New Student Guide: Guitar

Modified on Tue, 20 Jun 2023 at 12:52 PM

Thank you for choosing Octopus Music School for your or your child’s musical education! Learning to play music can be a fulfilling lifelong journey and we couldn’t be happier that you have chosen us to be your guide!


What to expect

Guitar can be a challenging but incredibly rewarding instrument! Regular practice is essential in order to build the necessary strength and coordination. At first the guitar can be a little uncomfortable to play, but in a few weeks with regular practice your child will build up calluses and be able to play without any discomfort. Guitar can be an endlessly entertaining instrument, even with years of experience, there is always more to learn. Your child will learn the necessary foundational skills to enable further study and exploration of various styles or music.

First song

Most students over the age of seven can learn their first song within a few weeks of lessons. The fundamentals must be in place first: regular practice habits, correct posture, finger placement, and the basics of producing a clear sound.

OPUS curriculum

Students studying at OMS will benefit from our proprietary curriculum and assessment system, OPUS (Octopus Poly-instrumental Units of Study). OPUS comprises ten grade levels, each with an accompanying assessment. Our guitar curriculum emphasizes key skills that are crucial to students’ proper development. Students learn note-reading, rhythm interpretation, proper left and right hand techniques including single note playing, strumming, and if so desired, finger picking, open and moveable chords, and of course, musical theory and aural skills.


Ensembles at OMS are an integral part of our OPUS curriculum and are designed to provide students with a collaborative environment to experience the joys of making music in an intimate group with their peers. Students may begin signing up for ensembles the moment they begin studying at OMS! Barnacle Band (OPUS grade 1) is designed for complete beginners  with absolutely no experience whatsoever! Tentacle Band (OPUS grades 2-4) is for students who have completed grade 1 and have more experience than complete beginners, while OctoRock (OPUS grades 5+) is for advancing students who are very proficient at their instruments.

Advancing grade levels

Our curriculum features a 10-tiered program of advancement wherein graduation from each level is increasingly difficult. For reference, we expect students on the traditional track to graduate from Level 1 in 3-5 months. In contrast, students in Levels 8-10 who practice regularly are expected to advance in a year, or perhaps even longer, depending on the challenges presented in their studies.  In order to advance to Grades 2, 5, and 7, students must complete an ensemble class; Barnacle Band (for grade 2), Tentacle Band (for grade 5), and OctoRock (for grade 7) are our OPUS curriculum ensembles that are open to any currently enrolled students.

Practice, practice, practice!

The absolute most important aspect of learning any musical instrument is consistent daily practice. Students should aim to practice each day for the same amount of time they spend in their weekly lessons. If a student is taking a 30-minute lesson, the daily practice goal should be 30 minutes. Of course, that is the goal, and students shouldn’t aim too high in the beginning!

Tips for practice success

Try to help facilitate success by setting a time each day that the student should practice. In the beginning, it can be just a few minutes, with the intention of eventually building up to the full daily goal. It helps to set a timer and have a “practice space” where all their materials and instrument are easily accessible.

If your child has trouble making practice part of their daily routine, we recommend starting small and making goals to increase time as your child’s attention span and interest is cultivated.

How can I help my child?

The amount of adult help students need varies by age; very young students may need 15-30 minutes of parents’ daily, hands-on attention. Students should become increasingly independent in their practice over their months and years of study. If your child has trouble making practice part of their daily routine, we recommend starting small and making goals to increase time as your child’s attention span and interest is cultivated.

Listen, watch, repeat

Encourage your child to listen to music that prominently features the instrument they are learning. This can be done by simply listening to music in the car or at home, or, taking your child to live music events so they can see first-hand where all of the hard work they are putting in can lead.

Instrument selection & care

Guitars come in different sizes. The most common are full-size and ¾-size; for younger students a ¾-size instrument is likely needed. For our instrument recommendations, please consult our guitar purchasing guide on our Purchasing Your First Instrument article. Before purchasing an instrument, ask your instructor what size guitar is appropriate.

Acoustic or electric?

What style of music is your child interested in learning to play (folk, rock, pop, blues, jazz, classical etc)? For example a student who is interested in learning rock will probably want an electric guitar whereas a student who is interested in classical guitar will need a nylon string guitar.

What is your budget? Guitar prices can vary widely, below are several good choices covering a range of prices. One consideration is that with an electric guitar you will also need an amplifier and cable which can increase the total cost substantially.

Guitar care tips


• Tune your guitar regularly. You should tune your guitar before each practice session and as needed. Your guitar will go out of tune eventually even if it’s not being played.

• Store your guitar in a regulated temperature room. Big changes of temperature/humidity can cause issues with playability and in some instances cracks. As a general rule if your are comfortable then your guitar will be comfortable

• Change your strings from time to time. A guitar that is never played will need new strings at least once a year. If you play practice somewhat regularly every six months is appropriate. If you play often you may need to change strings every month or two. It’s not a difficult process to change the strings and it’s something every guitarist must learn to do eventually. When changing strings for the first time ask your instructor for tips and/or help

• Keep your guitar clean. As needed, wipe down with a cotton cloth. You can use a polish or cleaner (that is safe for guitar finishes) if you want, but the important thing is to keep the guitar from getting excessively dirty

• Get your guitar set up from time to time. Usually a guitar will need an adjustment (set up) about once a year. This is a simple process where a luthier will make sure the guitar is playing it’s best. The luthier will adjust the truss rod, intonate the guitar, adjust the action, make sure all the electronics are functional, and change the strings. Eventually you can learn to set up your own guitar


• Leave your guitar in a car for extended periods of time. The inside of your car can get extremely hot or cold depending on the time of year. These extreme temperatures can cause playability issues.

• Change the strings to a different gauge or material without having the guitar set up by a professional. Changing string gauge/material can cause playability issues if your guitar is not set up to accommodate that type of string

• Play with dirty hands.

Tools of the trade


Our recommended metronome app is called Pro Metronome. It requires a one-time fee of $2.99 and is available on Android and iOS. A physical tuner/metronome device can be generally between $15-$30.


An electronic tuner is an essential tool to help you tune your guitar and sound your best. A clip-on headstock tuner is an easy and convenient option (Snark SN5X). You can also get a stand alone tuner that will pick up the guitar acoustically; the Korg CA-2 is a good option. It’s also a good idea to get a free app like GuitarTuna or InsTuner. The apps are generally less precise, but will help to get you in tune.


Unless you are studying classical/finger-style guitar exclusively you will need guitar picks. First, get a variety pack that contains an assortment of picks in different shapes, sizes, and materials. Once you find a pick that you like you can get several of that variety. Pick choice is very personal and takes a bit of trial and error.


A guitar strap will make holding the guitar in the proper playing position much easier at first. Guitar straps come in a variety of materials, colors, and patterns; any strap will do. If you are studying classical guitar you will need a foot rest instead of a strap.


For those studying classical guitar a foot rest will be required. The foot rest will enable you to sit with good posture and hold the guitar in the correct playing position. The On-Stage FS7850B Guitar Foot Rest is a good choice.

Extra strings

It’s a good idea to have at least a few sets of strings on hand. When you purchase a guitar, see if you can get a few sets of strings of the same brand and gauge that come on the guitar. Guitar strings need to be changed every few months (depending on usage) and it’s always a good idea to have some extras in case a string breaks.

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