Putting Together A Guitar Curriculum

Discussion in 'Music Theory, Lessons & Techniques' started by stevexc, May 3, 2017.

  1. stevexc

    stevexc Laura Like Butter

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    Hey guys,

    I've recently started teaching group beginner (acoustic) guitar lessons through my city's rec centres. It's more-or-less going well so far at this point (3 weeks in) but I'm quickly running a fine line between "running out of things to teach" and "teaching way too much". I've had a student... not so much complain as point out that the theory stuff is getting really quickly too advanced for people trying to focus on basic technique, which I think is valid. So I figured I'd post my "curriculum" here and get some commentary on it, so that I can finish developing it and if necessary reorganize it for the next go around.

    The structure of the program is 8 weekly 2-hour classes for adults. Ages range from mid 20s to... I'd say mid 70s, with a hard minimum at 18. In each class I'm trying to focus on a bit of theory, a bit of technique, a few chords, and a couple "repertoire" songs using some/all of the new chords (which I'd love mroe recommendations for, I've been yoinking ideas from justinguitar for them).

    This is what I've got so far:

    Week 1

    Introductions
    Anatomy of a Guitar and Guitar Accessories
    Holding the guitar
    Picking open strings
    Introduction to reading chord charts and tablature
    Tuning
    D, A, and E - One Minute Changes (DA, DE, AE)


    Week 2

    Notes, chords, and scales
    Musical Alphabet
    Sharps/Flats
    What is a Scale
    What is a Chord
    The Major Scale
    Metronome and Rhythm
    Rhythmic notation
    Strumming Patterns
    Using a metronome effectively
    Repertoire
    Hound Dog
    Bad Moon Rising

    Week 3


    Major scale review (as we had a student who missed the previous class and the rest wanted a refresher)
    Minor scale
    "Tuning frets" (5th fret = open next string, etc.)
    Fretting Exercise (5-6-7-8 on each string up and down)
    C and G
    Repertoire
    Miss You
    Louie Louie

    Week 4

    The Notes on the Staff/Basic reading
    Fretting Exercise Level 2 (alternating 5-6-7-8 and 8-7-6-5 up and down the strings)
    New Chords - G and C
    Repertoire
    Hey Joe
    Hey Ya

    Week 5

    Key Signatures and the Circle of Fifths
    String-skipping exercise (5-6-7-8 on E, then D, then A, then G, etc.)
    New Chords - G7 C7 B7 Fmaj7
    Repertoire
    Save Tonight
    I Wanna Hold Your Hand

    Week 6

    Recognizing Intervals
    Hammer-ons and Pull-offs (5h7 up the strings, 8p6 down, then 0h5h7p5p0 up and down)
    New Chords: A7 D7 E7
    Repertoire
    Blue Suede Shoes
    Folsom Prison Blues

    Week 7 Here's where I've kinda run out of material... I'm not sure what would be "too advanced" (ie. modes, chord theory, etc.)

    New Chords: F B Fm Bm
    Repertoire
    House of the Rising Sun
    Little Talks

    Week 8
    Power Chords
    Really Got You
    Some other power-chord-heavy song that I haven't decided on yet

    I've been using a couple different sources (chiefly Justinguitar and Mel Bay) but most are for vastly different formats, goals, and/or structures so it's hard to adapt it all into this pretty rigid framework I've got to work in.

    Thanks for the insights, dudes!
     
    bpprox22 and bostjan like this.
  2. Mr. Big Noodles

    Mr. Big Noodles Theory God

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    Before I begin, good on you for teaching. How do you like doing that through the rec centre? Do you charge your students a fee? Do you have to pay for the room? What sort of limitations do you have?

    I don't have the time to write a complete response right now, but here's something that stands out to me.

    Yeah, alright.

    Daaaaayyyum! I suppose it depends on how you're teaching it, but I'd break this up over a couple of weeks and get their fingers on the fretboard before I start naming things.

    This looks much more manageable.

    I think I'd teach power chords before major/minor, as they take the least amount of dexterity and are the foundation for bar chords.

    Bar chords? Other movable chord shapes? Get them away from thinking that G7 is a different chord from A7 (aside from transposition level, that is). Give them a few scales or scale shapes. Three-notes-per-string is physically different from doing the major scale all in one position, after all.

    Don't overwhelm them. I've learned that it's better to teach a few topics in depth (i.e. so that they can understand a few things well) rather than a plethora of topics on a surface level.

    As a teacher, you have the option to chop up your sources, take them out of sequence, and synthesize them for your students during class sessions. Nothing says that either one needs to adhere to the order and way you teach. That said, some students benefit from having a single reference that they can go back to. This is coming from my experience of teaching a class without a textbook.

    Shout out to Ben Eller's YouTube channel.

    You might want to read my review of Theory for the Contemporary Guitarist and decide whether it is applicable to your classes.
     
  3. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    If I were you, I would take things much slower at first. I'm not clear on how you are handling those songs, but I would think that week two should be more along the lines of Hot Cross Buns than Bad Moon Rising, unless these students have a fair amount of prior experience with a musical instrument. Obviously, you are already further along than that, so I'm guessing you are doing a great job keeping students engaged.

    Maybe I missed it, but I didn't see anything about fingerstyle. I think that's a pretty broad topic that could fill up two hours by itself. There is classical fingerstyle and the traditional/folk style.

    You could spend some time on arpeggios, chord structures, and then tie those in with melody. You know, like how the arpeggios are just chords with the notes picked out, then the chord structures are just chords that flow from one to another, then you can hit them with Canon in D, and they can see how the song is just a chord progression, and the first melody is just the arpeggios that go with the chord progression. This could roll out over 3-4 weeks of discussion to give each section a little time to sink in.

    Of course, those work well, too after going over bar/moveable chords.

    I think the way you are incorporating so many songs is great. I found the first couple weeks of lessons difficult, because I couldn't relate what I was learning back to anything familiar. As you teach more techniques, I think you could introduce more songs.
     
  4. stevexc

    stevexc Laura Like Butter

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    I'm actually hired through the city (they're city-run rec centres) so they take care of everything, which is nice. I just need to show up and teach. It's a pretty sweet setup to be honest.

    I used to teach one-on-one lessons through a local music store (who, again, handled everything logistically) so teaching in and of itself isn't new to me, but teaching in such an organized, structured fashion is. With one-on-ones it's a lot easier to gauge what to do next based off the individual student, particularly when you're working with half-hour slots - these big two-hour group ones don't lend themselves quite as nicely to that.

    The funny thing is that class seemed to go pretty well, although I did have to go over the major scale again the next week. Although I think you're onto something - I'm always hesitant to take a break from teaching and let them noodle/actually PLAY their guitars for fear of them getting "bored" or whatnot, I think I need to inject more time into the lessons for that.

    Bear in mind that those topics were all super rudimentary - "What is a chord" wasn't much more than "a chord is multiple notes played together, yadda yadda, big M is for major, little m for minor, yadda yadda" for instance. Still may have been an information overload.

    I was kinda thinking that, but my thought process is that teaching the open chords gives the students a way to actually start playing songs right away. In my mind that's a good thing because right off the bat it gives them a sense of progress. One of the common things between all (or most) of my students is that they've tried to learn guitar before and given up for one reason or another, so making them feel like this time they'll actually get somewhere feels like a great motivator.

    That said I suppose there's no reason why they can't learn to play songs with powerchords from the first lesson and then pick up open chords after. So that's a good point I'll keep in consideration.

    Barres are the one big thing I'm looking at for that class, I guess my concern is that I won't be able to stretch it out for a whole two hours. In my experience with teaching/learning barres it's a simple concept, but it's the execution that gets ya... and the only way around it is woodshedding it until your index finger starts cooperating.

    You definitely have given me some other great ideas though!

    Definitely something I need to keep in mind.

    For sure, for sure. I've been recommending my students check out Justinguitar as a supplemental reference.

    I'm familiar with Ben's stuff, I guess I'm just too used to looking at his more advanced stuff and forgot about his more basic lessons. Will have to review. And I'll check out your review and the book!

    That's one thing I can definitely pat myself on the back for, aside from one guy who hasn't been back after the first class everyone seems to be pretty engaged.

    As far as how I'm handling the songs, I'm breaking them down into the basic chord progressions, and then simplfying the strumming patterns. The songs stay recognizable enough but they're simple enough for beginners. Here's how I presented Bad Moon Rising, for instance:

    |A |E D |A | |
    I see a bad moon a-rising
    |A |E D |A | |
    I see trouble on the way
    |A |E D |A | |
    I see earthquakes and lightnin'
    |A |E D |A | |
    I see bad times today
    (Chorus)
    |D | | |
    Don't go 'round tonight
    |A | | |
    It's bound to take your life
    |E |D |A | |
    There's a bad moon on the rise

    It seemed to make sense for the students - four strums for every bar to start, then slowly introduce the strumming pattern I also showed them.

    That's because I suck at fingerstyle, haha. I'm a pretty firm believer in "don't teach what you don't know" - unfortunately I'm terrible at it, otherwise it'd be a shoe-in for sure!

     
  5. stevexc

    stevexc Laura Like Butter

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    Hate to double post, but I've done some reorganizing and brainstorming. Here's my revamped curriculum:

    Week 1

    Introductions
    Anatomy of a Guitar (incl. Picks and strings) and tuning
    holding the guitar
    picking open strings
    Tuning
    Metronome and Rhythm
    Rhythmic notation
    Strumming Patterns
    Using a metronome effectively
    Repertoire
    Nothing Else Matters (Intro)

    Week 2

    Notes, chords, and scales
    The Notes on the Staff
    Musical Alphabet
    Sharps/Flats
    Repertoire
    Hound Dog
    Bad Moon Rising

    Week 3
    What is a Chord
    Fretting Exercise
    C and G
    Repertoire
    Miss You
    Louie Louie

    Week 4

    What is a Scale
    The Major Scale
    The Minor scale
    Fretting Exercise Level 2
    Arpeggio Exercise
    New Chords - G and C
    Repertoire
    Hey Joe
    Hey Ya
    Brown Eyed Girl

    Week 5
    Minor Pentatonic Scale
    String Skipping Exercise
    G7 C7 B7 Fmaj7
    Repertoire
    Save Tonight
    I Wanna Hold Your Hand

    Week 6

    The Blues Progression
    Hammer-ons and Pull-offs
    New Chords: A7 D7 E7
    Repertoire
    Blue Suede Shoes
    Folsom Prison Blues
    12 bar blues

    Week 7

    Recognizing Intervals
    Barre Chords - B F Bm Fm
    Repertoire
    Mr Jones
    Little Talks

    Week 8
    3-note-per-string scales
    Power Chords
    Repertoire
    Really Got You
    Other assorted power chord-based songs
     
  6. Mr. Big Noodles

    Mr. Big Noodles Theory God

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    Looks a lot more organized. Forgive me for putting you on the spot, but I see potential for redundancy here (not that redundancy is necessarily bad):

    Week 2: Notes, chords, and scales

    Week 3: What is a chord

    Would you care to talk a bit about the idea for each of these?

    By the way, let me know if you need help making graphics or transcriptions for handouts.
     
  7. stevexc

    stevexc Laura Like Butter

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    Whoops, that was actually a typo - and the forum screwed up my formatting on top of that. "Notes, chords, and scales" was actually a heading I forgot to delete. Here's what weeks 2 and 3 actually look like:

    Week 2
    The Notes on the Staff
    Musical Alphabet
    Sharps/Flats
    Reading Chord Charts
    E, A, D
    Repertoire:
    Hound Dog
    Bad Moon Rising

    Week 3
    What is a Chord
    Em, Am, Dm
    Fretting Exercise
    Repertoire:
    Miss You
    Louie Louie

    And much appreciated, I'll let you know if I need anything - so far with a mixture of Paint and Guitar Pro I've been able to generate most of what I need though.

    Once I get the weekly handouts all updated I'll drop the entire folder here in case anyone else wants to use them.
     
  8. stevexc

    stevexc Laura Like Butter

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    Another double post, but here's the weekly handouts/current version of the overall lesson plan for anyone who's interested.
     
  9. Lasik124

    Lasik124 SS.org Regular

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    Looks great Steve. How long have you been teaching?

    For some critique, some of the songs are hard for students considering weeks.

    I don't think someone can accurately play "Bad Moon Rising" for example with only 2 weeks of practice. Considering how much most someone starting out practices as it is, trying to figure out if they will stick with it.

    Keep up at it, it seems packed with great information. But the concern of it being to much information is very valid here and is something to consider.
     
  10. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    Perhaps you are correct, but my guitar teacher gave me "Bad Moon Rising" to learn on my second week of playing. I recall it seeming almost impossible just to play chords at first, but the reward of progressing to where I could fudge through the chords was enough to motivate me to practice it until the chords sounded clean. I wonder if I would have been as motivated had he waited until I was a month along to give me that same song.

    When I started teaching, I noticed some students would get frustrated more easily than others. I have had only 3 or 4 beginner students that I would have considered trying any sort of chord strumming songs in the second or third week, and I've had hundreds of students over my career... but maybe a course like this is designed for those types of students who need the extra challenge.
     
  11. stevexc

    stevexc Laura Like Butter

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    Thanks! About 3.5 years private lessons, and 2 months of group lessons.

    Accurately, no. Definitely not. But I've been giving them simplified strumming patterns that they can "evolve" into the full patterns which makes it easier, and they seem to be getting along with it well enough.

    It's also put together with adult learners in mind, and typically they have some experience with guitar or other instrument (often piano) before. They've been picking things up pretty quickly.
     
  12. Repner

    Repner SS.org Regular

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    The important thing is to make sure the first few weeks are as fun as possible. They are going to be the weeks that determine if someone is going to stick with it or not, before their fingers start forming chord shapes on their own. It's still good to teach proper technique etc, but be wary of imposing too many rules right away.
     

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