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Exploring Historical and Cultural Connections to the Guitar

Aim: How are the guitar and related instruments used in societies around the world?
Summary: Students explore the sound, evolution, performance techniques, and culture of guitar-like instruments from around the world.
Standards: US 6, 7, 8, 9; NYC 3, 4, 5
Grade: 5th
Concept: Tempo, Dynamics, Articulation
Artistic Process: responding, connecting
Materials: Student Worksheet, audio and/or video recordings of various plucked instruments
Time Required: 25 minutes


  1. Working in small groups, have students examine images of guitars and other guitar-like instruments such as the sitar, lute, balalaika, and ukulele. As students look at the images, have them answer, reflect, and share on these questions:
    • What do you notice about the instruments in each picture?
    • What types of materials do you think were used to make each instrument?
    • How do you think each instrument is played?
    • Do you think these instruments sound the same or different? If different, what types of different sounds do you think you would hear?
  2. Brainstorm the use of guitars and other plucked instruments in music today.
    • Why might guitars be such popular instruments in American culture and around the world? (Responses may include its portability, versatility, etc.)
    • How might life before radios, mp3s, CDs, and electricity make a difference in the popularity of a guitar?
    • What parts of a song can a guitar play? Melody? Rhythm? Chordal accompaniment?
  3. Listen to and/or watch excerpts of guitar and other guitar-like instruments.
    • What makes each instrument or style unique?
    • How are they related?
    • Considering the evolution of the guitar and other plucked instruments, what might be its future in the 21st century?

Additional listening link

Electric Guitar Examples

Going Deeper

  1. Have students research the history of the guitar.
  2. Invite a guest artist into the classroom to perform on the guitar (or other plucked instrument).


James Taylor "Playing Guitar"

Please note that this resource links to content outside of Carnegie Hall's Music Educators Toolbox.

Acclaimed as one of the premiere musicians of our time, James Taylor is joined at Carnegie Hall on May 6—for the third of his "Perspectives" series—by Dobro and lap-steel player Jerry Douglas and guitarist Michael Landau for a night of conversation and performance devoted to popular music's instrument of choice. Here, Taylor describes his journey from young cellist to guitarist , through getting his first guitar—spray-painted blue by his brother—to the vital connection a guitarist makes with his instrument.


Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

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