Teach Them in “Chunks”

Categories: Classroom,Education,Principles,Tips + Tricks

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Matt-Gerry_webOne of the hardest things to do as a classroom guitar instructor with your beginning guitar players is to add new notes or chords and then jump right into a rehearsal. Those young little minds need some time to make those new connections. When I first started teaching, I’d make the rookie mistake and just PLOW THROUGH. Let’s get through this song! We’d get through, and what did I have to show for it? Basically …. a song that sounded nothing like what it was supposed to, frustrated students, and a disappointed teacher.

I’ve found that “chunking” really helps (hence the picture of good old Chunk from Goonies!) Here are my favorite chunks!

1. Assign partners to take ONE MEASURE. They are the master of that one measure, and they have 1 minute to get it perfect. We play the entire song as a class and they play their measure when we get to it. Excellent way to keep kids accountable, assess how they are doing, but most of all to break the information down into little bite-sized chunks (delicious)! It’s also good for students to follow along in the music and see how their measure fits within the larger picture.

2. Do the same with chords! Row one you are in charge of the D chord, row two you that the G chord, and row three you take the C chord.

3. This is great for adding a new note. Let’s say we’re adding a song that has the note G for the first time. Tell them….I want you to play this song that has our new note G in it….but I ONLY want you to play all the G’s….that’s it. Then reverse it. I want you to play everything BUT the G’s. Finally play everything!

CHUNKING …. it’s what for dinner….or …what you should be using in your rehearsal. :)

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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

13 Responses to "Teach Them in “Chunks”"

  1. Eileen Posted on September 18, 2013 at 10:32 AM

    Would so appreciate some advice for my middle school classes. I teach students 6-8 for 12 weeks, meeting every other day. Expectations are hard to set due to the varying levels of ability, motivation, and time constraints. In addition, I see boys at a different time than girls. Makes for interesting and often difficult dynamics.

    • Matt Gerry Posted on September 18, 2013 at 3:25 PM

      First…I totally understand your frustration. I only get my kiddos for a semester and it breaks my heart to see them leave. I feel we are just getting to “the good stuff” as soon as they leave me. You get to see you students even less.

      I’d set a goal of what you’d like to see them (all of the them) be able to do by the end of the class. If I only had that ammount of time…. I think I would focus on G, C, and D strumming songs and maybe notation on the first 2 or three strings. Extra time, I’d hit power chords.

      Something that has helped me is seeing what another guitar teacher is teaching on a week by week basis. Last year I started a blog and tried to detail what we were doing in class each week. If you’d like to see some of the things we’re doing feel free to check it out… http://gerrysguitars.wordpress.com/

      Different abilities levels can be hard, but guitar class can be differentiated in many ways. Your advanced kids can play chords, while the rest play notes. Get the class playing the bass part, while the advanced kids play chords. Give solos parts out. Lots of different way to get different abilities hitting their stride.
      Motivation – I use the good ol’ chair system. It works for my students. They get really motivated to get “first chair”. It has it’s drawbacks, but the bennefits outweigh the drawbacks.
      Also use songs that the students really want to learn! Sweet Home Alabama is surprisingly simple once you have G, Cadd9, and D. They play that and you’ve got them hooked. Simpler? Smoke on the Water with just the 6th string or Seven Nation Army on string 5.
      Let me know how it’s going Eileen, and I’d be glad to share any resources or answer any questions you have throughout the year.

      • Eileen Posted on September 25, 2013 at 7:38 AM

        Thanks! I am getting prepared to start next week, and I wanted to know your opinion on whether you have found different seating formations more helpful than others. I have 15 boys that I can make 3 rows with, and if I do, would you suggest grouping abilities by rows or just seating according to management ease?

        • Matt Gerry Posted on September 25, 2013 at 8:12 AM

          The first few weeks I try and pair my students by ability level. I put an experienced player with a beginner, and I really play up the fact that I would like that experienced player to be a leader and help out their partner who is just starting out. After 2 or 3 weeks I move to the chair system….where students placed in order of how they perform on their test. The health competition I find really motivates a lot of kids. (I can talk more about my philosphy on using the chair system if you’d like – but I think I’d go on all day – he he).
          Management is key to your class running smooth…so whatever system you use….if that becomes an issue, I’d certainly address that….but maybe try some other things first. Best of luck!

          • Eileen
            Eileen Posted on October 7, 2013 at 9:00 AM

            We’re into the third class, and it’s going well! I actually took a look at the kids I have very carefully, and I found that by pairing them with another student of similar ability, they could work with each other during practice time a bit better for me. I have an odd number, so the boy I chose to work independently is an excellent reader and highly motivated. He is actually a pianist and plays adult level music in competitions. I know he appreciates being able to move on when he is ready. When kids get accomplished on one page, I then check them and give them the next one – maybe start them on the second string. We always come together and play what is expected for that class period and tune together in the beginning. I would like to know if you or anyone out there can send me a few ideas for G, C, D songs. I have several, but they are a bit young for my 13 year olds.I also have to be careful when selecting because I teach in a religious private school.

          • robsulkow_discoverguitar
            robsulkow_discoverguitar Posted on October 7, 2013 at 9:38 AM

            Hi Eileen, I can post your question on our Facebook page and give it some more exposure to the tribe. Sound ok?
            Rob – GAMA

          • Eileen
            Eileen Posted on October 7, 2013 at 10:13 AM

            That would be great! For today, It’s Yellow Submarine – chorus only! I am also using my smartboard to get some performances up there playing for us to practice steady strumming. We used George Thorogood’s Who Do You Know last week and I tied it into the Bo Diddly Beat, showed them a clip of him as well. It was really successful! I even taught it in chunks and then gave the whole class the chance to pluck out the bass line on the bass E. If anyone knows any they use or like, I would love you to add that in as well. Thanks so much! The added material and ideas are helping tremendously!!!

          • Matt Gerry
            Matt Gerry Posted on October 7, 2013 at 2:00 PM

            “The Superbook” has a great version of “Takin’ Care of Business” that they have transposed to the key of G.

            Do you have capos? If so…. Hold my Hand by Hootie and the Blowfish, One Day by Matisyahu, Viva la Vida by Coldplay (with and Em), Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show/Darius Rucker.

            Sweet Home Alabama is a great one in the key of G for working on picking through chords and also introducing “Hammer On’s” and “Pull Offs”.

            Don’t want to be noisy…but what kind of religious school are you teaching at? Might be able to find some tunes that used in the religion background of your students.

          • Matt Gerry
            Matt Gerry Posted on October 7, 2013 at 2:01 PM

            Let me know Eileen if you’d like any of the charts I have for these songs as I’d be happy to share.

          • Eileen
            Eileen Posted on October 8, 2013 at 9:04 AM

            Thanks Matt. I also would like to know if you get into note reading at all or just focus on the chords. I think I would probably have more success with staying with chords only, but I am a big believer in reading as well, so I’m conflicted. I work at a Jewish day school. I’m utilized quite a bit throughout the school as well as in my own classes. We have services and I serve as songleader. I am working on arranging to train a few of my strong players to learn some of the prayers which are more modern and in a rock style. I also have an ensemble of African style drummers I direct during the middle school services. It’s really fun and adds to the participation and interest of the kids.

          • Matt Gerry
            Matt Gerry Posted on October 8, 2013 at 2:38 PM

            Sounds like you’ve got alot of cool stuff going on at your school!
            Have you heard of Matisyahu? He is a Jewish hiphop artist. I use his song “One Day” in my guitar classes and my students just eat it up! They love it! And it has such a postivie message. It’s a winner. We perform it with capo 5 in the key of G. If you have no capos, I can show you a cool way to transpose recordings that works too.
            My students like chords so much better too….but I feel like I would do them a diservice if I didn’t do note songs as well. I want them to be literate musicians, and if I just put chord symbols in front them…I don’t feel like I’m really teaching them what every musician needs to know. I split my time about 20/20/60. 20% notation…20% improvisation….60% chords.

          • Eileen
            Eileen Posted on October 16, 2013 at 9:50 AM

            Of course! I have been to two of his concerts, took my 11 and 14 year old at the time, front row standing against the stage and got to meet him backstage. Great guy!
            I have 3 capos for the kids currently which isn’t enough. I’d love for them to be able to play along to recordings though. Transposing is no big deal for me. I am proficient. It would be nice if more songs were already in the key we were working on. I am thinking, given my time restraints, of turning this general class into a music appreciation of American music history and infusing guitar when it is appropriate to do hands on playing. It is really rough teaching so many kids at different levels and interest. I have been doing this class for 8 years. Maybe it’s time for a change?

  2. Steve Krenz Posted on September 19, 2013 at 11:31 PM

    Great ideas!

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