Top Ten Reasons String Teachers May Want to Teach Guitar

Top Ten Reasons String Teachers May Want to Teach Guitar: Staying Employed

By NAfME Member Bill Swick 

Article originally posted on OUPBlog 

In no particular order, here are ten reasons why string teachers may want to teach guitar. This list was originally created for a presentation at a national conference for the American String Teachers Association. Many string teachers are being asked to teach guitar and most do not have any background in playing the instrument. There has been a great deal of push back by string teachers. This presentation was intended to possibly shed some light on why one may find teaching guitar more appealing.

10. Once tuned, the guitar plays in tune even in a beginner’s hands.

When teaching beginning orchestra classes, string teachers are plagued with out-of-tune instruments and young students playing out-of-tune. It is not a pleasant experience being in a classroom full of beginning string students playing out-of-tune. On the other hand, guitar students play in tune from day one.

9. Teaching guitar class is similar to teaching a class of cellos.

Most string teachers teach four instruments at the same time, violin, viola, cello and double bass. The guitar has an approximate musical range as the cello which is the mellowest of the four string instruments. Some string teachers are fortunate enough to teach the upper strings, violin and viola, in one class and the lower strings, cellos and basses, in another class. The lower strings at the beginning stage are a little easier to digest than the upper strings. Teaching a classroom of guitars is more like teaching the lower strings.


8. There is no rosin in the guitar classroom in order to get a sound.

All orchestral string instruments eventually require learning to play with a bow. Before the bow can make a sound, the hairs of the bow must be lubricated with rosin. Rosin is usually purchased in a small box or container just large enough to be slightly wider than the hairs on a bow. Class time must be devoted to how and where to purchase rosin, how to rosin a bow, and where to store rosin so it may be found when needed next. In guitar class, there is no rosin.

7. There are no bows in guitar classes.

Teaching beginners how to properly prepare and use a bow is extremely time consuming. The art of using a bow correctly sometimes takes years of study. In guitar class, there are no bows.

6. There is only one clef, treble clef in guitar class.

If teaching four instruments is not hard enough, teaching a class of beginnings the art of reading music is compounded with the need to teach note reading in three different clefs. Violins read in treble clef, violas read in alto clef, and cellos and basses read in bass clef. In guitar class, all guitarsists read in one clef, treble clef.

Guitar Class

5. There is only one kind of instrument in the room in a guitar class.

It has been established that string teachers must teach four different instruments as opposed to only one if teaching guitar. When students walk into the orchestra room, there is always an interest to try playing a different instrument than the one that has been assigned. For example, a violinist may wish to try his/her hand at playing cello or bass. All of this adds confusion and a greater need for strong classroom management. In guitar class, with only one instrument, guitar students are not as likely to want to trade instruments.

4. The guitar is a melodic instrument as well as a chordal instrument.

String teachers spend most of their time teaching students how to play one note at a time. For the most part, orchestral string instruments at the beginning level are intended to be played as a melodic instrument only. As string players progress after years of practice, they will discover that string instruments may also be used as a chordal instrument. Beginning guitar students may play the guitar as a melodic instrument and/or a chordal instrument in the earliest stages of studying the guitar.

3. Most string arrangements transcribe quite well for guitar ensemble.

If a string teacher is teaching an intermediate string ensemble and an intermediate guitar ensemble, it is quite possible that both ensembles could be playing the same music. Orchestral arrangements for four string instruments, violin, viola, cello and bass may easily be transcribed for four independent guitar parts in a guitar ensemble. Guitar 1 plays the violin part, Guitar 2 plays the viola part, Guitar 3 plays the cello part and Guitar 4 plays the double bass part. The clefs have to be changed. The string teacher does not have to do twice the work if teaching both classes the same ensemble music.’


2. By level 2 (intermediate level) it is possible to teach the same materials in guitar class as in orchestra class.

While Reason 2 sounds much like Reason 3, this not only applies to ensemble music, but also applies to single string studies and method books.

1. String teachers will continue to receive a paycheck.

This may absolutely be the number one reason why string teachers may want to embrace the benefits of teaching guitar. For many music educators, teaching guitar classes has proven to be a job saver. If it means being employed, why not find beneficial reasons for teaching guitar. After all, teaching guitar may turn out to be very rewarding.

About the author: 

guitar teacher

Bill Swick currently teaches guitar at the twelve-time GRAMMY award winning Las Vegas Academy of the Arts and is the guitar task force chair for Clark County School District and the chair for the NAfME Council for Guitar Education. Swick is the author of Teaching Beginning Guitar Class: A Practical Guide.

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