I am now teaching guitar to Year 5. I am a little hesitant as the guitars we have are quite big and the Year 5’s are quite small. I would prefer to be doing ukulele which is a much more appropriate instrument for Year 5 but we have 30 guitars and no ukuleles, so guitars it is.
I have put the guitars around the edges of the room and this is working out well as I tried it out today and 28 children successfully got their guitar and put it back in the correct places without any trouble. I have seated the children in four rows of seven according to their house (we use a house system in school) with any left-handers on the very left of the room as the teacher faces it so their arms don’t whack each other if they are sitting next to a right-hander. The front row collect guitars from the front of the room, the back collect them from the back and the two rows in the middle collect their guitars from the sides. The left-handed guitars are kept at the front and are labeled with an L so we know that these strings have been reversed.
Before we started playing we did aural, singing, rhythms and some theoretical work including knowing which part of the guitar was which, so we have some technical vocabulary in common use. We then got the guitars and did some strumming to the beat. Nothing difficult – just holding the guitars correctly and strumming in four in a bar. We then had a go at picking a tune and we tried “Hot Cross Buns”. This was quite difficult for some of the children as it required using the fourth finger and for beginners this can be troublesome. The reason is that we barely use the little finger in everyday life and it needs strengthening over quite a long period of time. Music teachers often forget this and wonder why children find it so hard but if you think back to when you were learning, I am sure you had the same difficulties. And if you didn’t you need to know you are in a very select minority! “Hot Cross Buns” is a good song to keep playing over many weeks as by repeating the exercise you will strengthen the little finger. And you are not going to strengthen it by not using it! However, in retrospect, as it was the first lesson it might have been best to start with a tune using two notes.
We haven’t learned any chords yet but I will probably move onto an easy four string chord of G where you only need to put your third finger on the third fret of the little E string. This will probably be enough content for two or three weeks and then we will move onto D which is much more complicated for youngish children.
Guitars can definitely be done in Year 5 but if you are starting an instrumental program from scratch I would advise you to use ukuleles first. If I was to put an age on it, I would do ukes in Year 4 and guitars in Year 6 or Year 7. But there are no hard and fast rules, and I am looking forward to seeing what the children can manage in the future.