When the elements force our little tribe indoors and the days grow increasingly cold and dark, I find that the best way to beat the winter doldrums and warm up things up is with some kind beer (adults only, of course!) and an impromptu family jam session.
I think my wife was contemplating all of the time we’ll be spending in front of the fire in the coming months when she asked me this summer to teach her the guitar. Correction — she asked me whether I could teach her just enough on the guitar that she could play a few songs for our daughters. With law school, work commitments, and two little ones to chase around, she doesn’t have the time to learn the guitar in-depth.
I suggested that she focus on learning two chords: C and G7. There are over a dozen of our girls’ favorite songs that can be played with just these two chords. After spending about twenty minutes working on these chords together, she was able to play through several songs. She enjoyed her new skill so much, that she suggested I consider offering a small group adult guitar class with a same slow-pace and focus on children’s songs and camp tunes. The class is a hit. It seems there are a lot of parents out there with similar musical interests…and similar time limitations.
Learning basic guitar is really very simple and learning to play simple tunes is incredibly satisfying. There is no reason why it should be out of reach to anyone who is interested in learning. In the spirit of “sharing the guitar love,” we put together the following basic guitar lesson. It is similar to what I provided for my wife and focuses on C and G7 chords. At the end I provide a list of some of our favorite children’s songs that use just these two chords.
Here goes. First off, you need to know a little guitar lingo; well, two bits of information, so that you can know where to place your fingers to make each chord.
:: Frets Frets are the metal vertical lines that are up and down the neck of the guitar. They are counted from the tuning pins toward your body. So, your first fret is the one furthest away from your body. As you move in toward the sound hole, you count up.
:: String numbers Strings are numbered from high pitch to low pitch, one though six. The high pitched string should be at the bottom of the guitar and the low pitched string toward the top of the guitar, when holding the guitar (unless, of course, you are Jimmy Hendrix).
The key to learning C and G7 chords (or any chords, for that matter) is memorizing the chord patterns. C and G7 are similar, which makes learning these two chords really pretty simple.
Let’s start with the C chord:
:: Put your pointer finger on the 1st fret — 2nd string.
:: Put your middle finger on the 2nd fret — 4th string.
:: Put your ring finger on the 3rd fret — 5th string.
Now strum. That is a C chord. Memorize what this looks and feels like. Just play that for a little while, strumming and/or picking with your fingers and/or thumb. Now, hold that chord, do not pick your fingers up to start or change to the G7. Simply keep your fingers in the C-chord position and:
:: Move your pointer finger down one string to the 1st fret — 1st string.
:: Move your other two fingers — the middle and ring — up one string each so that they are on the 2nd fret — 5th string and the 3rd fret — 6th string respectively.
Strum. This is a G7 chord. Memorize what this chord looks and feels like and the differences between the C-chord. Strum and pick that for a bit. Then, without lifting all your fingers up and off the guitar, switch back to the C-chord by moving the pointer finger back up a string and the other two fingers down a string, while maintaining the frets they are in. Pretty soon your muscle memory will kick in and you will be moving between the two chords effortlessly while moving all of your fingers at the same time.
I always recommend practicing songs using new skills rather than just practicing the skills alone. It is more fun this way and working the tunes up faster and faster is a great way to improve muscle memory. Below are ten children’s songs that can be played with just C and G7 chords. Once you try singing along with your chords, it should become apparent when to switch back and forth between the two chords. All of the songs listed below start with a C chord.
Skip To My Lou
Wheels On The Bus
Itsy Bitsy Spider
Do Your Ears Hang Low?
Apples & Bananas
London Bridge Is Falling Down
How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?
If you think a whole world of music has opened up to you by learning just these two chords, you’ll be blown away to learn what you can play with three! Enjoy your new skill and the joy of making music for your little ones!
Pablo Andrew Grabiel is a family man, musician, small business owner, and fishing-guide-in-training. He earns his keep by providing musical entertainment for seniors, children, corporate executives, brides and grooms and anyone else seeking quality live music in the Washington, DC and Portland, Oregon metro areas. He also teaches children’s and adult music lessons. You can learn more about Pablo at Pablo Grabiel and Portland music entertainment.
Danielle Grabiel is Pablo’s other half and the mother of his two darling daughters. She is an environmental law and policy professional and farmer-in-training. Danielle, Pablo and their girls make their home on a farm in the mountains outside of Portland, Oregon. Danielle blogs at Mama musicman.