Reader Feedback on Teaching Guitar

A reader and the author of an earlier article air their differences on methods of teaching guitar workshops to beginners.

| January/February 1972

teaching guitar

Every guitar teacher has an opinion about the best method of teaching guitar.


"A Guide to Teaching Guitar Workshops" might've more aptly been titled "Take the Money and Run." It contains just enough truth to sound good: formal guitar classes using traditional methods can be discouraging and teaching should be demystified, a "passably fair" guitarist is perfectly able to teach fundamentals to a beginner (mainly because he still remembers the problems he had as a novice), the key of C is the wrong one to start with, and teaching guitar is a good way to supplement income (as well as a satisfying way to make a living).

But just as I want value for my money, I feel a responsibility to give others due value for their money. A music teacher must not mislead or frustrate his students, underrate their abilities, or neglect to convey the joy to be found in making music. An initial bad experience can be enough to put a student, particularly a young one, off the subject for life.

Aside from objecting to the attitude expressed in the article, I know the lesson plan as set down is unworkable. First, a four hour workshop! In my experience after one hour the beginner's fingers are so sore he's looking for a finger bowl!

Second, tuning everyone's guitar yourself before you begin ... so that's how you spend three of the four hours! A better way to get the initial tuning done is to have the students match the strings of your guitar as you pluck them one by me ("Turning the peg away from you raises the tone, and toward you lowers it").

Third, beginning the students on A and E7, with "Tom Dooley" as an illustrating song! Any guitar teacher can tell you that changing chords smoothly is a most difficult thing for the beginner, so either start with one-chord songs like "Roving Gambler" or "John Henry," or teach a key with easier chord changes like D, whose chords (D, G, A7 ), along with E minor, are more versatile than the ones in the article anyway. From them, other chords can easily be learned — such as D7 and D minor from D, G7 from G, A major from A7 , E major and A minor from E minor, even C from A minor — enabling the student to change keys without a capo and understand transposing much easier. A capo's important, but as a tool, not a crutch.

Further, what's to be gained by telling students that they now know all they need for "99 out of 100 folk songs" so they "can safely skip" the chords they don't know? They'll be mightily disappointed, perhaps even angry, when they sit down to play "House of the Rising Sun" or "Shenandoah" or even "Jingle Bells!" Better to tell them to look up chords they don't know in a chord book or in the back of a songbook.

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