Guitar, Ukulele, Banjo, Mandolin & Dulcimer
Simplified for Everyone

Article 1

New Easy Ways for All Teachers, Parents and Even Young Children to Play the Guitar

New "barre chorder" enables everyone to instantly play chords - no fingerings needed

There is a revolutionary new way for beginners to almost instantly play the guitar. With a new "barre chording" device (pictured in home page) called the "GUITAR BARRE®". and chord labels on the fretboard, playing chords is as simple as pushing the strings down at the labeled fret matching the chord in the music, and strumming across the strings. There are no fingerings required, nor do you have to read notes (chords are simply the letters above the music, like C or F or G).

Within one hour, you can play most songs no matter what the chords are. The guitar, used in this manner, is now much easier to keep in tune and play than even the autoharp. You now can be using the guitar, or even a ukulele, to teach, calm, excite - facilitate whatever you wish, in your classroom or in your own home. (One of the beauties of the labeling system is that there is nothing to memorize and it makes a fretboard look exactly like a piano keyboard.) There is even a new simple way for children as young as 3 to use small guitars to accompany all of your music making activities (this will be covered later).

This entirely new method was developed by a guitar teacher frustrated by the high failure rate associated with traditional "fingering" methods. He also felt that more people should be making their own music, and could be if the process was simplified. His new system is a synthesis of methods and 'tools' already in use by many guitarists (the 'capo' and the 'slide'), but much, much simpler and accessible to all. A growing number of music educators are referring to his system as "the beginning guitar method of the future".

Electronic tuning

It is now extremely simple for any beginner to tune stringed instruments with new inexpensive and easy to use "chromatic electronic tuners". Just pluck the string you want to tune and watch the light and needle on the tuner. It will tell you how far off you are and when you are perfectly in tune.

The Simplicity of Playing One Chord Songs

This new method utilizes what is called an "open tuning", meaning that the guitar is tuned to a chord (we like tuning to a C chord). This makes playing one chord songs like ARE YOU SLEEPING?, ROW, ROW, ROW YOUR BOAT, ITS RAINING, ITS POURING, RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY, RING AROUND THE ROSIE, A TISKET, A TASKET, PEASE PORIDGE HOT, and many other songs for young children extremely easy - all you have to do is strum across the strings of the guitar and start singing - your chording hand does nothing. Even young children can strum across the strings of your guitar or smaller guitars and play any of these one chord songs (a capo can be used to change key - see the next section).

Playing Multi-Chord Songs

There are literally hundreds of two and three chord childrens songs that you and any child 8 and older could be playing after one or two lessons using the GUITAR BARRE® chording device. Once again, all you have to do is go to the labeled frets on your instrument corresponding to the major or minor chord letters in the song, push the GUITAR BARRE® down so that all the strings come in contact with the fret, and strum across the strings. Instantly you will be playing all the chords that you want.

(Note: At the beginners level, for minor chords, the "relative major" is automatically substituted and the song comes out sounding fine. At the intermediate level, a different tuning is used wherein one can play all real minor and 7th chords along with the majors - see the next ARTICLE for details. This however is optional. One can use the simpler beginning approach forever.)

Changing the words to songs

We have a tendency to become what we say. If you like the melody of a song but don't particularily care for the words, or if there is just some other message you want to convey on a particular day, don't hesitate to make up new words to songs. Your children are particularily good at this and can probably help you out (they become instant creative singers/writers when you put a small guitar in their hands - see next section).

It is amazing what you can teach and what is better absorbed through the magic of music. Remember, we tend to become what we sing, so be selective about the words! With a repratore of just a few familiar one and two chord song melodies, you can change the words to create a multitude of learning and other possibilities. For example, to the melody of ARE YOU SLEEPING?, try substituting the words GOOD MORNING, and add in the childrens' names, turning this familiar melody into a morning welcoming activity.

Empowering Young Children to Accompany Music on the Guitar
- The "Open Strumming Harmony Chord" Technique -

There is a new special way for very young children to accompany any song with small guitars and ukuleles. All it involves are, (1) a special new "open harmony tuning" (known to musicians as an open 5th tuning), and (2) strumming across the strings of the instrument "open" (meaning the children don't have to play different chords). Children as young as 3 can accompany any song this way, no matter how many chords are involved or what KEY the song is being played and/or sung in.

Using small guitars with young children

Young children just love being given the chance to play the guitar and accompany all their singing activities in this way. They relish in being given the opportunity to hold a guitar, to touch the strings, to create beautiful harmonious sounds, to pluck and strum in time with the music, and to become an active instrumental participant in most music making activities. Small, 1/2 sized, nylon string classical guitars are perfect for young children. Or you can use ukuleles (we prefer the string spacing on guitars however).

Using a capo to change key

A simple set of labels can be added to the childrens' guitars to indicate where a capo should be placed to "KEY" the children into the particular song they will be accompanying. If the song begins with a C chord, no capo is needed. If it starts with some other chord, you simply place the capo at the labeled fret matching the first chord in the song, and the children are ready to strum away to their hearts content in perfect harmony with the song in that KEY.

It goes without saying that children absolutely love being given the chance to play the guitar. You don't need to have more than one or two small guitars around for the children - they are more than willing to share and take turns playing. And remember that this form of guitar accompaniment can be used to harmonize with any singing activity - you don't have to be playing the song yourself on the guitar. The simple two note drone harmony chord they play, still used extensively in many cultures, is an excellent beginning ear training harmony form to introduce all children to.

Two Childen
Two children take their turn accompanying a classroom sing-along on small guitars

Nurturing Creativity by Adding Simple Key of C Melodic Instruments Played in an Improvisational Mode

Musicmaking tends, in my opinion, to be too much "follow others - read the notes" and not enough "be yourself - do your own thing". We have been lead to believe that improvisation and composition are extremely difficult to do, when in fact it is easier to create your own music ("be yourself") than to reproduce what others have written ("be someone else"). All you have to do basically is keep all the musicmaking in one KEY (we prefer the KEY of C), and, using simple instruments that only play notes in that KEY, randomly play anything that you like (preferably gently and slowly at first - as many may play together as you wish) and the music just naturally comes out sounding beautiful -I call this "FREESTYLE MUSIC". This is an activity children just love.

This improvisational form, lost in the shuffle of trying to get children to focus on reading music, can be used to not only totally make up your own songs, but to accompany any known song as well. As long as the song is played in the KEY of C, all of the notes produced on the "FREESTYLE" instruments produce a perfect "counterpoint" to whatever the "lead" melody is. No one has to try and follow along with the familiar - everyone is "free" to "create" their own naturally harmonizing counterpoint.

The instruments we suggest you begin with include Keyboards (just use the white keys), Key of C harmonicas (wouldn't it be nice if every child had their own), resonator bars, xylophones, glockenspiels, "open strummed" guitars and ukuleles (dulcimers work nicely as well), chimalongs, and xylopipes. Remember these can all be used together in a totally improvisational mode or you can improvisationally accompany any known song played in the Key of C.

A Simple Beginning "Freestyle" Form - "Earth Music"

Here is a simple example of how you might begin creating music with groups of children. Have a musical purpose, for example, making music for your bird friends outside the window. Gather your Key of C instruments (including "open strummed" fretted instruments) and a beginning group of players in the middle of the room (as many as 8 or so, including up to two harmonica players). Begin by asking everyone to very softly and gently create the music of a gentle rain (no rhythm, mallets falling like rain drops, strings plucked or slowly strummed).

Let this go on for a while, then, with you playing "lead" guitar, introduce a slow one chord rhythm, and later, possibly a simple song with two chords, possibly making up some words to the birds (could use a familiar melody). Try to keep it slow and soft (you can sing the words "soft and slow" as reminders to the children as you go). Finally, reverse the whole process, taking your time, so that at the end there will just be gentle sounds randomly fading away (like the music of the earth). The next day repeat the exercise (you can always change the purpose) and involve children who have not yet played (those listening could draw, read, close their eyes and rest, etc.).

The "Earth Music" Form
Improvisational Guidelines

  1. All instruments in one key (we tend to focus on C). A wide variety of melodic instruments, and some 'soft' rhythm instruments (egg shakers, guiros, etc.)

  2. Random, gentle, long, drawn out, a-rhythmic beginnings and endings (open 5th drone chording).

  3. Long, rhythmic, simple chord progression middle movements, supporting "free melodic play".

Making music like the Earth
(a gentle, relaxing activity for all ages/abilities)
Giving music (therapy) back to the Earth

Where To Go For More Information

For an introduction to the simplicity of using guitars and ukuleles refer to THE GUITAR SIMPLIFIED BEGINNERS GUIDE FOR EVERYONE in C and Video. For using dulcimers, refer to THE DULCIMER SIMPLIFIED BEGINNERS GUIDE. These will give you all the simple details you'll need for tuning, labeling (labels come with the beginners books) and using the GUITAR BARRE®. There is also a similar barre chording device for the dulcimer, which can also be used by young chidren (ages 5-8) for playing chords when their guitar is placed flat on a table or on the floor (see the Beginners Guitar Book & Video for details).

For a complete introduction to using guitars and other improvisational instrumnets specifically with young children, at school or at home, refer to THE MUSIC SIMJPLIFIED GUIDE FOR ALL PARENTS and TEACHERS OF YOUNG CHILDREN and Video.

For an introduction to the simplicity of music and what music theory is really all about, for beginners with no musical background, refer to THE MAGICAL MUSICAL SPIRALED SEASHELL and FRIENDS. And for a simplified introduction to playing Keyboards, refer to THE KEYBOARD and "KEY UNLOCKING" SIMPLIFIED BEGINNERS GUIDE.

Note: if you are a music educator interested in empowering elementary school aged children to chord the guitar in just a couple of lessons, in full sized classroom groups, please continue on and read the next article. Or if you are a music therapist interested in empowering your clients to play the guitar, go on to the next article. No matter who you are, if you want more information on working with young children and/or using the GUITAR BARRE® to play chords, we suggest that you also read the next article.

As of January 1999, this article had not been published. If you could help facilitate that happening, and/or for permission to re-print, please contact us. Thanks.

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