Setting Up an Effective Guitar Classroom
By NAfME Member Glen McCarthy, sponsored by Guitar and Accessories Marketing Association
Guitars: Ideally the school should own a classroom set of matched instruments. Most veteran guitar teachers recommend nylon string (classical) guitars. for many reasons. Nylon String Guitars:
- Are much easier on beginner’s fingers.
- Can play all musical styles.
- Tend to break less frequently than steel string guitars.
- Can be easier to repair than steel-string guitars.
Storage: Lockers and/or Racks. Whether your students bring in their own guitars or your school supplies the instruments, they need to be stored. Hanging the instruments on the wall, using a rack system, or using lockers are all practical solutions.
Individual Guitar Stand: Guitar stands are handy in class and essential for performances. Having a teacher guitar stand is useful for securely holding your guitar when you want to move around the room, without the instrument.
Podium: If your classroom is one level, a platform/riser is something to consider. It will allow you to model proper posture and technique for your students.
Music Stands: one stand per student is optimum, however two or even three students per stand, can work. If possible, try to get stands that are shorter than the normal music stands found in the band room. This will also allow you to observe the students’ right and left hands for quick assessments.
Footrest or footstool: For proper playing position you need something to elevate your leg so that the guitar neck has an upward angle of approximately 45 degrees. There are numerous items available to accomplish this. If you can’t purchase commercial footrests, you can use cut up lumber. 4”x4” deck posts, cut into 10” blocks, work well, and 2”x4” cut into 6” lengths may be fastened together to accommodate varying heights. Foam yoga blocks also work well.
Straps: Using guitar straps is a good way to achieve good posture. Strap buttons can be purchased at your local music store. Installing the buttons is easy for your local guitar luthier. Classical guitar straps are also available, if you do not want to put strap buttons on nylon string guitars.
Sound and Video System Part 1: A system that has inputs for a microphone (it will stress your voice trying to talk over 30 students playing guitar), a drum machine, and your guitar is recommended. It should also have an input for any audio source. There are several downloadable apps that will change the speed without changing the pitch as well as change the pitch and not the tempo of digital music.
Sound and Video System Part 2: If you use electric guitars and/or a bass in class or in a performance, guitar cables of various lengths will be necessary. It is also helpful to have some additional cables/adapters to plug your smartphone, laptop, DVD/Video, metronome, or other devices into the system. A video/smartboard system with Internet, will give your students the opportunity to view performances of numerous artists and guitar-related videos. YouTube is a great source.
Methods Books: Go to www.discoverguitar.com to find publishers who are GAMA members. This is a good start to identify guitar publishers and methods. Go to your local music store to get some recommendations. Accrue over time a number of different books for a variety of approaches and additional reading material.
Tuners: Students/Teachers like the type of tuner that clamps on the headstock because they pick up the vibrations of the instrument and are not affected by ambient sound in the room. There are numerous models available. There are also several tuner “apps” available if the students have a smart phone.
Drum Machine: There is a wide variety of drum machines that have numerous pre-set beat patterns and styles. There are apps that can be used as well. Your students will play more enthusiastically when you add a “drummer” to accompany them.
Capos: If you will be playing any contemporary music in class, capos will occasionally be used. Make sure you purchase the appropriate capo for nylon (flat fingerboard) or steel-string (convex fingerboard) guitar.
String and Fingerboard Maintenance: String Change Kit: peg head support block, string winder and string/wire cutter, needle-nose pliers, extra strings (1st for steel strings, 1st and 4th for nylon), bridge pin puller (for steel). Note: many string winders have a slot that is to be used as a pin puller. If you are changing several strings, a “chuck” is available for a variable-speed-reversible drill. There is a (specific for guitar) drill-type string-winder available.
Guitar Maintenance: Use sewing machine oil or liquid graphite to lubricate guitar tuners. Most classical guitars don’t have truss rods (most steel strings do). Have appropriate “allen wrenches” for truss rod adjustments; these usually come supplied with the guitar. Use your local music store as a resource to repair your instruments if you are uncomfortable “repairing” guitars. Damage to guitars should be repaired with wood glue not epoxy.
Replacement Strings: Negotiate with your local dealer to get the best possible prices for strings in bulk. Purchase numerous 4th and 1st strings for nylon string. High E & D are usually the first to break. New high E, B, and G nylon strings take several days to hold their pitch. On a steel string high E is the first to go.
Picks and Nail Care: Recommended picks to use are standard size, medium to hard. Thin picks are not recommended. For playing fingerstyle: to shape the nails, a glass nail file, nail clippers, 500 – 800 grit sandpaper (finishing paper). Classical guitarists have been known to use pieces of ping pong balls and super glue to replace a broken nail.
Staff paper: Both 5-line and 6-line (tablature) as well as blank chord grids are available commercially and can also be found on various websites.
Sanitizing Hands and Instruments: Here’s a great resource: “Clean and Disinfect during COVID-19.” Recommend that your students wash their hands before class especially after lunch. Think about pizza, French fries, and orange slices on the guitar strings.
Assessments: Develop performance-based rubrics that correspond to your curriculum. Consider including written/digital tests to assess students’ understanding of concepts. It will reinforce what they are playing.
A Mirror: A full-size mirror is a great way to reinforce your instruction, as students are able see themselves playing. They can easily see the adjustments and their posture and technique as you critique their performance.
Additional Instruments: Consider adding acoustic and/or electric bass, electric guitars, and other fretted instruments like ukulele, mandolin, dobro, and banjo. Don’t forget keyboards and percussion!
You Can Do It!!! You are a music educator. You can stay one step ahead of your guitar students. If you have a budding “Rock Star” in your class, use that student as a resource. There are numerous online guitar methods that are very useful. Teaching Guitar Workshops (TGW), cosponsored by NAfME, offers a weeklong professional development opportunity to get you started and/or enhance your existing program. Summer of 2022, live/in-person classes will be offered in numerous locations as well as a virtual option. For more info go to the Teaching Guitar Workshops website.
About the author:
For more than 30 years, Glen McCarthy has taught class guitar, required for all music education majors and guitar pedagogy at George Mason University. He also teaches at the Mason Community Arts Academy and is the facilitator of the ukulele and guitar workshops for the Veterans and The Arts Initiative at the Hylton Center in Manassas, Virginia. He has been a guest clinician and adjudicator at festivals, conferences, and workshops, both nationally and internationally. He is the past chair of the NAfME Council for Guitar Education, the past chair of the ASTA Guitar-in-the-Schools Committee, and presently executive director and clinician for Teaching Guitar Workshops.
Mr. McCarthy retired from Fairfax County Public Schools after 30 years at Robinson Secondary School where he developed a multi-level guitar program. Robinson was the first recipient of the Guitar & Accessories Marketing Association’s award to recognize innovative guitar programming in the United States. Under his direction, the Robinson Guitar Ensemble performed in numerous venues and was consistently awarded superior ratings at adjudicated festivals.
In 2014 from more than 32,000 nominees the GRAMMY Foundation® recognized Glen as one of the top ten music educators in the United States.
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.
February 17, 2022. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)
February 17, 2022
February 17, 2022. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)