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What To Do During the First Guitar Lesson [For Teachers]

First lessons are a big deal. They’re the first time a student has met you, and their your first opportunity to show him just how awesome guitar is.

There are two things that need to happen during that first lesson: (1) the student has to feel comfortable with you, the teacher, and (2) the student has to feel like they’ve accomplished something.

Good Guitar Teachers Smile

Get your students comfortable the easiest way possible: smile.

Remember your first guitar lesson? I do, and I had no idea what to expect. Most students feel the same. So encourage them, even with small victories, and smile a bunch. And if you don’t feel like smiling, fake it.

Here’s something to remember, and something that will make smiling and being encouraging during lessons easier: music is a process. No student has perfect technique, and no student knows everything about music right away. Every 30 minute or hour session you have with them is an opportunity to shape their technique or musicianship into something it wasn’t before. Music is a process–a journey–and it takes time.

Who wouldn’t want to smile about being part of that journey for a student?

Get them to Actually Play Guitar

Any and every student can do something during a first lesson that they can take home to practice. This should be more than a few lame finger exercises. So here’s a suggestion: play some chords.

But please, don’t start with a C major chord. Young children can almost always do the simplified G, G7 and C chords. Older students (10-12+ and adults) can do some full open chords if you focus on the right ones. You can see what I do with my first week students on the Classical Guitar Blog Facebook Page (click the “like” button while you’re there!).

Easy G, G7 and C Gutiar Chords

Easy Guitar Chords: G, G7 & C

This has two purposes. First, you get to teach your students about the beat and how to count using the easiest method possible: big movements (strumming) and moving with the beat. Second, you get to talk about rhythm and how it the different shapes mean different things.

The biggest part about doing chords is the student gets to leave and be able to play something that sounds like real music, not some finger exercise.

Keep Your Students Coming Back

There you have it: two easily implemented tips for guitar teachers to give a successful first lesson.

Are you a teacher? What do you do during the first lesson?

6 Responses leave one →
  1. 2011 January 15
    Chris Ledwidge permalink

    I use those 3, G, G7 and simple C alot during my first lessons with students too. I try to have 3 or 4 different plans ready for first lessons.
    That’s so I don’t just fall into auto pilot mode and get lazy when I’m explaining things. This week I had 2 new students arrive back to back. It was good that I wasn’t using the same material for both. Am7, Em and D are usually manageable for young kids within a couple lessons too.

  2. 2011 January 15

    I agree that starting with chords is the way to go. Lately I’ve been using the song “Horse With No Name” as an opener. It only uses two chords, both of which are fairly easy, Em and F# min as follows:


    What’s neat about this is that students simply need to move their fingers over one string each from the Em. That teaches them that when changing chords it’s not good to lift all fingers and then find where to go next, but rather to move efficiently and directly from one place to the next. Plus they can play along with a recording of the song in a week or two. I’ve been using it as a first song for the last year or two and students seem to like it, plus I feel it gets them off to a fun start.

  3. 2012 October 3

    I use the riff from Smoke on the water, young boys or 7 or so love it! Or I use easy g7 and easy C to do 40,000 feet without a parachute.

    I find with right hand it takes much longer to teach the correct technique so I do it 5 minutes each lesson until they ‘get it’.

  4. 2012 November 19
    Tim permalink

    I was pretty much forced into taking guitar lessons (classical) when I was in catholic school. I was nine years old and tall for my age so my parents were instructed to buy me a full size classical guitar. It was part of the school’s program to literally force students to learn music even if they objected, and dare they object!

    So, I get my guitar and the few lessons that followed were torturous! Not only was I saddled down with hours of regular school subject homework, but then I had to practice the dang guitar everyday. Then came the dang recitals and solos. God this was painful. I can remember playing before a group of about 40 parents, with a microphone on a stand pointed to my guitar’s soundhole. I was freaking nervous and as a result all that could be heard when I played was fractured chords and major fret buzz. It sounded like a swarm of bees in the church hall. I can remember one of the nuns giving me the evil eye. I knew what that meant. Yep, I had just strummed and picked myself a ticket to “hell.” Monday morning I got from both barrels from Sister Miriam the “head” guitar instructor. After she was done giving me the third degree I felt absolutely lifeless, literally wanting to throw up. I wish I had on her!

    I was in tears all the time, a virtual zombie from the pressures of that school, the freaking guitar I had NO interest in, the crazy controlling nuns; I had to muster the courage to just tell my parents that I couldn’t take it anymore. My parents gave in and said they’d have a talk with my teachers and why I couldn’t continue the guitar instruction anymore.

    My Dad was transferred out of state for a greater position with his career the following year and that meant no more catholic school for me. I spent the remainer of my school “career” in public schools which were pure heaven compared to my three years in hell.

    I can remember tossing my guitar into the junk pile when my family and I moved. My Dad said that if it made me feel any better doing so then toss it away. I never touched another guitar ever again. To this day, 30 years after my dreadful experience with guitar lessons and all, if I hear classical guitar music it literally sends a brief bolt of panic through me. I’m “shell shocked” over the classical guitar. Sounds a bit crazy I know, but this was a period in my life that left me emotionally scarred for life.

    I have children of my own now and none of then have ever expressed an interest in guitar or any other musical instrument. They love their computers and, thankfully, they love their public school!

    Parents MUST understand that forcing music or any outside activity on their children can lead to a lifelong dislike for it all.

  5. 2014 March 17
    david permalink

    I always do the following :

    Give a small, super-easy piece of music for them to play.
    Give some super-easy, as fun as possible rhythm exercises and ask them to practice them with other people.
    Ask them to get a music stand and print out a song for them to work on by the week
    Ask them a ton of questions on what music is to them, what would they like to play, basically a good way to “get the lesson started”, because it gives me the opportunity to share what i’m currently working on, and what music is to me. I guess it gives them a good idea of what kind of person/teacher/musician i am, and i think i might just be what they were looking for, because they are, most of the time, coming back for a second lesson
    SET UP AN APPOINTMENT for the next week by the end of the lesson. I run through a super easy schedule : each week, same day, same hour, unless they call me because they have an actual reason to not go to their lesson.

    I also discovered the benefits of having fresh strings on your instrument, and giving a good cleaning to your guitar and playing every day. Really improves the overall “feel” of credibility i need to teach properly, in a relaxed, yet super respectful environment. Wearing black tees and jeans always cut it for me, it’s basic, but just goes well with the “i’m a working musician, super passionate about music” thing, it looks serious, but not boring.

    And then it’s all about the chemistry between you and your student and your actual teaching skills, i know i’ve ran through a shitload of books, and other educational resources to teach myself more music, in all domains possible, and to have more reference on pedagogy and musicotherapy. Not that i’m any kind of therapist, but i guess music makes people feel good, and i already gave a lot to people, not only in musical terms, but in more human terms. You should be prepared to deal with a teenager always forgetting appointments because he’s messy, deal with parents and explain them what you taught their kid, you should be in the same time prepared, adult in a way that’s you’re responsible and parents can trust you with their kids and with music, but young in a way you sometimes have to deal with students that kind of like a teacher that’s not “Mr teacher” but more of a mentor, and source of inspiration. I hate to say this because it does not sound very humble at all ,but i have at least two or three students right now who really enjoy my lessons and kind of admire me, at least for my skills, and so not only i have to be the best musician i can, but i also have to be the very best person i can be.

    And that’s it, that’s my opinion, i can also be completely wrong, but that angle just works for me.

    And i always teach a few minutes more than a regular hour, because i like teaching, and because it seems to give the feeling of somebody who cares about what their student is learning, which is completely true by the way. I’m just so desperately passionate about music i might just work an extra bit more, just because i want to give that extra bit and because i like doing what i do. And that’s the core of my philosophy.

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