My name is Shelley Brobst and I teach guitar… to elementary students! Yes, I may seem a little crazy to try such a thing but, stick with me and you’ll see that it’s a lot easier than you think! I’m starting my guitar unit for the next 9 weeks and I’ll be updating you on how guitar works in my setting.
For Starters, I’m Not at a Traditional School
I teach overseas at an international school. But, like many of you, I only see my students once a week for 45 minutes and I have about 4 different language backgrounds in each classroom. I would consider my class sizes average about 20 per class. I inherited 30 guitars from a school that was closing. Lucky for me they are all nylon-string 3/4 and 1/2 size! Perfect! And… I’m starting off with no books!
5th Grade – Guitar Class – 9 Weeks (or longer if I’m still sane) – Week 1: Goals
Learning your way around the guitar (String numbers, Finger numbers, Fret numbers, Reading a Chord Diagram, Play first song)
To be fair, I actually started teaching about the guitar parts last week. We did a little cut and paste activity that I found on line. This worksheet was great for the kids. At first they were a little “upset” that it was so easy – match the shape for the word. Actually, it really helped them discover all the parts for themselves! So, back to this week…
In my classroom I use my smart board all the time. So, I have a file named guitar unit (I can share from google drive for the first week) There is a link to a man talking about the history of the guitar. We have some Arabic languages in the school so my kids especially liked the link to the origin of the word guitar. Next, I show them the slide for how to sit. I selected 3 images that I think will get kids started without too many problems. I emphasized the fact that the head of the guitar is up in all pictures, no elbows are resting on knees, and that’s what I expect when they are holding the instrument.
Now 15 Minutes into the Class
I can start passing out instruments! This is gonna take some time! And the whining starts, “Can’t I have one in a pink case?” Here is where you really have to think about classroom management. My method is to call students up one row at a time so I can make sure they follow procedures (getting a guitar from the rack to their spot on the floor) the first time! Make sure to say exactly how you want them to cary the instrument and exactly what they will do with it once it gets at their seat. After that, it should be smooth sailing.
25 Minutes Left Quiet position. Strings down on your lap. I demonstrate this ensuring they know their head should be facing the left of their body – they repeat my words. THEN they may get their guitar out of the case and get into quiet position. Twang! Thud! Somebody didn’t follow directions…
Get guitars into playing position and give me a “thumbs up” with your right thumb. No, your other right thumb. That is what we will pluck with. Explaining the rest stroke is easy, doing it seems to be difficult for some kiddos. It’s almost as if the string they should be resting on has those coodies that go around the playground. Same ones that cause kids not to hold hands when dancing in circles! Anyway… and finally we’re plucking all strings with a rest stroke. 6666, 5555, etc… drill 4444, 2222, 6666, etc. Now onto finger numbers.
Kids who play piano have a different finger numbering system. I find it’s easier to call attention to that before I tell them the guitar finger numbers! Place fingers on a string/fret. Pluck that string. Buzzing or thudding corrections – press left hand harder! Mrs. Brobst’s phrase of the day… “Play on the tip of your fingers where it hurts the most!”
7 Minutes To Go
Reading a chord chart! (Talking faster than the guy at the end of a car commercial now) Em chord slide… “What does this mean?” Answer: “Put both your fingers here at the same time.” Excellent!!! Now strum all 6 strings! My tempo! 1, 2, 3, 4,… No MY tempo! You’re going too fast!!! Finally, we’re together.
4 Minutes Now
The “other chord”! Start with Em then make your fingers do a jumping jack to spread to the other strings. Good! Pick a level.
Level 1 – Strum on the 1st beat. Em, 2, 3, 4 Other Chord, 2, 3, 4.
Level 2 – Strum on the 1st and 2nd beat
Level 3 – Strum on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd beat.
Level 4 – Strum all 4 beats!
Level advanced – Try the strumming pattern with me!
Start the Music in Silence
Listen to the first few bars and… go 1, 2, 3, 4 switch, 2, 3, 4!
1 Minute Left!
..and stop. Guitars back in their case. I’ll call you by birthday month! January…. What’s the name of that first chord we learned? “Em (em)” Can you remember it for next week? “Yes”
Well, I guess we’ll see…