A First Guitar Lesson
A beginning guitar player’s first lesson is important for both the student and the teacher. This is the best (and sometimes only) opportunity for establishing the rapport required for a good relationship. It is only though a good relationship that the student will make progress.
A first lesson need not immediately delve into music theory or even learning a piece of music, but it should provide enough things to do, think about, and practice, until the next lesson.
The teacher should spend some time discussing the student’s goals and learning what kind of music they like. Use the feedback to choose an appropriate method book. Some students may not be interested in reading music at all, and this needs to be taken into consideration.
The Parts of the Guitar
A good introduction and ice breaker is to go over the parts of the guitar. Use a picture book to show and name the parts (body, sound hole, nut, bridge, frets, etc.) and explain what they do and how they work. If the learner has an electric guitar, the basic operating principles of pickups should be discussed along with the operation of the volume and tone controls. Don’t forget to explain what the pickup switches do.
After going over the parts, the teacher should point to a part and the students should name it. This can be done several times in random order to aid in remembering the terminology.
Proper posture and hand position are important in guitar playing. At first, it is easy to play simple things with poor form, but as any experienced guitar player knows, complicated passages are a chore and speed is limited by poor position of the fretting hand.
Use pictures and a personal demonstration of proper fret hand technique. Stress the proper angle of the wrist. Keep the thumb back and out of sight when looking at the fretboard from the front. If the player is using a pick, show how it should be held. If the player is studying classical technique, devote some time to demonstrating and learning the proper position of the plucking hand as well.
Monitor and correct the hand and wrist positions during the playing exercises that are introduced a little later in the lesson.
Tuning the Guitar
Guitar tuning is difficult for the beginner, and it is more so if no one else in their household knows how to play an instrument. Even if the beginner has access to a good reference pitch (a pitch pipe, tuning fork, well tuned keyboard, or a computer generated sound), their ear is probably not up to the task of accurately comparing one pitch to another for the purposes of tuning. There is no quicker way to get discouraged about guitar playing than by trying to learn on an instrument that is woefully out of tune.
An electronic tuner is a must and a good part of the first lesson should be devoted to learning how to use it. Tuning should be gone over at least twice and once again at the end of the lesson. Even so, chances are good it will take several lessons before the student will get the hang of it. Stress the importance of checking tuning every time that the guitar is played.
A Simple Guitar Finger Exercise
A good demonstration of how fingertips get calloused by playing is for the teacher to drum the fingertips of the non-playing hand on a hard surface such as a wall or table. It should make a soft sound. Then drum the fingers of the playing hand on the same surface and the student should notice a clear difference in the sound. The playing fingertips make a more percussive sound with a higher pitch.
Take this opportunity to explain why the fingers sound different and to inform the student that at first, he or she will not be able to play for very long, until they get some callouses on their finger tips.
A simple exercise can now be demonstrated for accomplishing both the start of callous development and the training of the brain to properly move and control the fingers. A good beginning exercise is to play the first string open, followed by playing the first fret with the first finger. This should be done SLOWLY in time with a metronome.
The exercise is repeated on the 2nd string through the 6th string. Then move to the first string open followed by the second finger on the second fret. The exercise is continued on all six strings up through the third finger and fret. There is no need to include the fourth finger at his time. Make sure the student understands they should practice this exercise every day!
Learn These Three Simple Chords
Finger exercises may be important for developing callouses and brain-hand coordination, but they are not very thrilling to play or listen to. Add a little music to the first lesson by ending with a demonstration of some easy two-string chords. Have the student practice the chords several times and provide a fret diagram of each to take home so they don’t forget how to play them.
These simple chords are C (first finger first fret on the second string, open E string), G7 (first finger first fret on the first string, open B string) and G (third finger third fret on the first string, open B string). These little chords sound good and can be put together in many ways to make pleasing music.
The only thing left for the student to do is practice, practice, practice!