How to teach note reading to young guitarists: The first lesson using Copy, Play and Learn Guitar.
At the end of this lesson the students will be able to;
1) Aurally and visually identify a low note from a high note on both the music stave and the guitar.
2) Start to develop dexterity in the thumb of their picking hand.
3) Play a simple open string piece to a recorded backing track.
How do you teach note reading to young, beginner guitarists? That’s a good question and a challenge that most guitar teachers avoid. As teachers, we often despair at the challenges young children and their developing minds bring to us.
Let's look at an example.
You could tell a child that the note in the fourth space is E and show them the location of that note on the guitar. They can be merrily playing a tune that uses that note and are doing everything fine. It’s good enough that you decide that it’s time to move to the next tune. The next tune builds on the last one - it has E’s in it. You point to an E note on the stave on the page of the next tune, confident in their ability to name it and show you where it’s played, but now for some reason they haven’t got a clue. You say, ‘hang on, over here in the last piece it was E and you played it here, but now you’re telling me you don’t know’?
Copy, Play and Learn Guitar acknowledges that note reading through the mental processing of pitch and rhythm is a skill that takes time to learn. We cannot assume that because you’ve taught a note to a child that they will be instantly able to recognise it.
The tune below uses open strings. The student is able to focus on the dexterity of their thumb for picking single notes and recognise a marked visual difference between the high and low notes.
Before the student plays a note, I ask them to sing what I sing in the simile bars marked ‘student’. Most young children learn their ta’s and their ti ti’s at school early on so we sing the pitch using time names. The goal at this point is to get students thinking about how music works so after the singing I ask this question. (Pointing to the change in pitch on the stave from E to B) I ask, ‘What happened to my voice here? Did it go higher or lower?’ Children will tell you that the note in my voice went lower. You conclude with them that if the music is written low it sounds low. If the music is written high, it sounds high.
The next thing I like to do is get the children to close their eyes. I play the open stings of the guitar from high to low and ask them to identify the pitch direction. I might ask something like ‘did the sound go from low to high or high to low? If they close their eyes, they’ll easily answer the question correctly. However, if their eyes remain open, they may become confused by the location of the low notes as the low notes are located away from the floor or higher in altitude. At this point I’ll ask the student to sit the guitar on their lap. They’ll locate the first string with the thumb of their picking hand and work on some basic dexterity by playing each string from high to low and back again hopefully without having to look at it.
We will now call the high note E and the low note B. Having identified the notes on the stave and their location on the guitar I’ll ask them to imitate me by playing in the simile bars of the first piece before playing to the recorded backing track.
Guitar Teaching Program
To achieve the best results and a positive learning experience for young guitar students, a good teaching program is essential. Copy, Play and Learn Guitar is the best available kids guitar book for very young students. It uses modern, child friendly techniques designed for their stage of physical and cognitive development. It addresses the issues and implements strategies to achieve note reading fluency and chord recognition. Using exciting and engaging songs as subject matter, it comes with free backing tracks, teaching resources and teaching points for each piece. There are also free videos available on YouTube. As the child progresses through the book, a story evolves of a boy and his friends and family involving racing cars, pets, smelly socks and more.
About the Author
Music Educator, Composer and Guitarist, Bryce Leader, holds a Bachelor of Music Education degree and an A(Mus)A in Classical Guitar. He has been a classroom music teacher and guitar teacher for over thirty years and performs regularly in classical, jazz, rock and country music contexts.