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Breaking things down

As a teacher, you must be able to break down even the most seemingly easy exercises.

One of the easiest things to do on the guitar is to play the open high E string with a pick. Only your picking hand is involved, and you only need to play one string.

But problems can emerge and the teacher needs to be prepared for them. Simply finding the string with the pick can be difficult. This is a basic spatial problem. For anyone who hasn’t picked up a guitar before, this can be difficult.

If the student has difficulty with this, have them look at the string, place the pick on the string, and then play the string. Once you have played the string, bring the pick back to the string and briefly rest there. Then play. Repeat until this is easy. Then do the same thing with eyes closed.









That will fix the problem. Do this with all the strings.


Playing from string to string

The next step is to move from string to string. Begin by using adjacent strings – E and B; B and G; G and D; D and A; A and E – and simply play one and then the other. Make sure to rest briefly on each string before playing it.



Pressing frets

For beginners, the 8th fret is a good place to start since it’s easier to press the string into the fretboard than at the 1st fret. Most teachers start in first position, and then move up the fingerboard after that. Reversing this makes the process less frustrating.

Have the student press the string at fret 8 at the front, middle, and back of the fret, and play each time, making sure that their finger is in the proper curved position, looking as though it’s holding a grapefruit.

Which place on the fret is easiest to press down? Which sounds best? Get them to do this with each finger.

Once they can do this, get them to move from one fretted note to another, using different fingers. For instance, play the 8th fret with the index finger, and then play the 9th fret with the middle finger. Continue with the ring finger at the 10th fret and the pinky at the 11th fret.



Moving from open string to fretted note

The student needs to feel comfortable moving smoothly from an open string to a fretted note. Try the following:

Play from the open E string to the note at fret 5. Play the  E string, rest for a beat, press  fret, play fretted note.


Repeat until it sounds smooth. Once mastered, play alternating half notes. For example, alternate the E string with fretting the 5th fret.



This requires more coordination; the student has to time the pick-stroke with each note. This is especially difficult when fretting; the pick has to meet the string just as the finger presses the note down. The slower you do this, the easier you can hear when it doesn’t work.

When half notes are mastered, move on to alternating quarter notes.


One string melody

Now introduce a simple, one-string melody.



Two string melody

Now get them to play a melody between adjacent strings. 

The point of all this is to demonstrate how to break down something that seems to need very little explanation. Most skills developed on the guitar benefit from this type of scrutiny.

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