What we cover in lessons varies depending on the student’s own goals, previous experience, strengths and weaknesses. There are also certain universal skills that all musicians should possess, whether they are professional classical players, campfire strummers, jazz improvisers or hard rockers, and I work hard to make sure nothing critical is overlooked in my students’ development. These are some of the areas I cover:
Reading Standard Notation
I give all my younger students a solid foundation in reading music, since they tend to be receptive and it can be an asset later on. I recommend all students at least become familiar with the basic concepts, especially rhythmic notation. While knowing how to read music can be very useful and is necessary in certain situations, for some students’ purposes it is not really needed and there are many fantastic musicians who do not read, so I don’t force it with every student.
Switching between chords gives nearly every beginning guitar player trouble, but with the right kind of practice, everyone can learn to make these changes fast enough. There are 8 basic open chords that every guitar player must know, and many, many songs have been written using just these few chords, so once you get them down you’ll be well on your way.
Learning a song that the student is familiar with is a great way to dive right into playing. Learning even a small piece of a song can help you feel like you are ‘actually playing’ right away and can be the beginning of developing a strong connection with the instrument.
Rhythm is arguably the most essential element of music. A small error in a melody can be more easily overlooked than a halt in the rhythm. Building upon the basic skill of keeping a consistent, steady beat, students learn to understand more complex rhythms by reading and counting them out while maintaining the beat. Eventually the rhythms will become internalized, and the student can leave counting behind and just ‘feel’ it.
Right Hand Techniques
These include strumming, plucking individual strings using a pick, fingerpicking, muting strings, and classical guitar technique using p, i, m and a.
Learning to recognize notes, intervals and chords just by listening will develop your ear and make you a better musician. It will also enable you to figure out songs yourself.
Concepts like key signatures, chords, intervals, scales and modes seem intimidating to many, but they aren’t really that hard to grasp. When the concepts are presented in the right order and enough time is given in between to absorb each new bit of information, they become easy to understand.
Basic Keyboard Knowledge
The piano keyboard is invaluable for developing an understanding of intervals, chords, scales and other harmonic concepts. When playing multiple notes on the guitar, it is not visually obvious just how much higher one note is than another, but on the piano, since the notes are arranged sequentially from low on the left to high on the right, it is easy to see the intervallic relationships between them. This is also very helpful in developing one’s ear, since one can begin to associate these intervals with their particular sounds. If a piano or electronic keyboard is available, I make frequent use of it from the beginning, and when it is not, if I feel it is critical for a certain student’s further development, I will recommend getting one. (This is usually not right away.)
If the student is inclined toward coming up with his or her own songs, I encourage it and offer guidance and support while letting them discover the process for themselves. I am especially careful to exert a minimum of influence so that the student is the one doing the writing, not me. As they see what is successful and what is not (according to their own judgment), they will develop their own process and create music that is unique to them.
Tablature is a popular, easy-to-read guitar shorthand used in many online transcriptions. It does not convey the time values of notes, so its usefulness is limited, but if the student already has a feel for the rhythm of a song, it may be the quickest and most direct notation.
Basic Set-Up and Maintenance
This isn’t an aspect of playing, but it can make a big difference in your enjoyment and ease of learning. A poorly set up guitar can be discouraging and the player, not knowing that the guitar is the problem, may be led to give up. Most guitars can benefit from one or two minor tweaks. If the strings are too far from the fretboard as a result of a poorly adjusted neck, nut and/or bridge, making it difficult to press them, or if the strings are buzzing against the frets, I have the tools and can help you understand and make the necessary adjustments. Sometimes this makes the difference between an unplayable guitar and a playable one. I also perform full set-ups on electric and acoustic guitars.
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