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My kids likes to "play" with my guitar and I recently wondered if I couldn't show them how to play something. They are too young and too small to be able to use both hands simultaneously without getting quickly frustrated.

Does anyone know a melody using only open strings,so that they can concentrate only on one side of the guitar ?

**EDIT : ** I might not have been clear enough in my question, I am not looking for a well-known song, but for melodies sounding good (I am not so good at creating ). I apologise for the lack of clarity.

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    Unless your kids are under the age of 3, I wouldn't underestimate their ability to learn to hold a couple strings onto designated frets. Meanwhile, why not start with an autoharp or maybe a ukelele? – Carl Witthoft May 23 '17 at 11:34
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    @CarlWitthoft, one of them is under 3. I just want to try something really easy to see if their interest goes beyond "Let's do some noise". As an aside, I am not a really good guitarist, and I have been wondering what kind of melody can be made that way. – vincenth May 23 '17 at 11:39
  • I wonder if changing to a pentatonic tuning could be good for letting them explore and find their own melody. Not posted as an answer because I haven't tried this--it's just speculation. – Wayne Conrad May 23 '17 at 15:31
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    Nothing Else Matters? – el.pescado May 23 '17 at 19:43
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    You could let your kids sit on your lap, and while they pick/strum the strings, you could play the left hand for them :) – Michael Kunst May 24 '17 at 13:32
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I see a few options:

  1. You could tune to an open major chord to make it sound more cheerful and familiar, while ensuring any string struck is on the chord.

  2. The intro to Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters" is played on all open strings in standard tuning (essentially an arpeggiated Em chord). This could teach rhythm and string skipping.

  3. Throw a capo on wherever your kid can reach to and teach "Twinkle Twinkle" and others like it on a single string. [Preferred]

I prefer number three because I consider string skipping to be slightly more advanced than fretting along a single string. I'd suggest starting with a simple tune on High E (easiest to reach for small hands). A string serves as an unbroken visual reference at a relatively constant depth. Additionally, movement along the string requires less fine motor control at the fingers than picking individual strings (as opposed to strumming).

  • Thanks. Why the capo for "Twinkle twinkle"? – Eric Duminil May 24 '17 at 11:28
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    @EricDuminil No reason other than comfort for smaller players. If they can reach the nut comfortably, no capo needed. Cheers =D – CaptainMarvel May 24 '17 at 19:07
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I wish to commend you on your desire to introduce your kids to a musical instrument at a young age. If they succeed in developing a desire and ability to play an instrument, it will provide a lifetime of enjoyment as well as help with the mental development of timing, coordination, counting, and so much more.

One of the first songs I teach beginners to play on guitar in standard tuning is the nursery rhyme song Frère Jacque > Frere Jacques Wikipedia.

It's a one chord song which works like magic if your child (or another vocalist) can sing along. It can be played in the key of G in standard tuning by playing the simplest form of a G chord - fretting the high e string on the 3rd fret and strumming the top four (thinnest) strings. XX0003

Use a simple two strums per measure strum pattern all downstrokes. This will get the budding guitarist to start developing simultaneous and coordinated use of both right and left hand. It will also introduce the concept of timing and rhythm with the simplest of strum patterns.

If it proves too challenging to fret and strum simultaneously or your future rock star has trouble hitting the top four strings without hitting others, you can tune the guitar to open G and let them play all six strings. In open G or any open tuning, you can get away with strumming anywhere from all six strings to just the top 3 and anywhere in between and it will sound like the chord corresponding to the open tuning (Open G, Open E, Open D, Open whatever).

Eventually you want to get the student using the fretting hand in coordination with the strumming hand. But even in an open tuning the student can develop some rhythm and work on steady, even, consistent strumming to the beat.

The strumming pattern using English lyrics is as follows (strum on accented words):

Are you sleeping ... Are you sleeping

Bro ther John ... Bro ther John

Morning Bells are Ringing ... Morning Bells are Ringing

Ding dang dong ... Ding dang dong

You can also sing Row Row Row your Boat as a one chord song using the same concept.

Row Row Row your boat ..... gently down the stream ..... etc.

If necessary you can simplify the strum pattern even more by making it one strum per measure before graduating to two. Just strum the chord on the first beat of each measure and let it ring until the first beat of the next measure.

Are you sleeping .... Are you sleeping

I find it much easier for a beginning student (especially a younger child) to play a chord than to attempt to get the syncopation and timing of the various whole, half and quarter and eighth notes - to play an actual melody. And even more advanced guitar students have a difficult time with the alternate picking involved in playing a melody. Isolating the right single string in the correct order without accidentally hitting an adjacent string is something that even I find challenging at times.

So starting with a simple chord in either open tuning - or the four string G major in standard tuning - will get any future musician up and running with an actual song faster than anything else I can think of. And until they can master the timing for such a simple strum pattern, there is no need to try to teach anything more advanced.

Have fun making music with your kids!

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    I think you mean xx0003 for the simple G chord? – dbmag9 May 23 '17 at 18:44
  • re: open tuning - Hawaiian slack key is done this way - typically open G ,but the Wiki article lists about a dozen common options. Putting 1-2 fingers just about anywhere still sounds fine against the dominant chord, whether picking or strumming. There is a wide variety of music styles and tempos that can be accommodated this way, and it accommodates some non-traditional playing styles. – brichins May 24 '17 at 15:29
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    @dbmag9 Yes you are right. That is what I meant to type. Fixed. Thank you for pointing it out. 3rd fret high e is what I said but then typed a 1 instead of a 3. – Rockin Cowboy May 24 '17 at 19:18
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Compose one together with your kids! They won't care that it's not a well-known tune or that it's not very interesting harmonically.

They can play a sequence of open strings and you can come up with words to go along with them together. Try to get them to hold the guitar in the normal position from the start, and I'm sure it won't be long before they start holding strings down to see what else they can do of their own accord.

  • I am sorry for a lack of details on my part, I am not specifically looking for well know tune, I am looking for some melodies sounding good. I'd rather not struggle with the creating part, this has never been my strong suit. Thanks for your suggestion though, I will keep it in mind as a last resort. – vincenth May 23 '17 at 14:39
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    @vincenth They're children, you don't have to compose something that is objectively tuneful. Just let them play some strings, and then add silly words alongside. – dbmag9 May 23 '17 at 18:43
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I'd say that your options for recognizable melodies are rather limited on open strings in standard tuning. There are two octaves between the low to the high e-string and you only got 6 out of 15 notes available.

You may find some interesting string combinations in one or another basic technique book for classical guitar. But as far as I remember and imagine, unless there is at least one finger of the left hand involved it is pretty much boring (yet challenging!) stuff.

Of course there is the all-famous Intro of "Nothing else matters" by Metallica. It is "just" picking up and down the open e minor chord but again: when the piece gets interesting the left hand needs to be involved.

You might find a solution for more intresting melody options by alternating the tuning of the guitar.

I could imagine an open chord tuning like open-G (D-G-D-g-b-d). Your kids might do the strumming and have fun while you might do the barré to change the chord.

Long story short, there are plenty of options to make music with kids. But by just using open strings on the guitar in standard tuning the options are rather limited. I'd suggest a small piano-keyboard or a little xylophone to get in touch with melodies. In the case of the guitar I'd rather recomend playing melodies on a single string (involving the left hand).

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The beginning of Mettalica - Nothing Else Matters is played in Em on open strings in EBGDAE tuning. Just four notes E G B E

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Smoke on Water - Deep Purple I thought I was a rock God when I learnt that one!

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I've actually done this with my younger brothers. What I did was taught them a basic rhythm, taught them how to hold their hand in the right place for a palm mute on the low E string, cranked up the gain, and got them playing a decent base line for me.

Technically I also had them move their index finger up and down the low E string, but that was simple enough that they could grasp it pretty quickly.

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