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.

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What’s the Right Way to Learn Music?

October 16, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Posted in music education | 2 Comments
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The right way to learn music really depends on what you want to learn what your interests and goals are and to what level of skill you want to develop.

I think when a person says “I want to learn the right way” they may be thinking they have to suffer through a long drawn out tedious frustrating process learning how to read music and practicing scales and arpeggios for hours a day in order to be able to play the guitar. Nah, this is not necessarily so.

Now I’m not anti-music reading or anti-scales and arpeggios but if your interest is to learn a very basic skill like strumming and being able to play and sing your favorite songs or being able to jam in rock and blues you don’t necessarily have to learn how to read music. If chords are to difficult to jump into right away you could take some preliminary steps to build up your finger strength or try smaller chord formations and just get started learning how to strum.

Sometimes for beginners that are in that direction I do recommend learning to read music in a good method book only for the development of the basic technique and it’s an easy step to take when getting your fingers use to the strings and the frets. I also let them know that it’s not absolutely necessary to finish the method completely and we’ll get out of the method as soon as they gain a little more control over the fingers and can handle chords. This way the learning process can be less frustrating because if you do start with chords and the chords are too difficult then you could struggle for months rather than developing the skill you need by taking small systematic steps.

Most songs in the blues, rock and country genre are really not that difficult and only require a minimum of skill. Really, I’m not kidding, I’ve had many students who only after a few weeks or months were able to either begin playing or were enjoying the experience of playing along with their favorite songs on a CD or even getting together with friends and jamming.

If you want to learn classical or jazz than that would require more serious study and practice and I would definitely learn how to read music because it will increase your ability to learn at a faster pace. Classical requires good technique, without it there are pieces that would be impossible to play while jazz requires a good working knowledge of music theory in order to develop the ability to spontaneously improvise.

If your desire is to be a more skillful or professional musician the more you know the better off you are. Let me digress and make some further distinctions, a professional musician is a musician who gets paid for what they do. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are skillful.

On the other hand, I know some musicians who are not professional but they are very skillful. Another popular myth is that if someone is famous they must be good or skillful and that is not necessarily true, many times it’s just a matter of someone’s opinion or they look cute or whatever and there’s nothing wrong with that. So there are different levels of skill and if you want to increase your skill than there are some very specific things that you can and should learn that will do just that which I will save for another article.

I’ve had many students who started by learning how to read music and then they gradually moved into the area of their interest and I’ve also had many students who started without learning to read music and after learning how to play the style of music they liked decided to learn how to read music and they increased their skill even further. So there are many ways that you can learn how to play the guitar what’s important is to find the way that works best for you.

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.

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