Guitar method for small children? (4-5 years old)

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Aaron

Re: Guitar method for small children? (4-5 years old)

Post by Aaron » Mon Dec 06, 2010 4:24 am

While this is an untimely response to a months old discussion in which questions of a new book were just added, I'll reply anyway:

1. I'm glad your students like the Suzuki pieces. I did not especially like them as a student myself (I did not study Suzuki but my sister did Suzuki violin). I really believe that the pieces in Suzuki book one have absolutely no claim to being more engaging than that of many other methods. I have seen my share of terrible methods with completely unmusical studies (I've reviewed over 300 guitar methods), and Suzuki is not one of those. But the music in many methods is superior or comparable to Suzuki. Here's a fact about music: people like what is familiar. Many studies have empirically verified this. By making the students listen to recordings all the time, you make them like the music. It will work with any decent music. There is nothing remarkable about the decent to mediocre music selections in Suzuki, which are - for the most part - the same pieces that most other methods use.

2. Group class is absolutely great. Suzuki deserves little claim to it though. Most music in most cultures throughout all human history is played and learned in groups. It is unfortunate that some approaches don't do much group stuff. I regret myself that I don't do more group things as a teacher. It is a real downside to my teaching, and one I intend to change.

3. Suzuki idea that music is like language, needs to be learned aurally before dealing with reading... definitely true! Too bad that Suzuki then utilizes the idea all wrong. You can't teach anyone English by having them hear the same exact recording of one story over and over. You don't learn language by learning a set of carefully composed speeches. Music is a language, and as such it needs to be experienced in all its complexity and dynamism. Suzuki students learn to create internal schemas that apply to the very limited patterns and interpretation of a very limited scope of music. Then they have no direct way to apply that to anything else. At best, contemporary music or non-classical music will sound to a Suzuki student about as meaningful as Spanish sounds to an American English-speaking kid. At worst, a Suzuki student may actually fail to learn even classical music patterns because they associate certain forms with specific pieces and have no understanding that they are idiomatic of many pieces in that style.

In summary: Suzuki could be a lot better if it exposed students to more total pieces, more versions of interpretations, more styles, and more creative improvisation and other things. Relatively little of the best parts of Suzuki are unique to Suzuki. The main significance is just that it is carefully structured and insists on high quality. But the perspective of Suzuki is severely limited stylistically and creatively. Sure a great teacher could adjust for that, but likewise a great non-Suzuki teacher could also do everything good that Suzuki covers without using Suzuki specifics.

Nick Cutroneo
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Re: Guitar method for small children? (4-5 years old)

Post by Nick Cutroneo » Mon Dec 06, 2010 5:23 am

Aaron wrote:While this is an untimely response to a months old discussion in which questions of a new book were just added, I'll reply anyway:

1. I'm glad your students like the Suzuki pieces. I did not especially like them as a student myself (I did not study Suzuki but my sister did Suzuki violin). I really believe that the pieces in Suzuki book one have absolutely no claim to being more engaging than that of many other methods. I have seen my share of terrible methods with completely unmusical studies (I've reviewed over 300 guitar methods), and Suzuki is not one of those. But the music in many methods is superior or comparable to Suzuki. Here's a fact about music: people like what is familiar. Many studies have empirically verified this. By making the students listen to recordings all the time, you make them like the music. It will work with any decent music. There is nothing remarkable about the decent to mediocre music selections in Suzuki, which are - for the most part - the same pieces that most other methods use.
This is true. However, I've found that kids at this age will tell you there honest opinion on what they think of something. Good or bad. There's also a reason why Twinkle, Lightly Row and others are taught to grade school music classes. And there is a reason why these folk melodies are also included in many other books as you suggest. However the difference is the length. Where the Suzuki book shines is the fact that the melodies aren't cut, changed, shorten, etc to fit what the writer of the method feels is appropriate (due to the listening and mimicking nature of the teaching philosophy with starting students). However, there has been little to no creativity in chosen (or writing) pieces for the guitar books. The repertoire that Dr. Suzuki chose was to work specific technical issues that later pieces have. The Guitar Book 1 doesn't really do that (nor does the method as a whole do that).
2. Group class is absolutely great. Suzuki deserves little claim to it though. Most music in most cultures throughout all human history is played and learned in groups. It is unfortunate that some approaches don't do much group stuff. I regret myself that I don't do more group things as a teacher. It is a real downside to my teaching, and one I intend to change.
Nor did I claim that Suzuki deserves credit. However, I think it is quite obvious how "lonely" the guitar is when you take lessons. This is why I created the guitar ensemble where I teach. Also, group lessons, like public school classes, are great starters for students (especially adults). What Suzuki does is combine the private lesson and a group lesson together. I'm sure other teachers do this to, and other methods. But this is something that being a Suzuki program gives and offers the student that if you went somewhere else you would not get.
3. Suzuki idea that music is like language, needs to be learned aurally before dealing with reading... definitely true! Too bad that Suzuki then utilizes the idea all wrong. You can't teach anyone English by having them hear the same exact recording of one story over and over. You don't learn language by learning a set of carefully composed speeches. Music is a language, and as such it needs to be experienced in all its complexity and dynamism. Suzuki students learn to create internal schemas that apply to the very limited patterns and interpretation of a very limited scope of music. Then they have no direct way to apply that to anything else. At best, contemporary music or non-classical music will sound to a Suzuki student about as meaningful as Spanish sounds to an American English-speaking kid. At worst, a Suzuki student may actually fail to learn even classical music patterns because they associate certain forms with specific pieces and have no understanding that they are idiomatic of many pieces in that style.

In summary: Suzuki could be a lot better if it exposed students to more total pieces, more versions of interpretations, more styles, and more creative improvisation and other things. Relatively little of the best parts of Suzuki are unique to Suzuki. The main significance is just that it is carefully structured and insists on high quality. But the perspective of Suzuki is severely limited stylistically and creatively. Sure a great teacher could adjust for that, but likewise a great non-Suzuki teacher could also do everything good that Suzuki covers without using Suzuki specifics.
Those issues are about the teacher not the method. If you are an educated teacher, you learn how to incorporate those concepts you find missing of the Suzuki "method" into your teaching. You points, however, are quite valid. For instance, I introduce reading much earlier then other teachers (I suspect). The guitar has to read multiple voice music, and you learn music of this texture by the end of the 1st book. How can you ask a student to do 2 part dictation when perhaps a 1 1/2 years ago they might not have been listening to music at all? Some college students have trouble dictating multiple voices!

In reference to hearing the same recordings over and over again, you are half correct. When you are trying to get your kid to say a word, how many times do you say it to them, with the same inflection, with the same sound? While it is true that you need experience, an issue with any beginning method is the lack of professional quality recordings of pieces used in the methods. I have several issues with many of the Suzuki recordings, and plan to rectify those issues over the next year or so, but until then you've got to make due.

But back on topic, in my opinion, if you are going to do Suzuki lessons for your child, the most important thing is the teacher, their philosophy and their ability to teach. To me, it's more important in this method then doing traditional lessons because (for better or for worse) much is left up to the teacher.
Nick Cutroneo - Classical Guitarist, performer/teacher/suzuki instructor

Aaron

Re: Guitar method for small children? (4-5 years old)

Post by Aaron » Mon Dec 06, 2010 5:39 am

Nick Cutroneo wrote:However the difference is the length. Where the Suzuki book shines is the fact that the melodies aren't cut, changed, shorten, etc to fit what the writer of the method feels is appropriate (due to the listening and mimicking nature of the teaching philosophy with starting students). However, there has been little to no creativity in chosen (or writing) pieces for the guitar books. The repertoire that Dr. Suzuki chose was to work specific technical issues that later pieces have. The Guitar Book 1 doesn't really do that (nor does the method as a whole do that).
You are completely right here, except that "shine" is overstating the fact. The Suzuki books are among a decent number of repertoire books that contain substantial full-length pieces. It is certainly a shame that so many books are otherwise though.
I appreciate your acknowledgment of the lack of creative focus. I find that to be a substantial problem. Consider the language issue: kids learn by babbling and making up things. Music should be the same. To be fair, the lack of creative focus is widespread throughout the whole classical music world, not just Suzuki, and there's elements of it even in non-classical music teaching too.
Nor did I claim that Suzuki deserves credit. However, I think it is quite obvious how "lonely" the guitar is when you take lessons. This is why I created the guitar ensemble where I teach. Also, group lessons, like public school classes, are great starters for students (especially adults). What Suzuki does is combine the private lesson and a group lesson together. I'm sure other teachers do this to, and other methods. But this is something that being a Suzuki program gives and offers the student that if you went somewhere else you would not get.
Mostly fair again, but here you say at the end that you would not get the solo+group experience "somewhere else" even after you just admitted that others probably do it.
In reference to hearing the same recordings over and over again, you are half correct. When you are trying to get your kid to say a word, how many times do you say it to them, with the same inflection, with the same sound?
I think you're on to something but going too far. It's one thing to say the word over again, but trying to teach the kid with a repeated recording of the word is going too far. Sure, the words need to be especially clear and simple. But the natural variation of a real person saying it helps the kid to know what is nuance and what is primary. Of course, this is comparable to playing a note or phrase live in a lesson. Anyway, the complaint I had was about strict exposure to certain entire pieces (and worst: single recordings of them). You do say words clearly to kids learning language, but you don't repeat exact paragraphs to learn verbatim!!
Those issues are about the teacher not the method. If you are an educated teacher, you learn how to incorporate those concepts you find missing of the Suzuki "method" into your teaching.
Fine! But why is that any different that me (a non-certified Suzuki teacher) incorporating whatever I find good about Suzuki that is otherwise missing from my current teaching? You seem very reasonable, so I assume you'll agree it is the same. But my point is that this diminishes the supposed significance of Suzuki and goes back to the general idea of just saying that it's best to have a good teacher.

Nick Cutroneo
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Re: Guitar method for small children? (4-5 years old)

Post by Nick Cutroneo » Mon Dec 06, 2010 2:51 pm

Aaron wrote:Consider the language issue: kids learn by babbling and making up things. Music should be the same. To be fair, the lack of creative focus is widespread throughout the whole classical music world, not just Suzuki, and there's elements of it even in non-classical music teaching too.
You're absolutely right. To me this comes down to the teacher not the method.
Mostly fair again, but here you say at the end that you would not get the solo+group experience "somewhere else" even after you just admitted that others probably do it.
Let me rephrase it to not many people consider doing something like this. Think about the idea of the "guitar lesson." You go in for a half hour or an hour and have a lesson. You learn solo pieces, maybe some duets with your teacher. I've seen a hand fun of examples of traditional teachers also offer an ensemble or group as a part of the structure of the lesson. I think the difference is with Suzuki it's mandatory, and part of how the instrument is taught. People who do the group class as well as a private lesson are often influence or have done Suzuki Training and have developed their own way of doing things, which include using some of the Suzuki ideas.

I think you're on to something but going too far. It's one thing to say the word over again, but trying to teach the kid with a repeated recording of the word is going too far. Sure, the words need to be especially clear and simple. But the natural variation of a real person saying it helps the kid to know what is nuance and what is primary. Of course, this is comparable to playing a note or phrase live in a lesson. Anyway, the complaint I had was about strict exposure to certain entire pieces (and worst: single recordings of them). You do say words clearly to kids learning language, but you don't repeat exact paragraphs to learn verbatim!!
I don't think I'm going to far. Imagine you are reading a bedtime story to your kid. And you are "interpreting it" by giving each character a different inflection and tone of voice. Now lets say they ask you to read it again the next night because they loved it the first night, and you forget to do those "funny voices". The kid is going to call you out and say, "HEY! You're not doing the voices!" But to address the complaint, you find me 3 different ways of playing Twinkle then we'll talk about the recordings. There aren't easily available recordings of the pieces in the beginning books of the method (especially the 1st book). And even if there were, you think there would be a big difference in how Twinkle, Lightly Row, Are You Sleeping Brother John? are all "interpreted? There isn't much musical nuance to these pieces.
Fine! But why is that any different that me (a non-certified Suzuki teacher) incorporating whatever I find good about Suzuki that is otherwise missing from my current teaching? You seem very reasonable, so I assume you'll agree it is the same. But my point is that this diminishes the supposed significance of Suzuki and goes back to the general idea of just saying that it's best to have a good teacher.
I have yet to be convinced that it diminishes anything. The Suzuki Method is a name, that's all. And people like things with a name and that has a history behind it. The moment I became a trained Suzuki Teacher in all 9 books I immediately set my self apart from a majority of people in my area. My fiance is a certified Diamontologist at her job. She's worked at several Jewelry stores, and when she moved up to CT with me she had to do the test over again because her company didn't recognize the fact she got certified by another company. Yet she knew everything anyway, thus the certification was quite easy. To me that's the same thing with the Suzuki training I received. Nothing ground breaking in the world of guitar pedagogy was taught to me. But also they weren't trying to teach that, it wasn't the purpose of the classes. I learned about HOW to teach the guitar from my guitar pedagogy classes at Hartt, and what I've done over the years is learn how to adapt effective teaching techniques to young children. Learning how to communicate, create with them, and teach them is what I got from the Suzuki Training. Sure any college Music ED student would learn that in their typical curriculum. Learning the Suzuki Method gave me a lot of tools to help me teach young children, and to me it has very little to do with "the books".

With anything, including the Suzuki Method, the best thing for the parents to do is to research the instructors, observe their lessons and then make an educated decision.
Nick Cutroneo - Classical Guitarist, performer/teacher/suzuki instructor

Aaron

Re: Guitar method for small children? (4-5 years old)

Post by Aaron » Mon Dec 06, 2010 6:24 pm

Nick Cutroneo wrote:There aren't easily available recordings of the pieces in the beginning books of the method (especially the 1st book). And even if there were, you think there would be a big difference in how Twinkle, Lightly Row, Are You Sleeping Brother John? are all "interpreted? There isn't much musical nuance to these pieces.
It's hard for me to refrain from being very skeptical and critical of anyone making such claims. There are innumerable ways to add nuance to those pieces in ways that are subtle or not so subtle. I've reinterpreted them in extreme variation with my students. If classical music is as limited as you seem to suggest, then it might as well curl up and drop dead. It is exactly the lack of sensitivity to the broader potential of interpretation and nuance that turns off many students from Suzuki and even other classical approaches to music. At the very least, Suzuki already has rhythm variations on Twinkle, so why the heck does it not go and suggest that students devise their own similar variations both of Twinkle and of other pieces. And to be clear: I'm not saying that the only way to interpret is actually to create variations, though variations can be great.

And as for the story-reading analogy: kids LOVE it if the voices are changed and new nuance is added to things, just not if they first learn that it "should" be one particular way. And the kid taught to make up his own voices for the story gets a much better and more inspiring education than the kid where the creativity is all one-directional.
The Suzuki Method is a name, that's all...
It's not just a name, it's a franchise. I don't know about your comparison to Diamontology (and I'm resisting the desire to comment on that field). There are definitely issues that can be discussed about the pros and cons of certification type programs. They do allow a certain reliability, but they also result in homogenization. If you're going to take the time and money to get certified in something as a music teacher, there's also Alexander Technique, Orff, Kodaly, Dalcroze, Gordon, Royal Academy (Canada), public school teacher certification, and on and on; not to mention a traditional degree (what I have only at this point). In my experience, there is no clear superiority in the teaching of certified folks over others. There's a few lousy teachers out there, but most teachers are passionate and effective. The very best teachers are certainly not contained within the certified ranks and those who are the best within the certified systems would probably be the best even if they had not gotten certified. I've been recruited by Suzuki folks before, but I'm not convinced. The system is just too regimented and boring to me. I've taught many students who came to me after years of successful Suzuki lessons and they have been great performers in certain regards but totally lacking in other areas. Furthermore, their independence and conceptual understandings were nearly absent. There is only so much time in life and successful teaching of the Suzuki regimen comes at the expense of other areas of musicality that I believe are far more important than technical renditions of the same old stuff. Until the Suzuki approach becomes far more dynamic, creative, and flexible, I will continue to be critical and recommend against it. I'd rather students be creative and struggle with technique than the other way around. Put simply, I think Suzuki approach is unbalanced, though I admit it is good at what it does best.

Nick Cutroneo
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Re: Guitar method for small children? (4-5 years old)

Post by Nick Cutroneo » Mon Dec 06, 2010 6:39 pm

You critique of the "unbalanced approach" to Suzuki is due to the instructor not the method itself, and I don't really think you understand that. For me the blame of those "un-creative" and single minded kids comes from the teacher not introducing these concepts to them. This happens with any teacher who doesn't follow through with those issues. My criticism of your critique is the fact you are blaming the method, not the teacher.
Nick Cutroneo - Classical Guitarist, performer/teacher/suzuki instructor

Aaron

Re: Guitar method for small children? (4-5 years old)

Post by Aaron » Mon Dec 06, 2010 7:33 pm

But... but... the teachers are successfully applying all the components of the method! And it takes most of their time, so there has to be a compromise. Sure they could do better, but they are fully successful and honored according to Suzuki! If the Suzuki institutions can honor these teachers as being successful with all the goals of the method and I still have my concerns... well, if it is all about the teacher then why give any emphasis to the method at all? Why give the Suzuki institutes all the money and recognition and such?? It seems like you are willing to give Suzuki some of the credit but none of the blame. I can go further with it: If I made a method that incorporated better creative approaches or if Suzuki added better creative approaches, these same teachers would use them and I think it would be better. It is totally fair to criticize this element of the method. I'm not ignoring the significance of individual teachers.

peluche

Re: Guitar method for small children? (4-5 years old)

Post by peluche » Mon Dec 06, 2010 11:25 pm

Without wanting to hijack this thread, I would like to go back to some of the first posters in this thread and ask them how they deal/dealt with string pressure on children's hands (when fretting).

Because obviously, some fretting will be necessary -- even if you're only showing them one half of a G major chord, on a small guitar with LT nylons?

(BTW are there special extra LT strings for those children's hands?)

Reading that some start to teach their sons and daughters at the tender age of 5, 4, even 3(!), I'm wondering if that's not a bit too much for those tiny hands, I mean doesn't it HURT -- or do they get trained that quickly (wouldn't surprise me)? Last I checked, most teachers seem to offer guitar classes starting from the age of 6 at the very earliest, so I'm quite surprised that for some there seems to be no lower age limit whatsoever ...

My own son is 5+ now and seems quite interested, especially in those "iron guitars" :) ; he tried to fret his small nylon guitar early on but hasn't succeeded so far. It just hurts him too much. (When he started out at 3 1/2 years he was so enthusiastic he got blisters just from from plucking! -- he was mimicking my own finger movements). Consequently he soon lost interest -- basically just goofing around with the instrument now and then, hitting and plucking the open strings.

So what's your experience, how are you approaching this problem?

Aaron

Re: Guitar method for small children? (4-5 years old)

Post by Aaron » Tue Dec 07, 2010 12:47 am

My youngest starting student was 3. He is now 8 and is a very creative and expressive guitarist working on all sorts of things including full chords, upper position notes, sight-reading, small barres, and composing. We started with rhythm focus only, strumming up and down in various rhythm patterns. And we used picks originally. After he got that, we moved to basic method type stuff with pieces that start with open strings. He had a decent 1/4-size guitar with nylon strings. Going through left hand fingering wasn't quick and easy, but he managed. The methods I used introduced just one note at a time.

I currently have another young student who is has been with me for a while. In his case, We have been doing melodies on single string from early on and he got used to using just one left hand finger and plucking with his right hand thumb. Slowly but surely we've moved on and now he is using two strings for fretted notes with multiple fingers, and using both thumb and one finger in his right hand, and then he just learned a basic rasgueado today.

It's all about just going step by step and making the most music you can with the skills the student is fully ready to handle.

peluche

Re: Guitar method for small children? (4-5 years old)

Post by peluche » Thu Dec 09, 2010 12:39 am

Thanks Aaron for the interesting account.

It tells me that maybe I'm expecting far too much, rushing things unnecessarily, and that I'll have to introduce him much more slowly.

Since you are suggesting rhythmic strumming, I think we'll focus on that and move on later, maybe some rhythmic open bass plucking could be the next step. I'll also keep your other suggestions in mind.

Actually, my son is already into rythmic strumming all by himself, so that's what we will be doing next time around. (And a few days ago he made up his own drum set which consists of a big carton, the sofa, and the claves as sticks. :-))

It'll be interesting so see how fast he advances on the guitar -- frankly me expectation is that I'll turn jealous in no time. :oops: But then that's just life I guess :-)

Aaron

Re: Guitar method for small children? (4-5 years old)

Post by Aaron » Thu Dec 09, 2010 1:00 am

Yeah, the deal is: I don't think kids learn any faster than adults. Adults are both blessed and burdened with all their previous habits and skills, and kids are starting from nothing. A kid who starts at 10 will be about as far along at 18 as the kid who starts at 4 is by age 12... IF THEY PRACTICED THE SAME LEVEL AND SAME AMOUNT OF FOCUS, WHICH THEY WON'T. Plus, both ages students will be having other exposure to music or not etc. etc.
The reason you don't become a virtuoso starting as an adult is because you don't drop all your other thoughts and connects and memories to focus more on guitar. Adults simply will not ever take on the identity and perspective of someone who has had a certain focus for most of their life. BUT, realizing that adults have existing skills that can be built upon, kids and adults otherwise learn at a similar rate.
Ah, that's all a little simplistic, but you get my drift...

You may be jealous in a short time, but that's not because he'll be really objectively playing better than you, it's because he'll be really amazing FOR HIS AGE and with a head-start that makes you imagine that he will get way better. And he may or may not actually achieve that depending on whether he keeps up with it for years.

To be clear, my student I mentioned was playing at 5 in a way that people could easily imagine he would be incredible by age 10. However, he's gotten busy with school and other interests, and now at age 8 he is way further along but doesn't blow you away because you're used to seeing kids at 8 being decent. He's definitely better than most, but not completely amazing. At this rate, he'll be one of the rare teenagers who are really solid expressive and talented players, but you won't be blown away like he's the next top virtuoso... unless he stops being interested in his other schoolwork and such, and I'm not one to push that.

dogonjon

Re: Guitar method for small children? (4-5 years old)

Post by dogonjon » Thu Dec 09, 2010 9:02 pm

Tiago wrote:In the end there is no bad method for a good teacher and no good method for a bad one.
I often find myself listening to my students play and create studies based on what they already know that will incorporate a new skill into the exercise. I'll often have them sing a song they know and I use that melody to create a study suited for their ability. This gives students input to lesson content and challanges me to create a customised lesson for that student.

celestemcc
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Re: Guitar method for small children? (4-5 years old)

Post by celestemcc » Mon May 22, 2017 5:41 pm

Other than Suzuki, are there any methods best suited for teaching guitar to young kids (6 - 9) in a class setting?
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celestemcc
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Re: Guitar method for small children? (4-5 years old)

Post by celestemcc » Mon May 22, 2017 5:45 pm

Also: do any of you who don't do Suzuki, teach music reading to young kids? I have a particular young student where I volunteer teach who simply can't grasp it, and treats the staff as if it is tablature. (I didn't start this student out myself). This puts her way behind the rest of the class (and there are other factors.) It seems a particularly difficult concept on guitar for kids under 9, depending on the kid's readiness, of course. Thoughts?
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Robin
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Re: Guitar method for small children? (4-5 years old)

Post by Robin » Thu May 25, 2017 1:14 pm

Hello All,

There is a new method book on the market called Awesome Guitar For Kids by Chris Kjorness, MM. Book 1 was published last summer and now there is a Book 2 available. I randomly discovered it searching children's methods on a commercial website and ordered it because it was new. At first I was very skeptical and put it in the reject pile. Then I read through it a few more times and realized that it really is ingenious. The author has a background in Suzuki and as a school classroom instructor. Note and rhythm reading is delayed and introduced gradually but the concepts are taught from the start.

I started using this book for several 6 year olds in recent months. First of all, they love it!! Why? It's fun! They can be successful with each skill set as it is presented. The author has short lesson tutorials on his website so students have instructional support at home while they practice. The method book includes instructions and encouragement for parents that goes along with each lesson.

Is this method strictly classical? No. But the concepts used are solid. I adapt lessons based on student ability and my own pedagogical preferences. I also add familiar tunes that utilize the notes the students have learned. It works well for the very young child as a primer to a more traditional method book. I will likely use Book 2 and then should be able to transition them to Richard Corr's Guitar Academy Book 1.

As an FYI, harmony and duet playing is introduced in Book 1 of Awesome Guitar for Kids so I will be initiating ensemble style playing in my studio this summer. It's a great experience for the kids to play together!

Robin
So much music, so little time.

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