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Matt-Gerry_webWe’ve all been there.

You’re trying to teach an important new concept to your guitar class….and little Jimmy can’t keep his hands off the guitar while you’re talking! Well…. it’s little Jimmy….along with Fred, Wanda, and Gladys. It’s a classroom epidemic! To be fair…I can remember getting in trouble a couple of times for the same offense while I was taking Level I and II of the guitar teaching workshops. So here’s my official apology Glen, Nancy, Ed, and Romana. Sorry.

It’s hard to keep your hands off something you love (just ask my wife…ba dum ching!). You don’t want to discourage playing…I mean it is guitar class! BUT…as the Byrds sing the lyrics from the book of Ecclesiastes….”to everything….there is a season.” Well the season for playing guitar is not while I’m talking if you get my drift! How do you discipline your students to refrain from playing at inappropriate times? Really, I’d like to know! Comment below! Here are things I’ve tried and have had marginal successful with. By all means not the solution…but some techniques that you might find useful.

1. The Quiet Signal – I play an E chord in a rhythmic pattern of 4 sixteenths followed by a quarter note. I instruct my student that when they hear me play that signal, that they are to stop playing immediately and listen for instructions. Great idea, but you have to reinforce it! I give my class points any time it’s totally silent after I play the signal. When a class earns a set number of points, I give them a reward. ***I tried one year to employ a different strategy: If I caught someone still playing after the quiet signal, they owed me 10 push-ups. The students thought it was awesome and would try and help me catch offenders. It quickly turned into a distraction in class, and so I decided to head toward a more positive form of reinforcement. While fun, it got out of control.****

2. Pace – One of the best ways to keep noodling at bay is to keep the pace of class moving quickly. Don’t give them time to noodle. As soon as we’re done with one song, it’s right on to the next. This really help, but let’s face it, there are times where you just have to talk and get your point across. So this doesn’t solve everything.

3. Wait ‘em out. I’ve found myself doing this a lot. The old tried and true method of teaching where you don’t move on until compliance. I use these phrases A LOT!
– “We’ll start as soon as it’s totally quiet.”
– “I’ll wait on you.”
– “As soon as you’re ready, I’m ready.”
These are all positive phrases that convey what you want from your students without blurting out what you really have going on in your brain….which of course is, “WHY CAN’T YOU STOP YOUR NOODLING, SO WE CAN MOVE ON!” (clears throat) At least that’s what’s going on in my brain.
I occasionally have to pull out the phrase…
– “A lot of time is being wasted today; it’s a shame. I really wanted to get to these new songs today, but if we keep wasting time like this, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.” That’s a rare one. Don’t use that very often (and I wouldn’t because if you do use it a lot, it’s not effective when you need it to be).

Hope those ideas help you! Share with us how YOU keep the noodling at bay.

Author: Matt Gerry

Matt Gerry is a guitar teacher at Salina South Middle School in Salina, KS. In his 10 years at the school, he has started a guitar program that has become very well respected in the area. His students were selected as the grand prize winners of the Makin' Wishes with Weezer contest, and were fortunate enough to meet the rock band via webchat and also receive new classroom equipment from their win. Mr. Gerry was named the Salina "Teacher of the Year" in 2012 and was a semi-finalist for the state of Kansas' "Teacher of the Year" in the the same year as well. He hold a music education degree from Wichita State University, and will complete his master's from Kansas State University in educational leadership in the summer of 2013

4 Responses to "Noodling…Grrrr!!!!"

  1. majorbuttons80 Posted on December 4, 2013 at 11:10 AM

    I have a three phase system – Phase 1: All students. Guitars go upright and students ‘hug’ them while I’m talking. Phase 2 – If noodling occurs, all guitars are turned strings down on their laps. This makes for a good drum, so if further noise occurs: Phase 3 – The perpetraitor must put their guitar on the floor, of if you don’t know who it was, everyone must put their guitar on the floor. I have only had to use this one once or twice and they get the message. We get to phase 2 once or twice a week, especially closer to holidays! (This is high school, and we have class everyday). On the rare occasion where someone is trying to aggrivate you, their guitar gets removed and expectations are discussed one on one.

    • Matt Gerry Posted on December 5, 2013 at 11:37 AM

      Great suggestions! The three phase approach you outlined is great! I always think that when you have a defined system like yours in place and the students know the procedures that it sets you and them up for success. Thanks for sharing!

      Can I ask how often you go to phase 1? Is it every time you stop playing? Just when you need to speak to the class?

      I mostly use the phase 2 – and it does pose drumming issues. 🙂

      • majorbuttons80 Posted on December 7, 2013 at 10:22 PM

        I try to use Phase 1 every time. If I start ‘hoping’ for compliance and just ask for quiet, it usually comes back to bite me. Give an inch…

  2. Christina Joy Gilley Posted on October 29, 2014 at 4:08 PM

    Matt, I am teaching high school guitar in Baldwin City, Kansas. I am new to the high school level. Would you mind if I email you a couple of curriculum questions? If so, what is the best address? Mine is

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