I am asked several times a year to teach guitar classes for colleges, middle schools, summer programs, and community enrichment programs. While most people assume that a guitar class would be fun and easy to put together, the reality is that for a guitar class to have positive results, everyone involved needs to be on the same page, and that is not always easy or fun. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way for you to consider for your program or class.
1) Students, parents, and the whole support team benefit when there are really clear goals for a guitar class or music program. Having some kind of pre-established structure and/or goals helps everyone achieve success, because simply asking for a “guitar class” is overwhelmingly vague. Survey the students and parents to see what they want to get out of the course, and discuss these ideas with the teacher(s) before the course is offered. Continue to offer support to the teacher as the program unfolds because it will always unfold a little differently each time the course is taught due to the varying abilities and musical interests of the students.
2) Consider the age range of the students, and make sure that all the students are in a similar developmental stage. At Cornish, I worked with a group of kids between the ages of 12-17. It worked because their motor and listening skills were similar enough.
3) If you’re going to go past 7 students, I would recommend hiring 2 teachers. There will be at least 2 different “levels” of ability that will quickly emerge, and you want to be able to keep each group excited and moving forward. I taught 2 classes of twenty 6th graders, and it was a real struggle because I didn’t have enough time in each class to work with all the students who needed special attention. (Everyone who is learning guitar needs some special attention, which is why private one-on-one lessons are the most effective way to learn guitar. The second best way to learn, is in a structured class with at least two teachers.)
4) Make sure you have enough room for the class to be divided into two or more groups without making it impossible for each person and group to hear each other. Also, some students may be overwhelmed with the amount of noise created as everyone works on a project. Make sure there is a plan for this so that each student feels good about being in the class. (I once had a student sit in the doorway so they could move away from the noise as needed, but still feel involved in our class.)
5) Unless there is already a solid and tested curriculum in place, a guitar class will require someone to do hours and hours of prep work, so pay your teachers really, really well. I suggest at the very least, double the guitar teacher’s private lesson rate for an equal amount of time, and make sure to also add funds for learning materials they may purchase to use in the course. You want a really good (and happy) teacher so the students have a fantastic experience with music. If a teacher is struggling financially so they can teach for your organization, they won’t be able to focus all their energy on the class, or, they may not even take their job seriously in the first place. Good teachers are hard to find, so pay them like you mean it. Also, I’m not a fan of the music studio businesses I see that take half (often more) of a the teacher’s pay. I’ve recently learned that a local studio charges their students almost $80/hour and they pay their teachers $26/hour. This is not cool.
6) If the students are younger than 12, you may want to consider starting the kids on ukulele instead of guitar. They have 4 strings instead of 6, the strings are easier to press down, and the strings are a little further apart than guitar, so they are easier for most people to play. The 5th graders I taught ukulele to were able to play songs after a couple weeks. The 6th graders played guitars, and by the end of the school year, some of them were still struggling to press down the strings to form chords.
7) When the school takes the music class seriously, the students also take it seriously. And a guitar class can be seriously fun.
Susan Palmer teaches jazz, blues, and rock guitar styles in Seattle and via webcam. Since 2006, she has been the guitar instructor at Seattle University. Palmer created and taught, “The Rock Project” at Cornish College of the Arts from 2010-15, and she was music instructor at Seattle Girls School for the 2016-17 school year. Palmer is the author of, The Guitar Lesson Companion Method Book Series which is used by teachers and students in over 10 countries, including faculty at Berklee College of Music. Her extensive collection of lesson videos and jam tracks are available for free on YouTube. Palmer’s current and former students perform regularly throughout the country, including these Seattle venues: The Comet, The High Dive, Skylark, Neumos, The Hard Rock Cafe, Chop Suey, The Tractor Tavern, The Rendezvous, The Sorrento Hotel, The Crocodile, The Mix, Cafe Racer, The Edgewater Hotel, The Sunset, and other private events.
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The Guitar Lesson Companion, Volume One is a music reading primer, a chord and scale jam guide, and a basic theory workbook. It’s jam-packed with comprehensive exercises that were designed to take an absolute beginner step by step into the intermediate stages of playing. This book will challenge the average student for 2-3 years with weekly lessons.
The Guitar Lesson Companion, Volume Two is an advanced theory workbook, a chord tone and mode improvisation guide, and a stylistic chord resource. It is a continuation of the first volume, designed with the serious intermediate and advanced level music student in mind. This book will challenge the average student for 2-3 years with weekly lessons.
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