What is the Right Age to Begin Guitar Lessons?

November 2, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Posted in music education, Music Teaching Tips | 3 Comments
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What is the right age to begin guitar lessons? This is a question that is frequently asked by many parents who have young children who are five to eight years old. Many times they have taken them to a music store for lessons and were told that the child is too young to start and they should be ten to twelve years old.

However my answer is start as soon as they’re interested, but you have to have realistic expectations. For example a child who is five years old says “I want to play the guitar”. Most of the time they have no preference as to what style of music, rock, country, jazz etc… to them it’s just “I want to play the guitar”. On the other hand the parent, who can’t really remember what its like to be five, may be thinking “how could they possibly ever play like ________” (fill in the blank with your favorite artist) or that their fingers are too small or any number of reasons that would convince them that maybe they should wait till they’re older. So what is important here is to focus on the child’s interest not the multitude of limiting factors that an adult can postulate.

When a teacher says a child is too young to start it’s due to the fact that they do not know how to teach a child or they’re not willing to put out the effort that it takes to teach a young child. I see it this way, a child eats the same food as an adult but its cut in smaller pieces. The child has to learn the same way but it has to be broken down in very small attainable bits of information that can be easily acquired intellectually as well as physically.

A rule of thumb that I like to use is that you have one minute of attention span for each year of the child’s age, some have more some have less. So if I have a five year old for a half hour lesson I change the focus every five minutes, or when I see that the attention is drifting. I also like to make the lessons fun by joking around and relating to them on their level. I leave room for fidgetiness and don’t make repetitive harsh demands to sit still, sit up straight, pay attention etc… This would only make the experience miserable.

I also think it’s good for the parent/s to sit in on the lesson so they can understand the learning process. The main purpose of starting early is to develop the basic skills needed to play the guitar, not necessarily playing songs like an accomplished musician. The goal here would be to keep the child’s interest while developing the coordination between the right and the left hand and the individual use of fingers so eventually they will be able to produce a good tone.

The first thing may be to get them to pick just one string without hitting any others while getting them familiar with the names of the strings, then eventually how to place one finger on a fret and play a note on one string. Don’t expect that the notes will sound good, most likely you’ll hear a lot of doinks and buzzes and this is normal, remember the goal is keep the interest and develop the basic skills and at the same time you will be developing their attention span as well as their discipline.

What about practice time? Remember the rule of attention span, one minute for each year of their age, don’t get hung up on the hard line rule that they should practice at least a half hour a day. It would be better to take full advantage of whatever attention span the child has and formulate daily practice based on that amount of time. For example a five year old with the average attention span of five minutes can practice five minutes a day. A plan like this will achieve very important results as far as developing basic skills and discipline at an early age and as time goes on increase the amount of practice time as the attention span increases.

A parent can make practice a fun time by asking them to play for them rather than demanding that they practice. Ask questions about what they learned during the lesson. Sometimes they don’t remember anything but it makes them think and focus their attention. They should always keep a positive attitude and compliment their effort.

I use the example of a five year old but that’s not to say that a child can’t learn or at least develop the interest at even an earlier age. My oldest daughter started learning when she was two years old. I bought a cheap, junkie beat up guitar for five bucks and just left it sit around in reach. One day she just sat it on her lap and began strumming on the open strings. From there I showed her how to pick one string, then one note and so on, but nothing heavy or formal. It was just a minute or two here and there along with cheering her on. However it wasn’t until she was about six or seven when we began a more structured lesson time, she started to learn how to read music and had some regular practice time.

About the Author

Ed Kihm is a guitarist, teacher, arranger and composer with a Masters in Music Degree from Combs College of Music in Philadelphia and a Conservatory Diploma for graduate level studies from Neupauers Conservatory of Music. He began learning the guitar at the age of six, has been teaching guitar since 1987 and it’s his full time occupation with private students locally and around the world via web cam lessons as well as subscribers to his online video courses. He occasionally performs classical and jazz in fine dinning restaurants on weekends as well as contracting a variety of work in music production at his home studio.


Learning Perfect Pitch

November 1, 2011 at 6:27 am | Posted in music education | 1 Comment
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Perfect pitch can seem to be an intimidating and alien thing, especially for those who don’t have it naturally. For amateurs researching online and music PhDs alike, the question is: can it be learned? For some purists, the answer is no. They believe perfect pitch is something people are born with, or at least that they develop it around the same time they learn to talk. Others content it can be learned through patience and practice.

There doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all when learning perfect pitch. Although probably everyone could learn perfect pitch, the ability to develop it depends on several factors including the starting point of the person hoping to learn the ability. Students who begin from scratch or who might consider themselves tone deaf will probably have to work harder than the practiced musicians.

The traditional approach to teaching perfect pitch starts with music. If students working on a particular piece sing a note from that piece, then go to the piano to try to match it, that’s practicing to find perfect pitch. Students in high school bands do something similar. When a band instructor has each section play its tuning note, the musicians are trying to have perfect pitch when they play that note. Those truly interested in learning correct pitch learn by listening to those around them and then trying to match their own sound.

Another traditional method is to listen to songs in different keys. Whether using the high school band method, or listening to pop songs played in a certain key, both methods require hearing a note or a song and remembering it. Just like studying for a history test, simply listening isn’t enough: students have to listen, pay attention, practice, and learn.

Probably the best way to learn perfect pitch outside the traditional methods comes from David Lucas Burge, who in 1981 released a program now available on CD and as interactive software. Burge’s program explains what to listen for to develop and refine a sense of pitch. He then breaks it down so students, through repetition and a little common sense, can understand how to find perfect pitch for themselves.

Ohio State University and Calgary University did two independent studies of Burge’s Perfect Pitch program and each found this method of study to be legitimate and effective. Richard Bosworth, DM, who travels the world as a recitalist, soloist, chamber musician, and competitor, has reviewed different methods for learning perfect pitch, and also gives high marks to Burge’s method.

No matter the method of learning perfect pitch, all have certain things in common. No matter their level of musicianship, students must be willing to accept the repetition of hearing music and notes to understand and develop perfect pitch. Students must also simply be patient. Not everyone can learn perfect pitch quickly, but with dedication and perseverance, it is something anybody should be able to learn.

Written by: Elaine Hirsch

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