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Guitar Class: How to Excite Your Students and School

Posted by on in Resources for Music Teachers
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Teaching guitar is a rewarding way to reach many students and teach music.  The guitar is a cool instrument that can be used in every style of music and kids know this and want to learn! Teaching guitar is a great way to engage students that wouldn’t normally participate in traditional music ensembles and fosters true lifelong music making! According to veteran guitar educator Glen McCarthy, “in general the students that sign up for guitar are not taking away from Band, Orchestra, and Chorus.” Additionally, teaching guitar can lead to exciting ensemble experiences as well and we want to look at the possibilities in this article...


When setting up a guitar class you need to know whether you will teach nine weeks, a semester, year long, or perhaps as a before or after school program. Generally speaking, programs will vary greatly depending on how much contact time you have and the age of the students you teach. A middle school program with a 9 week rotation will have very different goals from an elementary general music class with guitars or a high school with a fully articulated pathway to college auditions. 

Let’s look broadly at the variety of content and curriculum that can be offered in a guitar class. The table below is meant to offer a perspective that contrasts skills that can be taught on a spectrum of possibility.  



Use of Method Book

Exploration of Popular and Alternative Music

Emphasis on Standard Notation 

Use of Tablature and Chord Charts 

Technical development paired with reading music

Technical facility encouraged before reading in preparation of style and formal music learning

Emphasis on reading music

Engaging improvisation & composition

Open Position Chords

Closed Position Chords , Barres & Triads, used as soon as possible 

Open Position Scales

Closed Position Scales

Key of  C Major

Guitar friendly keys like A, D, G, and E

Initial Emphasis on C Major Scale & natural notes

Initial emphasis on Pentatonic Scale 

Guitar ensembles

Guitar Plus – adding drums, bass, keyboards, vocals, and technology

Finger Style

Pick Style


As you can imagine, there is a lot that can be taught in a guitar class and what you can accomplish will also depend on your approach and skill as a player. Perhaps you have a strong foundation in classical guitar studies and love the repertoire as arranged for the instrument, you should consider teaching group guitar from this perspective. Maybe you love pop music and want to encourage students to compose and improvise in you class. In my experience, it is not really an either or but really an opportunity to offer a sound variety of musical experiences and skills in your classroom. 

Also, when considering what you want to teach, you should keep in mind the National Standards for Music Education (NAfME) standards:

1. Singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.

2. Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.

3. Improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments.

4. Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines.

5. Reading and notating music.

6. Listening to, analyzing, and describing music.

7. Evaluating music and music performances.

8. Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts.

9. Understanding music in relation to history and culture.

There is a lot of fun and educational content to cover in a guitar class and I hope that this article helps you make sound decisions. Think carefully on what you want to teach, teach it methodically and sequentially, and make sure you have fun!!

Much thanks to Glen McCarthy for his insight, input, and recommending the NAfME standards!

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  • John Flora Monday, 07 July 2014

    What a refreshing article for beginning and veteran music educators alike. Erik Herndon hit the nail on the head when he says: "Think carefully on what you want to teach, teach it methodically and sequentially, and make sure you have fun!!" While this advice applies to teaching any subject area, I can see why it is so important for a guitar instructor to narrow down who their students are and to know precisely what direction they want the instruction to go in. Any beginning music educator can save hours with this quick read.

  • John Mitrano Tuesday, 08 July 2014

    Thank you John!! The NAfME standards were just updated this summer. You can find the new standards here:

  • John Mitrano Thursday, 10 July 2014

    What an awesome and well-designed article, Erik! You're right - sequencing is so important. And as John said, this beginning road map would be good for any new music educator (or any of the rest of us when we sit down to decide "What do I want to accomplish this year?") Great job!

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