Best Practices for the Guitar Classroom

Best Practices for the Guitar Classroom

Teaching Guitar: A Panel Discussion


By NAfME Members Steve Eckels and Bill Swick


The following article is an excerpt from the notes prepared for Steve Eckels’ and Bill Swick’s Teaching Guitar-Best Practices: A Panel Discussion to be presented at the 2016 NAfME National In-Service Conference in November.


guitar lesson
Photo: Mark Jaworski

Becoming proficient with rhythm figures as a foundation for reading skills.

Teach students to recognize “the eight common rhythm figures” and their variations. Once these are internalized, students can then begin to match the staff notation symbols with fingerings. Variations will include rests.

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Experience the pleasure of music-making sooner by providing string and finger markings.

While students are becoming proficient with rhythms, they can read music from the staff that has been prepared with string and fret numbers. This enables students to enjoy music-making from the very beginning.

The following code represents the opening melody to “Yankee Doodle.” The first number is the string, and the second number is the fret. A “0” means to play the string open.

2/1 2/1 2/3 1/0 2/1 1/0 2/3 2/1 2/1 2/3 1/0 2/1 2/0


The following are the opening chords to “Yankee Doodle” with a simple strumming pattern.

C C C C G7
/ / / / I / / / / I / / / / I / / / /I


The above skills are rather easy to learn and can promote music-making very early in the playing process. Eventually, students will learn to read modern notation and will lead to the following step.


Incorporating Music Reading into the Sing-and-Strum Repertoire

Every activity we engage in during class time can point towards music literacy. When sing-and-strum music included prepared notation, students can learn the melodies on guitar in addition to strumming and singing. This process also lends itself to creating arrangements with your sing-and-strum pieces for performance.


teaching guitar


Teaching “Digital Mindfulness”

The proliferation of smart phones has been proven by research to consume an enormous amount of a student’s time and energy. By teaching the meaning of relevant terms such as “switch tasking,” “uni-tasking,” “multi-tasking,” “situational awareness,” “fractured attention,” and “flow/engagement,” students can learn to make wise decisions when it comes to using their gadgets. Students will also benefit by learning the physical and mental health risks of preoccupation with portable devices.

It is important to clarify term multi-tasking. The term “multi-tasking” has a clearer meaning when grouped with the terms “uni-tasking” and “shift-tasking”. Multi-tasking occurs when a person balances a number of tasks in order to accomplish a singular goal such as cooking a meal.

“Shift-tasking,” which is occurs when students text in school, is when a person switches from on task to another unrelated task and then returns to the original. This causes a great deal of burden to the brain. The following exercise proves this: count to 10 as fast as you can (this should take about 1.5 seconds); now recite the alphabet from A-J as fast as you can (this also will take about 1.5 seconds). If there were no burden in shift-tasking you should be able to alternate the alphabet and the numbers in about three seconds . . . let’s try. Recite 1, A, 2, B up to 10, J. This will most likely take much longer than 3 seconds.

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An Ounce of Technique Needs a Pound of Application

For students to be successful and demonstrate desired skills, teachers should plan on providing “a pound” of application for each “ounce” of technique. For example, if teaching the first three notes on the first string, many method books only provide three or four exercises using the three notes on the first string. This is not enough. “A pound” is symbolic of twelve-sixteen exercises required for students to really learn the first three notes. This applies to all new technique. Without ample application, teaching technique may prove ineffective.


About the authors:

music teacher

NAfME member Steve Eckels teaches guitar in Kalispell, MT, and is the author of Teaching Classroom Guitar, published by NAfME. Mr. Eckels has guitar method books published by Mel Bay and Alfred Publication.

guitar teacher

NAfME member Bill Swick teaches guitar at the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts and has methods and guitar arrangements published by and and

The two are teaming together to present Teaching Guitar-Best Practices: A Panel Discussion at the 2016 NAfME National In-Service Conference this November in Grapevine, TX! Register today!

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Join us for more than 100 innovative professional development sessions, nightly entertainment, extraordinary perfor mances from across the country, and tons of networking opportunities with over 3,000+ other music educators! Learn more and register today: And follow the hashtag #NAfME2016!

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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

Catherina Hurlburt, Communications Manager, August 29, 2016. © National Association for Music Education (