Extra-Curricular Activities

As a full time private music instructor, I see at least fifty students each week.  Honestly, the vast majority of my students have virtually no interest in becoming involved with music on a professional level.  Most of them do it for personal enjoyment.  My students spend a lot of their time doing schoolwork and other extracurricular activities, such as sports; therefore they do NOT spend countless hours everyday practicing music, and conclusively they are not high achievers (AKA crazy insane guitarists!?@&*^%)

Guitarist Knuts - Edited

The article below outlines how kids are often overtaxed with commitments.  It describes how society has catered to this lifestyle and has propelled beliefs into our youth of outstanding achievement, even when it’s not true.  It also addresses how that affects kids as they move into the world of adulthood.  It’s a very good read!

In any case, I try to keep a levelheaded approach to this.  Often, students just use the 1/2hr we have together each week to unwind.  They learn a little guitar along with some basics of music, we hang loose, and they move on.  If I happen to have a student who puts in the extra-commitment, I will certainly challenge him/her, but if they are not looking to become outstanding, then I lower my expectations to match their goals.  Easy enough:)

Guitar Finger Exercises

Venice Beach Guitarist

It is important to diversify your practice routine. It might be more fun to improve your skills by learning different songs, but songs usually don’t allow you to really examine a specific technique. It is not a bad idea to spend just as much time working thru tedious exercises on the guitar as you would spend working on songs that are enjoyable to play.

Chromatic Exercises can improve the control you have of your left and right hand. They are basically simple repetitive actions, so you don’t usually have to think much about what comes next. Therefore you can concentrate on your technique.

Click the Link Below to View PDF of Chromatic Exercises:
Chromatic Exercises Outline

Chromatic Exercises have almost no musical value, so you shouldn’t be tempted to play them fast. They are not any more entertaining; no matter how fast you play them. Practice them slowly and on cue with a metronome. Focus on placing your right hand in the correct location (open or closed fist/planted on the bridge-pickguard or free floating).  Hold your pick with the proper method. Keep your fingers on your left hand arched and place them accurately against (not on top of) the actual metal fret closest to the soundhole or pickups on the guitar. Press with your fingertips, not the flat part of your finger. If you carefully practice these exercises on a regular basis your skills will improve and you will have an easier time learning things that are more fun such as songs or soloing.

Technique Merged

Songs that Use Chords on the Guitar

Dog Playing Guitar

When you play more than one string at the same time on your guitar you are playing what is called a “chord”. Simple songs that use riffs are much easier than simple songs that use chords, so a dilemma I often encounter has to do with diagnosing when a student is ready to play chords. Young students often lack the hand strength and coordination to quickly grasp the technique and skills required for playing songs that use chords. Even the easiest songs that use chords are difficult for adults, let alone children. Depending on the student, it can be years before I even begin covering chords with them.It took me lots of trial and error to “discover” the easiest popular songs that use chords. To make these arrangements more fun to play, I encourage my students to obtain and play along with a recording of the material that we are covering. Many songs that use chords are not recognizable, unless a singer accompanies the guitar; so playing along with a recording of the song makes it easier for the student to identify what is being played. I change recordings of songs that are tuned down a half step to normal tuning with the use of software such as Guitar and Drum Trainer 2 – Beta Version. I also have my students buy a capo, considering that many of the artists who have written easy songs that use chords take advantage of the tone that capos provide.

Click the Link Below to get Examples of Easy Chord Songs for the Guitar:
Easy Songs that Use Chords on the Guitar

Most of the Songs Below Are Available at this Link:
Virtual Drive – Popular Songs

Easy Songs that Use Open Chords
America – A Horse with No Name
Bob Dylan – Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
Bob Seeger – Turn the Page
Colbie Caillat – Magic
Four Non-Blondes – What’s Up
Howie Day – Collide
Johhny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues
Lynrd Skynryd – Simple Man
Marshall Tucker Band – Can’t You See
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
Tom Petty – Breakdown
Tom Petty – Free Falling

Moderate Songs that Use Open Chords
Adam Sandler – Hanukka Song
Avril Lavigne – Nobody’s Home
Blind Melon – No Rain
Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth
Colbie Callait – Bubbly
Eddie Vedder – Hard Sun
Fleetwood Mac – Dreams
Green Day – Time of Your Life
Guns n’ Roses – Patience
Guns n’ Roses – Used to Love Her
Gary Jules – Mad World
Jimmy Buffet – Margaritaville
Jimmy Cliff – Over Rivers of Babylon
Neil Young – Heart of Gold
Oasis – Wonderwall
Pearl Jam – Black
Poison – Every Rose has its Thorn
Sugar Ray – Fly
Steve Miller – Joker
Van Morrison – And it Stoned Me
Wallflowers – Three Marlenas
Warren Zevon – Werewolves of London

Difficult Songs that Use Open Chords
Beatles – Back in the USSR
Beatles – Rocky Raccoon
Beatles – Twist and Shout
Bob Marley – Redemtion Song
Carly Simon – Anticipation
Cat Stevens – Father and Son
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bad Moon
Everlast – What It’s Like
Grateful Dead – Ripple
Green Day – Warning
Led Zeppelin – Tangerine
Lynyrd Skynryd – Sweet Home Alabama
Outkast – Hey Ya
Tim McGraw – Live Like You Were Dying
Janis Joplin – Me and Bobby McGee
Tom Petty – Running Down a Dream
Tom Petty – Yer So Bad
Woody Guthrie – This Land is Your Land


1st Guitar Lesson Easy Songs

Contortionist on Guitar

A typical dilemma that guitar instructors immediately encounter upon entering the teaching profession has to do with the material that should be taught to beginner students during their first few lessons. The initial subject matter that each teacher covers should excite and motivate his or her students. Most people are familiar with popular rock songs and traditional American music so I usually teach them a few of these standards during our first lessons, but before covering songs, I quickly review proper posture and technique with my students.

Basic Concepts, Posture, and Technique:

  • Posture and Placement of the Guitar on the Right or Left Leg
  • Holding the Guitar Pick
  • Placement of the Right Hand Against the Guitar
  • Placement of the Left Fingers on the Fretboard
  • Pressing Hard with the Left Hand
  • Gently Striking the String with the Right Hand
  • Using a Guitar Tuner
  • Reading Guitar Tablature
  • Labeling Each Student’s Guitar with Fret Number Stickers

Keep in mind….. I do not force my students to use the “correct” method when playing their instruments during the first few lessons. I often allow young or disabled students to use their thumb to play notes on the low ‘E’ string. In other words, I remind my students of the proper technique, but I don’t force it on them.

I have computer software in my studio that slows music down and changes it’s pitch. I use the Amazing Slow Downer, but there are many products available that serve this function. With this software, students can play along with recordings that would otherwise be too fast for them to keep up with. They can also play along with songs that are not tuned to standard tuning.

It took me years of trial and error to discover what arrangements students enjoyed and which songs are easy enough for them to learn in only a few lessons. Here is a list of some songs that my students have an easy time understanding.

For the absolutely uncoordinated student (or very young student):

  • The Theme Song from the Movie Jaws
  • Green Day – Brain Stew
    • Using only the low ‘E’ string.
    • Change the pitch up a half step with software.
  • Chicago – 25 or 6 to 4
    • Using only the low ‘E’ string.
    • The same as Brain Stew, but slightly more difficult.
  • Metallica – Nothing Else Matters (Intro)
    • Uses only open strings.
  • Led Zeppelin – Dazed and Confused
  • Taps
    • Using all open strings except for a ‘D’ note on the 2nd string.

For the student who appears to be more coordinated:

  • Black Sabbath – Electric Funeral
    • Played only on the open ‘E’ string.
  • Deep Purple – Smoke on the Water (Intro)
    • Played only on the open ‘E’ string.
    • Change the pitch down three half steps with software.
  • The Stray Cats – The Stray Cat Strut
  • The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army (Verses and Choruses)
  • Hot Cross Buns
    • Played only on the high ‘E’ string
Click The Image Below – PDF Transcription of Easy Songs

A typical first guitar lesson with a beginner student will have me review proper posture and technique for the first five minutes. We then review “Jaws” and “Nothing Else Matters” or “Taps” for about ten minutes. In the last ten minutes of our lesson, we cover “Brain Stew” or “25 or 6 to 4” until the student can play along with a slowed down version of the recording. Most students really get into the fact that in one lesson they can play a few popular rock songs. It takes us five minutes to pack up the guitar at the end of our lesson while I explain my payment policy.

There are many things that I do not teach during the first guitar lesson with a beginner student. My students usually take lessons with me for months or years, and I realize that we will have plenty of time to get into more advanced challenges as time goes on. Our first lesson should be fun. Keeping things simple gives my students a chance to see how it really feels to play the guitar.

Guitar Lessons in NH

21st Century Guitar Teachers

Student with Guitar Teacher

Guitar instruction has taken on a new form in recent years. The Internet has provided us with a vast resource of transcriptions, videos, and interactive forums for learning to play guitar. This in turn has forced publishers to provide buyers with a better product. Instructional books now almost always include audio samples/CD of the material at hand. Gone are the days of publishers avoiding copyright violations by producing books that teach songs like “Here Comes the Son” a similar yet not exact replica of the Beatles song “Here Comes The Sun”. They now get official permission from the person who owns the licensing of the song and they publish accurate versions of the song. This competitive environment has forced everyone, including teachers who provide students with private guitar lessons, to offer a better educational product for the person who wishes to learn to play guitar.

The routine for teaching private guitar lessons has also changed for the benefit of the student. A large percentage of guitar teachers in the 1960’s-1970’s used poorly written method books as the foundation of their curriculum. The students were forced to read standard notation, which takes an extra step of translation, as opposed to guitar tablature. The songs they learned were often hokey traditional arrangements that sound more like children’s music than anything else.

As the old guard of teachers dispersed (or died off), the instructors of the 1980’s-1990’s had their students purchase notebooks of blank guitar tablature, and they filled the notebooks up with hand-written lessons and transcriptions. This is before the day of home copy machines, so the method makes sense, although writing things out by hand wastes much of the student’s time during the lessons. Nowadays, the Internet provides willing and able students with plenty of well written lessons, so why pay $25 a half-hour to watch a guy scribble a few notes on a piece of paper when you can easily download and print the same information within a couple minutes online? Don’t get me wrong, many guitar teachers have always reviewed important material with their students such as scales and improvisation or music theory, but the teachers of the 20th century simply did not have the resources available to provide their students with a superior curriculum for learning guitar as is available today.

Here are some ways I have used inexpensive technology to enhance my lessons program:

  • I don’t waste time writing out lesson plans during our lessons, instead I use a home copy machine to pre-print scale charts, chord charts, rhythm exercises, transcriptions of popular songs, etc.
  • I teach my students how to use Fruity Loops and other music creation/recording software.
  • I budget hundreds of dollars a year to purchase, review, and eventually recommend recently published method books, because I know the standard method books eventually become outdated.
  • I record audio/video of my students during our lessons, and we review the recordings to find places where improvements can be made.
  • I own a Fretlight Guitar, and I use it to help my students learn and understand how to harmonize with scales and chords.
  • I provide my students with online access to all of my lesson plans/handouts thru the Virtual Drive page of my website.
  • I post my teaching schedule online, so students can easily make appointments with me.

The main thing to keep in mind is the fact that our approach to teaching should always be adjusted as we learn new methods and as new technology becomes available. No matter how much we hate (or love) to admit it, the younger generation of performers will always display a higher level of talent than the prior generation because their teachers will provide them with a better education as new resources become available.