Basic Guitar Sequence

Guitar Curriculum Sequence

People enjoy playing the guitar. In fact, it’s the most played musical instrument in North America. So, the main question about a guitar curriculum is, “What do people do when they play guitars and how can we facilitate that?” Most people play alone or with small groups for enjoyment. Also, they tend to play popular music from lead sheets and tablature which, along with youtube ‘how to’ videos, are readily available on the internet. Skills used in this form of musicing include:

Chords (open chords, power chords, Barre chords)
Strumming patterns
Picking patterns
Basic chord and scale theory
Playing tunes
Reading tablature
Following a lead sheet
Adapting a lead sheet from the internet
Using a capo
Tuning (basic and alternate tunings)
Bass patterns and runs
Singing while playing
Playing posture

A folk and popular repertoire will best serve the interests of most students. High school students are willing to play folk songs as beginners. ‘Standards’ such as He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands or Leavin’ on a Jet Plane can be found in most beginning guitar books and on the internet.  Tablature can be provided so that students can also play the tune.

So, here’s a basic sequence for a class of high school students who are beginners or have been playing on their instruments for some time.

Materials that will be needed are a guitar, an electronic tuner, lead sheets and other instructional materials, pick, and capo.

Day 1:
·         Playing position—Show the students how to sit to hold the guitar. Pictures are available in many books.
·         Tune the guitars—this will take a while at first as students learn which way to turn the tuning peg and how far. Have everyone tune at the same time by ear to a guitar that is already in-tune.  Learn the numbers and names of the strings—this can be an explanation and drill for string names and numbers. Students could come up with their own sentence to memorize the names of the strings.
·         Demonstrate a rest stroke. Discuss using a pick or using the fingers.
·         Improvise on open strings—As the teacher, play in the key of e minor for accompaniment (back and forth between e minor and a minor chords, for example). Encourage the students to make in rhythmically interesting relative to the accompaniment pattern.
·         Introduce frets—show what a fret is and drill the students on fret numbers and then frets and strings together (for example, “Find the third string, sixth fret.”)
·         Introduce some simple tunes that can be played on a single string. Let the students choose at this point to switch fingers in the left hand or use one finger for all frets.
·         Let students practice additional single-string tunes on their own if there is time remaining.

Day 2
·         Tune together
·         Review playing position, frets, and strings
·         Improvise on open strings again
·         Play single-string tunes with accompaniment. (Advanced students might want to join the accompaniment.)
·         Allow time for individual practice on the single-string tunes.
·         Introduce D chord and the basic strum. Have students find the chord and “lose it” over and over. A game can be introduce at this point where students begin with left hand on head, a chord is called out by the teacher, students find the chord and strum it once and raise the right hand keeping the left hand down for it to be double-checked for accuracy. Then the winner is announced.
·         Allow individual practice time on the D chord.
·         Introduce some songs that use the D chord throughout (Are You Sleeping, Old Joe Clark, Row Row Row Your Boat, Make New Friends, etc.). Sing the songs while strumming. Students are encouraged to sing, but not forced. Think about how much people really want to do the things they are forced to do. (Advanced students can create their own strumming patterns or pick the tunes while the rest strum.)

Day 3
·         Tune together
·         Review playing position, frets, and strings
·         Introduce the E minor pentatonic tones on the first string (open and third fret). Have the students improvise on these two notes, keeping it rhythmically interesting. Strum an E minor, G major, or E blues pattern for accompaniment. Let the students add the two notes on the second string (open and third), third string (open and second), fourth (open and second), fifth (open and second), and sixth (open and third) as long as they can still make it rhythmically interesting.
·         Introduce the E minor chord and songs that use only that chord (Hey, Ho, Nobody Home or others). Play and sing and then let everyone take a simultaneous ‘solo’ or one half can strum while the rest improvise and then switch.
·         Introduce the D to A7 chord switch and sing some songs with two chords (He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, Rock-a-My-Soul, etc.) Again, let the students sing if they want to. Provide tabs for those advanced students who want to pick the tune.
·         Allow time for individual practice in between steps.

Day 4
·         Tune together
·         Play single string tunes with accompaniment.
·         Introduce tablature reading. This could be a tablature shorthand or full blown tablature. Play a single chord tune from tablature (Are You Sleeping works well). Don’t sing. See if the students can keep the tune together while the teacher strums the D chord. Allow time for individual practice.
·         Review previous single chord tunes and introduce up-strums. Let the students decide and/or following a prescribed pattern of down and up. Use arrows on the chalkboard to determine the patterns and everyone strum the various patterns together.
·         Review A7 chord and two-chord songs.

Day 5 and beyond
·         Tune together. Keep this part of the class throughout the semester. Introduce at some point how to tune to the piano, with an electronic tuner, and how to tune the guitar to itself. Late in the semester alternative tunings could be introduced.
·         Always review previous songs and improvisations. This is an enjoyable part of the course—playing, picking, and singing together.
·         Always allow time for individual practice. Walk around and help the students. The length of these individual practice times can vary according to the students’ abilities to stay on task.
·         Keep introducing new tunes and tabs, always with multiple levels of participation. You can return to previously learned tunes to introduce a new strumming or picking pattern.

Basically, divide the course into five parts (not in any particular order except for tuning):
·         Tuning and technique
·         Theory (new chords, scales, etc.)
·         Playing songs together (picking, strumming, singing)
·         Individual practice
·         Creating (improvising, song-writing)

Email me if you would like a free pdf of my basic guitar sequence (