Have you been in this situation? A new student shows up for the first day of guitar class and he can play the riff from, Sweet Child of Mine flawlessly! He impresses all the other students…and you. You might even wonder if this kid ought to be teaching your guitar class.
Later on, you find out that the little Slash (guitarist from Guns n Roses) picked everything up from YouTube and countless hours memorizing where to put his fingers. Still he’s excited about learning guitar your class, but thinks that he’s above the beginning stages – especially reading music. How do handle it?
Be Transparent and Set Expectations
Your guitar class is probably an elective. Publish your class description and be sure that all of the students very clearly understand what they will learn in your class (e.g. – note reading, single-note picking, basic chords, classical guitar, etc.). You can also let students know that note reading and other musical concepts figure strongly in your assessments and exams. Let students know what they will walk away with (e.g. – Students will learn the fundamentals of guitar playing, note reading, etc.). This is not to scare away students, it will let the know that they will – probably – not walk out of your class playing like Eddie Van Halen.
Embrace Your Students’Enthusiasm
One of the best things about guitar is that it is easy and contagious. Guitar players talk and teach each other songs and licks without standard music. If someone has a riff to play, give it some time in show n’ tell (or show n’ play). Set aside some time in your guitar class for kids to inspire their friends with what they’ve been working on. Give them feedback to help them to play more musically.
If their technique is good, you could partner them with struggling students. Often times your guitar class will be filled with kids of varying abilities. So team your ace up with a kid who is not as….ace-like. There’s no better way to learn a subject than teaching somebody how to do it.
Whip the Fast Horse
So you’ve got a kid who can play? Let them play more complex parts over the simple lines, strumming patterns and arpeggios in your arrangements. Let them improvise over simple chord progressions. Your ensemble could have some real color if you just channel your Ace’s energy into playing your music (and not just Slash’s).
Be More Musical
Guitar might not be your first instrument – it might not even be your 3rd or 4th. The reason you’re teaching is because you know how to communicate musical concepts. Even if the real Slash was in your class you could probably teach him a few things about music.
Remember: you want kids to enjoy your guitar class and grow as musicians because of it. Let’s set the right expectations and be creative when you help your students along their musical journey. Let us know how you deal with Aces and not-so-Aces in the same class in the comments below. And, in case none of your friends ever taught you how to play it…