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Partial Capos & Children

If you would like to play guitar yourself with children or teach them to play guitar, the partial capo is the most powerful tool ever devised for you. Anyone can play full-sounding chords right away, and just think about singing and strumming, and not about the difficulty of forming chords.

Harvey Reid has developed the revolutionary Liberty Guitar Methodfor adults or children as young as 4. It allows children to strum chords and sing songs in the keys of A, Bb, B, C, E, F, F# and G, using an adult-size guitar. Learn more about it. The information below is superseded by this new idea.

"Duck Soup" Guitar

This is what I called the idea of using a partial capo to simplify chord fingerings in my 1980 book of that title. It is dramatically easier to start playing full-sounding chords, for children or adults. ("Duck Soup" is an old expression that means "very easy.") To accompany even simple songs on a guitar normally involves mastering the basic chords: E, A, D, G and C. All of them require 3 fingers of the left hand, and it takes a significant amount of time and effort and frustration before even highly motivated adults can switch chords smoothly and sing a song. It takes weeks and months, and involves feelings of failure and sore fingers.

It only takes one finger to play 3-chord songs on the guitar with an Esus (or a universal) partial capo! The chords all have added or missing notes, and they don't sound right on all songs. You can only play 3-chord 1-4-5 songs in E, which makes it quite limiting in many ways also, but it is a way to get going playing some music right away.

The motor skills and concept involved are easy enough that kids as young as 4 or 5 can do it themselves. Traditionally, children did not start playing guitar until they were 12 or so, and it was a rare child who was able to develop guitar skills even as young as 8 or 9, and that usually involved a musically gifted child doing melody playing, since their hands were still not big enough to handle many chords.

Transitioning from "Duck Soup" and "Liberty Guitar" to "Normal" Guitar

The Duck Soup Guitar book and the Song Train 4-CD set (with deluxe 80-page book) both show a number of ways to simplify chording with a partial capo. Since the chord shapes and fingerings used are actually partial versions of common guitar chords (that sound all the strings, just with fewer fingers and some help from the capo) the student does not have to "un-learn" anything. When they have mastered the "Duck Soup" chords they are ready for conventional chords, and they already have confidence, and have learned how to generate real music and play songs.

The partial capo approach to beginning guitar solves the nearly insurmountable problems of beginner frustration and impatience. What they used to call in education an"initial success experience" is no small thing, and thousands (possibly millions) of people who tried to play basic guitar chords probably never got going because it just took too long and was too difficult (and painful!) to master the basic G, C, D, A and E chords.

Children's Vocal Keys

It takes some knowledge and planning to pitch the songs in keys that are appropriate for children's voices, and to play along with other classroom instruments. The Esuspended capo configuration shown above is best for playing songs in E, which in general is not a great key for children to sing in. The Duck Soup Guitar Book shows some other ways to play in better keys for children's voices. (A, Bb, B and C)