Playing the guitar is a long way from rocket science. My best suggestion is to learn. You will enjoy it and you and your pupils will benefit greatly.
Even if you don’t want to go as far as learning the guitar, there is still a lot you can do. The hardest step is choosing which guitar to use.
- Classical guitars have nylon strings, are very cheap and come in a large range of sizes.
- Acoustic guitars have steel strings which can be uncomfortable for children’s hands but they do make a good sound. They tend to be a bit more expensive than basic classical guitars.
- Electric guitars also have steel strings but they really can be enormous fun as they have a big wow factor. If you are not sure what you are doing buying an electric guitar, a local dealer will sell you a guitar and amplifier a bit more expensive than you will find on the internet but will make up for that with good advice and after sales service.
The strings of a guitar are numbered 1 to 6, with string 1 being the thinnest and highest pitched string, held furthest away from you as you play. The metal bars that go across the fingerboard are called frets. The furthest fret from you is fret 1 and so on. When you are fingering on the guitar, put your fingers just behind the frets rather than on them. As you can’t use your thumb for fingering, fingers are numbered 1 to 4.
Plectrums are usually used for acoustic and electric guitars. Many children may find it more comfortable to play classical guitars using a plectrum as well.
Whichever guitar you have, getting started has just one obstacle: tuning the guitar. You can buy a guitar tuner which will help a lot or, if you are used to tuning instruments, you can tune it to itself or to a piano. The notes of the strings, starting from string 6 (the thickest and lowest) are:
Once you have your guitar in tune, here is what you and your pupils can do to get playing.
- Use the first finger of your left hand and finger the 2nd fret on the 5th string. That is the second metal bar from the end on the second fattest string. When you strum all of the strings with your right hand, this gives you a kind of E minor chord.
- Strum this chord for a while just to get used to it.
- Keeping your finger on the same string, slide to the 3rd fret. Try this out.
- Again on the same string, slide to the 4th fret and to the 5th. Each of these gives you a new chord.
With the numbers below refering to the frets, the easiest chord sequences using just one finger on the 5th string are:
2 3 4 3 2 3 4 3 etc.
This sounds quite like the James Bond music. Or you can use:
5 4 3 2 5 4 3 2 etc.
This is a great sequence for making up tunes with.
Mess around with your guitar and you will find many other chords that sound good with just one finger.
These are the basis of rock music, are so easy that rock musicians can use them under the most extreme conditions and just use 2 or 3 strings at a time, usually the 6th, 5th and 4th strings.
Some great power chords use all 3 of these strings and just 1 finger. Try:
- 5th string, 2nd fret. Strumming strings 4, 5 and 6 or just 5 and 6.
- 4th string, 2nd fret. Strumming strings 4, 5 and 6 or just 4 and 5.
- 6th string, 3rd fret. Strumming strings 4, 5 and 6.
Combine these 3 and strum fast enough and you and your pupils are well on your way to rock god status.
The 3 chord trick
A vast number of songs use just 3 simple chords. They will take you an hour or two to get comfortable with but master them and you will be an asset just about anywhere from classroom to campfire.
1. E major
- 1st finger goes on 3rd string, 1st fret.
- 2nd finger goes on 5th string, 2nd fret.
- 3rd finger goes on 4th string, 2nd fret.
2. A major
- 1st finger goes on 3rd string, 2nd fret.
- 2nd finger goes on 4th string, 2nd fret.
- 3rd finger goes on 2nd string, 2nd fret.
For A major, only strum strings 1 to 5. Do not use string 6.
3. D major
- 1st finger goes on 3rd string, 2nd fret.
- 2nd finger goes on 1st string, 2nd fret.
- 3rd finger goes on 2nd string, 3rd fret.
For D major, only strum strings 1 to 4. Do not use strings 5 and 6.
The easiest way to learn is to start with E major. When you are comfortable with that learn A major. Practice moving between E major and A major before you add in D major.
One quite common and very easy way to play the guitar is to re-tune the strings to an ‘open tuning’. This means that you get a chord without putting down any fingers of your left hand. To change chord, you simply put a bar across all of the strings. This bar can be a finger, a pen or just about anything. Traditionally, a broken bottle neck was used.
The easiest open tuning to find is Open D:
You can get here from normal tuning in 4 steps:
- 6th string drops from E to D
- 3rd string drops from G to F#
- 2nd string drops from B to A
- 1st string drops from E to D
Try the open D chord and bar the 3rd , 5th or 7th frets. This sounds like ‘Wild Thing’ and much more besides.