Monday, June 28, 2010

Teaching Guitar Workshop - Day 1

Today, June 28, 2010, was the first day of Level 1 Teaching Guitar Workshop at Olympia Resort in Oconomowoc, WI.  I wanted to take this course last summer, but I didn't get my registration in early enough and all the workshops around the country filled up before I knew it.  This year I got my registration in early enough and was thrilled I was accepted!

I wanted to take this class because three semesters ago I started teaching my Music Technology students how to play guitar to help them be able to listen for chord changes in the loop-based song creation they were composing.  So I bought a guitar, taught myself three chords (G, C, & D) and determined to teach my students the same.  Well, three semesters later, we have added many other chords, a number of songs, and are attracting a lot of students who want to take Music Tech just to learn how to play guitar!

Rob Goldsmith
Rob Goldsmith, one of the two instructors, told us the mantra of this workshop: "We learn in four days what it takes a year to teach our students." With that in mind, I wanted to remember what I was taught by blogging about it, also so that others might learn about the Teaching Guitar Workshops and possibly take the plunge to teach guitar to their students.  As Rob also said today, "Guitar is the new recorder!"

The day was divided up into six sessions with a basic concept taught or illustrated in each session. I was juggling a guitar, about 20 methods books, a pencil, and a folding music stand. I found out that "rest position" (putting the guitar strings down on your lap) provides a good writing desk in a pinch!

The first book we worked in was Essential Elements for Guitar, Book 1 (Will Schmidt & Bob Morris, Hal Leonard).  The first session dealt with the basics of rest position, playing position vs. classical position, right hand strumming position ("hitchhiker hand"), parts of a guitar (acoustic and electric), left hand finger numbers, how to read a chord chart, playing "in the fret box" vs. playing "on a fret", and playing easy C and G7 chords.  And that is just pages two through five in Essential Elements for Guitar, Book 1!

When reading a chord chart, the vertical lines (left to right) correspond to the strings of the guitar (closest to the ceiling to closest to the floor).  The horizontal lines represent the "nut" on the top followed by each of the frets below. A number on a string, in a fret box, indicates the left hand finger number (pointer is 1 through pinky is 4, which is not the same as piano fingering) placed on that string. I learned two mnemonic devices for remembering the string names that I have never heard before:

  • Every Apple Does Go Bad Eventually (Rob)
  • Elvis Ate Drugs. Good Bye Elvis (Shelley)
and two mnemonic devices for remembering the (treble clef) staff lines that guitar notation is written on that I have never heard before: 
  • Elvis Goes Boogieing Down Freemont
  • Elvis' Guitar Broke Down Friday
Shelley Brobst
Can you tell my two guitar instructors either grew up in or taught in the Las Vegas school district for the majority of their teaching career? They are Rob Goldschmidt and Shelley Brobst

Since this workshop is designed to enable music teachers to become better guitar instructors for their music classes, the focus is always on teaching techniques.  One of the most common techniques used today was echo playing: the teacher played a short example which was immediately echoed by the class. This method works for a new chords, new notes, and simple "improvisation" motifs using limited number of notes.

Teaching a new chord:
  1. Teach your students how to read a chord chart so they are not dependent on you to translate the symbols for them.
  2. Place your fingers on the fretboard in the order of numbers on the chord chart.  Ideally this will happene all at once, but for very beginning students place one finger at a time, playing that string, checking for a full, ringing tone before moving on to the next finger.
  3. After all fingers have been placed, strum each string of that chord one at a time, making sure all strings vibrate freely and are not muted by misplaced or flattened fingers.
  4. Echo play each of the strings one-at-a-time for you students so the students know how each string should sound before they play their chord.  This teaches the students to listen critically.
  5. If any strings are muted, the student should "become their own teacher" and try to figure out why their string or chord doesn't sound right and try to fix their own problem before asking a neighbor or the teacher for help.
  6. If a string buzzes, move that string's finger towards the body of the guitar, right up to the next fret, but not on top of it.  This is not always possible with all chords when they have more than two strings fretted.
  7. Once the student is comfortable playing the chord, add a drum machine pattern to play the chord with.  It's much more fun that just playing to a metronome! The student should also get used to tapping their foot along with the beat.  
Chords taught today: simple C, simple G7, D7, A7, simple G, E5 (power chord)

Notes taught today: G (3rd string, open), A (3rd string, 2nd finger, 2nd fret–a.k.a. "2-2"), B (2nd string, open), C (2nd string 1-1), D (2nd string 3-3), E (1st string open), F (1st string 1-1), and G (1st string 3-3). 

Rob developed the "verbal shorthand" of naming the finger and fret (e.g. "2-2" for 2nd finger, 2nd fret) so that it wasn't such a mouthful to tell his middle school students where to put their fingers when playing a note or a chord since three things must be said: which string, which finger, and which fret.  I'm going to try to use his verbal shorthand with my own students because I've stumbled over my own words when trying to describe the same thing for my Music Technology students.

There are four transitions possible when moving from one chord to another:
  1. Relative transition (ex. D to A7: lift 3rd finger of D chord, move 1st & 2nd fingers one string up keeping their shape)
  2. Guide finger (ex. simple G to D7: the 3rd finger slides on the 1st string from the 3rd fret on the G chord to the 2nd fret for the D7 chord – ex. Hush, Little Baby)
  3. Switching or exchanging fingers (ex. simple G to simple C – ex. John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt)
  4. Common finger (ex. C & D7: keep the 1st finger down on 2-1 for both chords – ex. John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt)
When learning to read "real" music notation, it is helpful for beginning students to vary their practice technique to include the following methods:
  • "say and play" (say the note name while playing that note)
  • "sing and play" (sing the note name while playing that note)
  • "name the fret" (say the fret name while playing that note)
Above all, go slowly, playing on one string with a limited number of notes in various rhythmic patterns in order to "put in the reps" and burn that note position into the player's memory.  For new guitar students it is very important to build in a lot of repetition so that their muscle memory takes over (in the future) for their thinking speed (which is very slow at the beginning).  The amount of "time on instrument" also will make huge difference in the amount of material that can be covered in a semester's guitar course.  If the guitar class meets every day, much more material can be taught than if the class only meets once or twice a week.  Likewise for the student, if they are practicing at home as well as learning during guitar class, they will progress faster than if they only have access to a guitar during class time.

Ensemble Playing

Every guitar student should be able to play every part of an ensemble piece because every guitar student can play the full range of the instrument on the very first day of class.  For this reason, it is very easy not only to build ensemble playing into every class period using books like The 21st Century Guitar Method Guitar Ensemble 1, (Sandy Feldstein and Aaron Stang, Alfred), but also having students play both chords and notes.  The fun comes when you pass the parts around from section to section, such as the following progession of learning a two-part ensemble song:
  1. Everyone plays part 1 with CD accompaniment.
  2. Everyone plays part 2 with CD accompaniment.
  3. Count off every other person 1-2-1-2, etc.  1's play part 1, 2's play part 2 with CD.  
  4. Play 1-2-1-2 by row.
  5. Play 1-2 by duet (this is the goal of ensemble playing!) with CD
If a CD accompaniment is unavailable either the teacher or more advanced students (or both) can play the accompaniment from the chords provided.  In this way, the piece can be practiced slowly and gradually sped up over the course of many days until it can finally be performed with CD accompaniment.

Method Books used today:

Essential Elements for Guitar, Book 1 (Will Schmidt & Bob Morris, Hal Leonard). This book interperses the teaching of chords and notes and includes 141 songs which illustrate and reinforce every concept which is taught. Comes with professional accompaniment CD.

Songs Played–Concepts Taught:
  • He's Got the Whole World in His Hands (p. 7) – simple C & G7 strumming
  • Rockin' Robin (p. 22) – picking notes, reading melody notation
  • Surf Rock (p. 22) – ensemble playing, chord group (D7 & G) vs. melody group
  • Au Clair De La Lune (p. 26) – 2-pt. melodic ensemble playing (described above)
  • Can You Feel the Love Tonight (p. 28) – 2-pt. melodic ensemble playing
The 21st Century Guitar Method Guitar Ensemble 1, Student Book (Sandy Feldstein and Aaron Stang, Alfred EL03955S).  This book correlates with a methods book and helps teachers fulfill the National Music Standard of ensemble playing.  Each song in this book has three-part guitar with optional piano, bass, and percussion parts.  Each ensemble part is on a different page, not all scored together on separate vertical staves in a full score.

Songs Played–Concepts Taught:
  • Love Somebody (pp. 3-5) – 3-pt. melodic ensemble playing

Mastering the Guitar: Class Method Level 1/Beginning Elementary through 8th Grade (William Bay & Mike Christiansen, Mel Bay MB97121). This method book, besides being a complete guitar method for all eight grades, contains some songs which correlate to novels which middle school students may be also reading: Where the Red Fern Grows, A Wrinkle in Time, Charlotte's Web, The Old Man and the Sea, and Bridge to Terebithia.  Some of the early lessons have similarity to other string methods (Suzuki violin and fiddling) with lots of note practice and phrases which help students play rhythms (e.g. "Hiking Up the Mountain" for eighth, eighth, eighth, eighth, quarter, quarter).

Songs Played–Concepts Taught:
  • E Study #1-5 (p. 22) – rhythmic variety on a single note in 4/4
  • E in 3/4 Time #1-3 (p. 23) – rhythmic variety on a single note in 3/4
  • Play F, E-F, E-F in 3/4 Time, F Study #4 (p. 24) – rhythmic variety using two notes
  • Play G (p. 25) – rhythmic variety on a single note in 4/4
  • Etude (p. 26) – note reading E, F & G on 1st string with accompaniment
  • B Study #1-2, B-E, C Study, B-C-C-B, 3/4 CB (p. 29) – rhythmic variety using two notes
  • Play D, D-B-C, Using All Notes (p. 30) – gradual, sequential note repetition and drill
  • Secret Garden (p. 31) – suggested reading: Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • A Wrinkle in Time – (p. 34) guitar ensemble in 3-pts., "hot shots" in your class can either help beginning students or they can learn to play one of the three parts "in position"  (play three times, switching parts each time)
  • Shadow of the Bull (p. 37) – guitar ensemble in 3-pts., suggested reading: Shadow of a Bull  by Wojciechowska (play three times, switching parts each time)
First Lessons – Beginning Guitar: Learning Chords/Playing Songs (William Bay, Mel Bay MB20000SET) comes with Accompaniment CD & Lesson DVD. Teaches only chords and strumming patterns.  Transitions between chords is a natural lesson for every new chord and song selection.  Every song's starting note is given in a chord chart to advocate singing while playing guitar. Includes information on how to restring a guitar.

Songs Played–Concepts Taught:
  • Pay Me My Money Down (p. 19) – "relative" transition from D to A7
  • Auld Lang Syne (p. 21) – adding the G chord to D & A7

The FJH Young Beginner Guitar Method: Exploring Chords Book 1 (Philip Groeber et al., FJH G1019)  Includes many tips for the young guitarist that might be assumed by older students. Interestingly enough, also teaches a simple E minor chord (string 1-3, all open)

Songs Played–Concepts Taught:
  • Hey, Ho, Nobody Home (p. 6) – simple Em "1st song", includes melody line for teacher
  • Hush, Little Baby (p. 15) how to mix beginning & advanced players on the same song: beginning students strum "simple G", advanced strum alternate voicing of G or D7 or modifying strumming pattern to allow beginning players to drop a strum on beat 4 (or 3, or 2) to allow for more time to shift to the next chord and yet always "hit the new chord on 1"; practicing going back and forth between G & D7 using a guide finger.
  • John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt (p. 16) – how to attack a new song: "how many chords are in this song?", practice changing from one chord to the next before playing the whole song; guide finger transition G-D7; finger exchange G-C; common finger C-D7
  • Amazing Grace (p. 17) – five chords! G, G7, C, Em D7 Good chord review/culmination piece.  Don't know/remember a chord? "Look it up!" 
Jerry Snyder's Guitar School: Method Book 1 with CD (Jerry Snyder, Alfred 17879) Interestingly enough, even though this book has a page on tapping your foot while playing, it is very extensive and advanced.  For advanced middle school of high school level players. Section 1 is all about Chords and Accompaniment. Section 2 seems to go backwards to note reading and learning to read music.

Songs Played–Concepts Taught:
  • Rhythm Drills (p. 65) – useful for practicing rhythmic variation using any note
  • Notes on the First String (p. 66) – further repetition to enhance muscle memory
  • Mist (p. 67) – a simple song with teacher or CD accompaniment using the notes E & F
  • Chelsie (p. 68) –  simple song with teacher or CD accompaniment using the notes E, F & G
Guitar Expressions: Student Edition (Aaron Stang et al., Alfred EMCG1002) A high gloss, full color, spiral bound methods book which incorporates theory, vocabulary, cross-curriculuar opportunities, and assessment forms. 

Songs Played–Concepts Taught:
  • Flamenco Fantasy (p. 19) – 3/4 new musical style, all notes on 1st string
  • Notes on 1st & 2nd Strings (p. 26) – say the fret # while playing the note
  • Flamenco Fantasy (Duet Part) (p. 27) – all notes on 2nd string

Other Topics Discussed/Taught/Demonstrated today:

"No Fault" Improvisation (Essential Elements, p. 76): Over an E5 power chord, the teacher plays two notes on the 1st string (E 1-0 & G 1-3) in different one-bar rhythmic patterns that the students echo by ear. When they are comfortable, gradually add the following notes:
  1. Over an E5 power chord, the teacher plays two notes on the 1st string (E 1-0 & G 1-3)
  2. add D 2-3
  3. add B 2-1
  4. add A 3-2
  5. add G 3-0
Echoing the teacher "makes the vocabulary" of improvisation because the bar motifs that the teacher improvises for the student become "words" which can be strung together (without an echo) to make an improvised solo. Using a restricted set of notes, always starting on E 1-0 gives enough parameters to be predictable enough not to be totally overwhelming.  A variation on this could be an advanced student playing the part of the teacher while the class echoes them, or pairing up student with one being the teacher and the other being the echoer.  This would be more successful after echoing the teacher many times.

Tuning (Essential Elements, p. 92): Just like my first Suzuki violin teacher did for our group violin lessons, the guitar teacher is encouraged to tune the student's guitars for them at least for the first 9 weeks of instruction so the student develops their ear of what an in-tune guitar sounds like (and thereby what each string sounds like in relation to each other string when in tune) before every trying to tune a guitar on their own.  Once starting to tune that guitar by themselves, students are encouraged to first learn open-string tuning, using a reference CD or electronic tuner.

Direction Terms (Essential Elements p. 92): What seems natural to the music teacher is not necessarily natural for the beginning guitar student, especially when numbering strings or frets or discussing higher or lower pitches in relation to higher or lower strings.  Since the strings are numbered 1-6 from the string farthest away from the player (little #, little string) to the string closest to the player (big #, big string), and with the highest string being counterintuitively "on the bottom" of the fret board and the lowest sounding string being "on the top", it becomes beneficial to talk to the student in terms of directions such as "towards the floor" and "towards the ceiling" or "towards the body" or "towards the head" instead of referring to "higher" or "lower". 

Fun Song of the Day: Iko, Iko (Dr. John version) – D, A7 (C bridge)

For the first half of the day I felt pretty good. My background and self-taught methods seemed to be validated, but by the afternoon, it became apparent to me that I was lacking in both note reading and the muscle memory necessary to cleanly land notes of the G Mixolydian scale (GABCDEFG).  It felt like I was back in my first year of group adult Suzuki violin lessons all over again.  But that's okay. In one day we accomplished everything that I currently teach my Music Tech students in their guitar unit.  I can't imagine what is next!

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