Perhaps you're getting ready to take on a guitar student and they're 100 percent new to the instrument, with no prior musical knowledge or understanding of the guitar, whatsoever. What topics should you cover with them first? And by "first," I'm talking about the first few sessions. That would likely encompass the first two to three weeks. What do you teach a complete beginner in those early sessions?
I'm not addressing is simple concepts like how to hold a pick or what the strings are. Those are more obvious ideas that you can cover over pretty quickly and address as you go. These simpler topics would include the following:
- Physical parts of the guitar
- Difference between acoustic and electric guitars
- Holding a guitar properly (sitting/standing)
- Holding a pick properly
- Basics of stringing and tuning a guitar
But what about the musical and fretboard concepts? What do you tackle in those first few lessons?
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Day 1: Single Notes
On the first day of real study you should be guiding your student through playing single notes.
Fret one note, pick the string.
I would avoid chords at first because we want to understand the fretboard from the ground up, starting with the simplest building block of a chord, the single note. Get used to fretting and picking one note with different fingers at different parts of the fretboard.
If the student shows enough comfort with that, you can introduce some basic horizontal fret movement or even alternate picking.
While you might not want to use a scary term like "alternate picking," the student should be perfectly capable of picking a single note on the up and down stroke of their pick.
Day 2: Fretboard Notation
I've always believed that guitar and music theory go together much more than people think. Even in your second lesson with a student, I would encourage you to begin introducing the notes of the fretboard to build off the first lesson where you covered single notes.
Use a diagram, like this one:
Start with the easier notes like the natural ones that occur on the first, third, and fifth frets, on up to the 12th fret. This will let you avoid terms like sharps and flats until later.
And you might ask: Why should I cover fretboard notes this quickly?
Once you start building chords and movement, having a grasp on the fretboard notes will help the patterns make more sense to your student and will allow them to build based on their understanding of the fretboard and not brute force chord memory.
This lesson and exercise can be as simple as playing the notes one by one and calling them out as you go.
Day 3: Movement and Intro to Chords
The third lesson should make time for more fret to fret movement and an introduction of moving from string to string playing single notes.
This is also where I would advise introducing basic open chords, taking care to emphasize the root note of the chord matching up with the fret you're playing. At this point, the student should understand the fretboard notes marking the spot where they're playing a chord.
For example, the G chord has its root note positioned at the third fret.
Take the following diagram:
If the student has already learned single notes and fretboard notation, this chord will make more structural sense to them with the low G note at the third fret position.
Day 4: Simple Intervals
Intervals will show the student what is happening when they move from one fret to the next. It will also help them put chords together and understand chord composition.
While the concept can be complicated, you can use a simple intervals chart like this one to show students how to count frets to find intervals:
Again, it seems like "too much" in some sense. But simply having your student count two fret spaces and identifying that as a major second interval will get the point across.
Even if it takes a couple sessions to understand this concept (and to be able to play basic intervals), it's worth taking the time since it'll make barre chords and going deeper with open chords a lot easier.
Day 5: Root and Fifth Chords and Power Chord Intro
During the fifth session, you can build on the intervals you introduced in day four by taking your student through some basic power chords. For example, the root plus the fifth - anchored on the sixth string - will give you basic power chords. Show them F5 is at the first fret, G5 at the third, A5, at the fifth and so forth.
As your student gets familiar with this pattern and gets stronger, you can start to add to that chord with additional intervals until you have fuller chords.
With this foundation you've given the student a firm understanding of how you get from notes to chords, scales, and more complex patterns. It explains the structure of the fretboard and not just the shapes or patterns thereof. I've found that starting with these topics makes life a lot easier for both the teacher and the student. I'd recommend working them in.
Your Questions and Comments
Do you have questions about this article or how to get some of these ideas into your early guitar lessons?
If so, leave it in the comments section below and I'll check it out.
Discord and disagreement with my ideas and methods are welcome there as well.