New guitar program in Wisconsin

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    I teach in a small high school in rural Southwest Wisconsin, and have just passed the first step in adding a Beginning Guitar course to our high school offerings. I took the Teaching Guitar Workshop in Omaha this past July, and learned a great deal. Now I’m looking for as many ‘start your program’ tips as I can get. Many of you have taught guitar for years. What one or two things do you wish someone would have suggested to you when your program was just beginning? Thanks!


    FWIW if you haven’t purchased instruments yet, I’d really recommend nylon strings (which you probably picked up on at the TGW). I started with steel, and that’s what I have now. It was ok in the beginning, but now that we’re on a block schedule, 92 minutes on steel strings for beginners is murder.

    Also, good storage from the beginning is a must. There’s lots of options, get the one that best fits your needs and the balance of accessibility and safety.

    Those are the 2 things on the top of my head right now…


    Hi, here’s an overview of my program in Honolulu.

    I agree with drumboreb263’s advice completely. Really make the students responsible for the care of the instruments, even down to changing the strings a couple times a year. It’ll make your job a whole lot easier. To add to all of that:

    1) Maintain good classroom management and discipline. Be cool about it, but really enforce respectful behavior in the class, especially with guitarists. Don’t get me wrong, guitarists are my most favorite people in the world. I love their casual laid back approach to life, but beginning guitar classes are nothing like band, orchestra, or choir. Figure out how to make them proud of what they do and they will be on point for you.

    2) Really take the time to learn and teach good technique. Based on your original post, my guess is you are not primarily a guitarist. Jim Yancey at Maryvale HS in Arizona isn’t either, but that guy has built a high quality guitar program because he took the time to learn and teach good technique. The entire first year of playing the guitar should have constant reminders of good technique. In fact, at the beginning of class, I will ask students to give me one standard of good technique and then we will all make sure we are practicing that standard. For example, “We should sit up straight at the front of our chair.” Then all the students check and make an adjustment.

    3) Teach a diverse repertoire. It’s our jobs as teachers to expose students to things they normally wouldn’t come across. This broadens their horizons to a world of new ideas. It also teaches respect for different things and, I believe, different types of people, too. What am I saying? Don’t just teach rock, pop, and blues. If you watch my video, in the 2nd quarter of my beginning guitar course, we teach slack key guitar (a style originated in Hawaii) along with the blues (something kids from Hawaii might not be totally familiar with). We make comparisons between the two styles and we talk about the importance of these two folk musics and how this type of music is important to the people who make it. The music preserves culture and stories.

    4) Don’t shy away from teaching your beginners how to read music. But also, make sure they learn how to play by ear. I could do a whole workshop on how to get guitarists reading AND playing by ear. In the realm of guitar playing, I believe learning both skills are equally valuable.

    5) In the first year, expose them to different types of ensemble playing. You can do chords and melody. Or sing and strum. Or quartet style. I have a book of ensembles for beginning guitarists. It’s here:
    Beginning Ensembles for the Next Generation of Guitarists
    If you can afford it, please have each student get one copy each because there are theory/composition pages in there for them to gain a better understanding of each ensemble piece they play.

    I think that’s enough to start with…



    All great advice. I would add that what is covered in a week at a Teaching Guitar Workshop is a great deal of information to process. Consider going again. You will find you pick up a great deal more the second time around. Check out this summer’s sites:

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