So, You Want to To Teach Guitar?

What’s the best type of guitar?

No matter what grade levels you teach, the best guitar for classroom use is the classic or nylon-stringed guitar. The strings are much easier on the fingers than steel-stringed guitars. Note that three of the six nylon strings appear to be metal, but they have a nylon-filament core.

What’s the best size and construction?

Manufacturers make these guitars in a variety of sizes. They are ergonomically designed to be comfortable in the arms of students of all ages. Less expensive entry-level guitars of good quality are made with laminates that are able to tolerate temperature and humidity changes. Some have a shiny, lacquer finish; some have a dull, satin finish. Choose according to your taste and budget. The action (height of the strings over the fingerboard) should be consistent up and down the entire length. Are the metal frets comfortable with no sharp edges? Put your hand around the neck and move up and down to make sure. Do the tuners adjust easily? Tune the guitar and try some open chords. Does the instrument stay in tune? Play up and down the neck to make sure it plays in tune. Examine the interior to see seams and braces with no excess glue.

What if I inherited a class set of steel-string guitars?

If you have to use steel-stringed guitars, your students’ fingers will soon become sore and tired during their lessons and practice. The worst culprits are the high E and B strings that are a single strand of steel, contributing most to the “ouch” factor. There are ways to deal with this. You may choose “extra-light gauge” steel strings. They aren’t as loud, but they are easier on the fingertips. Another type of string is the hybrid “silk and steel.” Yes, it is perfectly okay to put nylon strings on a steel-stringed guitar, but not vice versa. Some steel-string guitars may require a little filing of the nut to gain a good fit for nylon strings. Other adjustments may be beneficial too. Never put steel strings on a guitar made for nylon strings. The stress on the neck is too much for a guitar made for nylon.

The first step?

If all this seems confusing, go to your local “brick and mortar” store. I recommend you find a Music & Arts near you: Visit the guitar department people; using the suggestions above, preview different brands of guitars with them.

What else will you need?

Storage is an issue. If your classroom is secure, I recommend investing in hangers like you would see in a music/guitar shop. If you want to use cases, padded bags are a good investment. If you are in a part of the country that is extremely cold/dry you should have a humidification system in the classroom or a humidifier in each guitar case.

Need additional training?

I recommend you consider a Teaching Guitar Workshop: This program, co-sponsored by NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants), GAMA (Guitar and Accessories Marketing Association), and NAfME (National Association for Music Education), is a great professional development opportunity that will give you the tools to start, develop or continue.


About the Author: 

For over 20 years, Glen McCarthy has taught guitar pedagogy and class guitar required for all music education majors at George Mason University. He has been a guest clinician and adjudicator at numerous festivals, conferences and workshops. In 2014, from over 32,000 nominees, the Grammy Foundation recognized Glen as one of the top ten music educators in the United States.

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