Learning Guitar—Step by Step—for Children and Parents
Dr. Peter Joseph Zisa is an award-winning concert guitarist, composer, writer, and educator. Zisa is a skilled performer of many styles of music, from blues, jazz, rock, folk, and country to gospel, Latin, Spanish flamenco, and classical. His forty years of college and university teaching experience includes twenty years teaching music therapy students in completing their guitar proficiency. While not a licensed music therapist, Zisa has twenty years of experience of using music to help adults with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease at care facilities, providing comfort to hospice patients and their families, as well providing specialized music activities for autistic and attention-deficit children. Zisa understands the use of music as a clinical tool is not uniform among varied population music therapists serve. In the absence of adequate method book to serve the specific needs of the music therapist, Zisa worked on compiling comprehensive guitar method directed at providing the music therapist the appropriate musical tools for the diverse clinical needs of the music therapy population.
This was especially challenging given the demands of the music therapy degree program. Non-guitarists, who would come to use the guitar as their primary clinical instrument, need to develop skills within the first year in the program. Attaining adequate proficiency while engaged in a rigorous academic program is no easy task. What was needed was a carefully designed pedagogic approach which integrated skill development with musical skills, such as note-reading, standard harmonic progressions, transposition, improvisation, song writing, and versatile accompaniment technique (picking and strumming) with stylistic considerations for clinical use. This book is the culmination of this twenty years of tested methodology. Zisa drew upon his extensive experience as a musician, teacher, and to create a curriculum which prepares the music therapy students with as little as 45 minutes a day of practice a day.
How is this book different from other guitar method books?
Unlike traditional guitar books the goals of this book is specifically crafted to serve the music therapy university student. The carefully organized pedagogic method employed has three central goals: skills, literacy, and versatility. Beginning primarily with skill development (what Zisa calls know how) students develop the proper mechanics: position of hand and independent movement of the fingers – tools which are indispensable to advancement and proficiency on any instrument. The early exercises and musical studies are simple, easy to memorize and challenging to execute correctly. These early pieces invite students to experiment “improvising”, changing the order and rhythm of the notes. This addendum to the exercises makes the skill work an engaging and enjoyable creative activity. Much of the early exercises have harmonic accompaniments available on youtube.
Many students of guitar struggle with note reading. In the forty years of teaching Zisa has met many advanced players of guitar who struggle with music literacy; who have not learned to read music. The pedagogic approaches to music literacy (reading of music notation) is innovative and creative. Ninety per cent of students who struggled with note reading have become excellent sight readers. The hypothesis is note reading is like learning a language. First you learn to say the word, then you learn to read it. For guitar, first you learn the names of the notes you finger, then they learn how the note is notated. The method activity has three steps: Play and say, read and say, read and play. Step one emphasizes learning the location and name of the note. Step two focuses solely on achieving speedy note recognition. Step three students connect written notation with note location on the fingerboard. Because fingers are properly positioned over notes, the execution of this last step is easy to manage.
Having the good fortune of teaching students with dyslexia, Zisa devised a method for students to help students better visually identify notes on a page. One early example of Zisa’s learning methods introduces students to reading the notes C and D on string two and F and G on string one, thereby by skipping open E. Visually, students are more easily recognize the visual “separation” between the written notes for notes on string one and string two. Once students’ note recognition is secure, they are able to read the notes effortlessly. Later in the method Zisa advances a kind of Sherlock Holmes method to music sight-reading.
Given the curriculum demands on first and second year music therapy students, the most difficult area of their musical development on guitar is versatility. Because music therapists use the guitar primarily as an accompanying instrument Zisa structured this method to advance knowledge and skills that would be most advantageous to music therapist in the areas of harmony, rhythm, dynamics, and style. This method is specifically targeted to advance students versatility in these four areas. For harmony, students to learn the chord progressions common to folk music and popular music, and then identify the many songs these progressions are applicable to. Students limited to I-IV-V are ill equipped to do many of the songs of the 1940s – 1970s, thus limiting their ability to use the guitar for more harmonically advanced music.
Picking and strumming accompaniment has important rhythmic component. The use of entrainment, causing a client gradually to fall into synchronism with a rhythm pattern, can be led and controlled by the music therapist with the guitar. This presumes the therapist is equipped with ability to vary and control rhythmic patterns through strumming and arpeggiated rhythmic patterns.