How To Teach Guitar: Technique, Theory and Repertoire

Guitar Teaching: Three important Areas

There are three areas that we must pay attention to when helping our novice guitar players to become well rounded musicians but it is a big mistake to treat all three areas as being equally important at all stages of a guitar student’s career. It is true to say that one of the skills developed by an experienced guitar teacher is to know when to “push” one or more of these three topics whilst maybe holding back on another until your guitar student is at a more appropriate stage?


These areas are……………………

1: Theory

2: Technique

3: The Development of Repertoire

In order to produce a “well rounded” guitar player it is neccesary to develop your student in accordance with a plan that takes these three areas into account but it cannot be stressed enough that in the very early stages of learning to play the guitar music theory can (and should) be “put very firmly onto the back burner”

Why not to dwell on guitar music theory?

Without wanting to get too far into the realms of educational theory the development of a  “joined up” framework for understanding how music theory works is a “cognitive” skill requiring the brain to indulge in theorising and analysis and it is vital that when the time is right that we help our students to understand what they are playing. Having said that they do not need to attempt to understand the theory behind the things that they can not yet play?

Developing GuitarTechnique

The development of technique on the guitar is what has been defined (by those pesky eduational theorists again!) as being a “phsychomotor skill”.  A phsychomotor skill is purely physical and does not need to have any theoretical underpinning before it becomes useful to the individual who develops it.

If you see a child playing with a ball there is no requirement that they have a detailed understanding of the physics governing gravity and momentum before they can have fun and develop capabilities that will serve them well in later life and the same holds true for someone (of whatever age) who wishes to play the guitar but can not (yet). They just need to be able to press their fingers down on some wires whilst striking those same wires with a plectrum.

What better way to get them to practice that phsychomotor skill than by telling them how they can get to play music that they like and recognise (surely a large part of the reason why they want to play the guitar in the first place)?

Developing Guitar Repertoire

For the vast majority of our guitar students working on  repertoire is the fun part! Developing the ability to play music that they like and recognise will be the activity that improves their technique. In the early stages of playing (and here I mean at least the first year for an “ordainary” student of the guitar) novice musicians are more than happy to learn loads of new songs (or fragments of songs/riffs etc) that they recognise and that they (hopefully?) like.
This is not a “cop out” from the teachers point of view! Music Theory can (and should) be introduced where appropriate or useful but for the novice study of music theory should wait until they can actually make some music on the guitar.

Guitar Technique and Repertoire Combined

Our job as guitar teachers is to identify the best chords for a beginner guitar player to learn and to present them with a bunch of songs (or fragments of songs) that they can use in order to develop that ability.

It is generally recognised by Guitar Teachers the world over that there are a bunch of open chords that are not too difficult to play which also offer guitar students the potential to learn,practice and perform thousands (and possibly millions?) of songs. These chords (C A Am G E Em D and Dm) are useful because students do not have to stretch too far or use fingers (the pinkie?) over which they have not yet developed sufficient control. Another feature of the chords is that novice guitar players are not required to hold down more tha one string with a single finger ( such as is the case with the openthe F Chord?) which is something that they can find dispiriting if confronted with too early in tyheir playing career.

The early stages (the first few months for a “typical” beginner) of guitar playing should be about our students developing phsychomotor skills to sound the strings and to form the basic chord shapes that best suit a beginner on the guitar. The best way to do this is to teach them the guitar chords that are best for a beginner to learn alongside a whole load of songs that feature only those chords?




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