Classroom Guitar Essentials
This is a guest post from Dr. Matt Warnock who writes the blog Guitar Player Daily.
Teaching a classroom guitar course, at either the high school or college level, can be a challenging, though rewarding, experience for any guitarist. While some people may think that teaching a guitar class is no more than strumming chords and singing along to a few folk tunes, running a guitar class requires a certain level of organization to ensure that things run smoothly. By making sure that you have the proper teaching materials, appropriate music and are aware of the make-up of the class, you will be well on your way to making your guitar course an enjoyable experience for both yourself and the students.
Having the proper teaching materials can go a long way in helping your guitar classes run smoothly. Having a list of items ahead of time, and then checking with the school to make sure they stock these items, will avoid any awkward moments during your first day of class. Also, it is important to know that because of cutbacks to education, especially music and the arts, schools may no longer supply some of these items and you may be responsible for purchasing them yourself. Here is a list of items that are essential for any high school or college level guitar class.
- Music Stands – Without music stands students end up reading their music off of the floor, which can be distracting and take their attention away from your teaching.
- Foot Stools – If you are teaching a classical guitar course it is essential that students have a footstool, either a stool they bring from home or one that is provided for them by the school.
- Stereo System – Most classroom guitar teachers will have their students perform along with a CD or Mp3 of a song at some point during the class. In order to have your students play along with a recording, make sure that the room you are teaching in has a working stereo system that can play either CD’s or Mp3’s.
- Guitars – Some schools will provide a number of guitars for students to use, while others won’t. If you do not have guitars for the students, make sure to send a note home to parents ahead of time so they can either buy or rent a guitar for the semester. There is nothing worse than having kids in your class without guitars for any amount of time. Also, if your school does supply guitars it is always a good idea to go in a few days before class starts to make sure that they are in working order and to change old strings if necessary.
- Amplification – When teaching a room full of guitarists it is of the utmost importance that you can be heard by everyone when you are playing for them, or along with them. If you use an acoustic or nylon string guitar you may consider micing it through a small amp or PA system, if your guitar does not have an on board pick-up. Or, if you play an electric guitar, it is important to make sure that you have a large enough amp that everyone in the room can hear you play, especially when you are jamming along with twenty or more guitars.
Apart from teaching materials such as music stands and amps, you will also need to make sure that you have enough music prepared to fill each class throughout the semester. With a plethora of guitar books, and e-books, available to use in your course it is important to explore you options in order to ensure that you have appropriate, and enough, music to cover the length of the semester.
- Books – If you are going to use a book to teach out of than you should be aware of the different options you have. Check out the Mel Bay, Hal Leonard and Alfred beginning guitar books to see which one might be a good fit for your guitar class. Be aware, while these books are educational, they may or may not be written entirely in notation and they do not always use the “coolest” songs as examples. This may become a problem if you are dealing with high school age students, who will not be as interested in learning Shenandoah or Greensleeves, as much as they will the latest Foo Fighters or Radiohead song.
- Course Pack – One good option to explore when putting together teaching materials for a guitar class is a course pack. For the course pack you could assemble music and exercises from a number of different books and teaching materials. This way you are only using what you want from each of the beginning guitar books, as well as mixing in charts from more modern songs. If you decide to use a course pack, make sure to check with your schools administration as to copyright rules and what the recommend as far as charging the students for such a package.
- Overheads – If you decide to pick songs to teach as you go, then be prepared to write down chord progressions on a black board, or use an overhead, to allow the class to see the song from anywhere in the room. Passing out individual pages for songs can be useful as well, but is best done after class. This way, students are looking forward and giving you their utmost attention, rather than starting at their music stands, while you explain the song.
Know Your Audience
When planning a classroom guitar course it is always good to know who you will be teaching and the level they are at as players. Before organizing your teaching schedule and/or syllabus make sure that you are aware of what the school has in mind as far as curriculum. The words “classroom guitar” can mean different things to different people, so asking the administration beforehand could save you work and rescheduling later on. Some schools prefer that their guitar classes deal only with classical music, while others prefer a more general, folk music approach, cowboy chords if you will, and still others prefer that you teach their students to play and sing along with themselves. Knowing which type of course the school wants you to teach, or whether the outline is up to you, will make planning and writing a course outline much easier and more effective.
It can also be beneficial to gain at least a basic understanding of the performance level of each of the students in your class, which will definitely help you in choosing the music and exercises you use during the semester. This can be done in a number of ways, including a show of hands during the first class of students who have already played before, have taken private lessons or have played more than a year etc, or you can pass around a short musical survey the first day of class as well. If you have a group of mostly experienced players you can jump right into barre chords, advanced scales and harder pieces, but if the class is made up of mostly beginners you will have to gear your teaching to these students instead.
Though some guitar teachers may prefer to teach one-on-one lessons through a private or school studio, teaching in a classroom situation can be a fun experience for both the teacher and student. If you do decide to take the plunge, or are offered a gig teaching a guitar class, making sure you are fully prepared ahead of time will help the first day, and the rest of the semester, run smoothly.
Folks interested in teaching classroom guitar can gain valuable experience and do a great community service by volunteering to teach in a program such as Guitars Not Guns (www.guitarsnotguns.org). These organizations provide guitars for the students and pay for the course materials. They are almost always short of volunteers.