Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Can anyone play guitar?

Considering that this blog goes under the bold title Anyone Can Play Guitar, I thought I'd better back that up with some of my experiences.


Anyonc can play guitar but everyone wants to play the blue one


I chose the title for a couple of reasons:
First and foremost, I believe it to be true and in some ways that belief defines my music programmes.
Secondly, it's a reference to the song of the same name from Radiohead's underrated debut. Radiohead took their name from a Talking Heads song, ( refer to previous blog How Music Works for further explanation of why that's important)

But back to the guitar.

All my year 8 classes this year are getting a couple of introductory guitar lessons. These lead on from the ukulele lessons that I run for both year 7 and 8 (which I will write about later.)
It's a big deal for a lot of my students when I say " I think you guys are ready to move on to the guitar"
They've been playing ukulele for a few weeks and it's a bit of a growing up moment.

I'm in the middle of upgrading my class guitars and I'm buying 3/4 sized guitars to replace the tired, warped full sized ones I inherited. I think that for kids ages 11-13, a 3/4 guitar is just fine. Some kids at that age are able to cope fine with a full sized guitar but for many, it's just cumbersome and off-putting.

Another consideration is the one in ten students who is left-handed. Well, you might think this is harsh and a bit 'leftist" so to speak, but honestly, how many other instruments, apart from drums/percussion can you name that can be played left handed? Left handed pianos anyone? 
Can you imagine a left handed violinist in the orchestra, jabbing their neighbour in the side of the head with their bow?
The reality is that most of the guitars in the world are set up to be played right handed so it seems to me that it's probably in a left hander's best interests to at least try to learn to play right handed from the outset. 
Would that advice have made Jimi Hendrix a better guitarist? probably not. Does it help with organising a music class. Definitely.
I always keep one guitar strung left handed though....

(Left handed readers, feel free to bash out and angry response in the comments, using your right handed keyboard)

So for my first guitar lesson, I tell them the good news. A whole bunch of chords they learnt
 on the ukulele are going to work on the guitar. They just have different names. 

Then we learn our first proper guitar chord, E minor. 
E minor is a great place to start because you only need two fingers and you can strum all six strings.
Then we learn A minor, which is an easy move from E minor and is also a known ukulele chord.
Now we can play our first song: Rumour Has It

The first 2 and half minutes of this song are just E minor with an occasional shift to A minor. When you hit the bridge it's time to back up and play again from the start
The other great thing about this song as an introduction to guitar is the way the drum intro defines the strumming pattern:
Down, down, down, down-up.....


By the way you might have noticed that the backing track on the link above has been transposed up a semitone to allow for easy playalong. It's a handy trick that I use a lot myself, but one to be aware of, especially if you plan to play along to your original Adele CD.


From there on it depends on the class. Some can quickly learn the basic chord structures for D, G and A which opens up a whole bunch of songs that we can play. There are plenty posted by Lyric Chord on youtube easily linked to from the Rumour Has It clip. I like these because the chords appear big and bold along with the lyrics, saving me from having to write out charts.

Another popular and current song that kids will pick up very quickly is Foster the People's Pumped Up Kicks which you can play an endless cycle of Em, G, D and A to if you have the Audacity to drop the key by a couple of semitones ( or a class set of capos)

Of course this all opens up a can of (copyrighted)  worms, interpretations of which will vary from country to country and institution to institution so I don't want to get to far into the whole issue except to say that I sleep easily at night knowing that:


My school pays a substantial  licence fee that allows me to use copyrighted music as a part of my educational programme.
I do not distribute music files or scores to colleagues or students.
I make every effort to source music from legal sites such as iTunes.

But it's a brave new world we live in and our instant access to an incredible range of tunes, tools and resources can't be ignored. But then, if you're here, you already know that.

Rock on.



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