after natural movements. Take the movement of the right hand fingers, for instance: it’s about closing the hand into a fist. A young student won’t understand, “bring your finger back towards your palm.” But showing them the motion away from the guitar and explaining it’s just like closing your hands into a fist produces great results within minutes.

Or take the example of finger alternation. “Extend your index finger, plant it on the string, strike the string and at the same time your middle finger should extend, prepare…” What a load of crap.

“It’s like your fingers are walking.” Every student understands that because it’s a natural movement.

The more I thought about this after that class, the more I realized what a word can say that’s more subliminal. “Lift your first finger (LH) off the string.” Lift could say to the student it’s a forceful movement, where the finger travels far away to clear the string. But that’s not necessary. “Relax your index finger off the string.” almost always produces the result of a student lifting the finger perfectly and maintaining a good distance.

Even something simple (in reference to the RH) like, “pluck the string with your index finger.” We aren’t really plucking. We’re pulling the finger tip through the string, back into the palm, in one fast movement. Maybe something like, “pull the finger back into the hand,” and referencing the closing of the fist would be a better option.

Words with students are important. Way important.

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