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Where to start when teaching kids?  


(@slydog)
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Joined: 17 years ago
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My kids, age 7 and 9, really wanted guitars for Christmas but I made them promise that if they got them, they'd take lessons (either from me or someone who actually knows what they're doing). They agreed, so they got the guitars. Now I'm trying to figure out where to go from here. Should I start them in a group instruction course, one-on-one lessons or should I start trying to teach them some basics first. If it's the latter, what should I start teaching them first?

A bit of background - my daughter (age 9) has taught herself to play simple piano melodies by ear (Mary Had a Little Lamb, Jingle Bells, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, etc.), so she has an idea of notes and intervals. Meanwhile, my son (age 7) hasn't developed his ear at all, but he's surprisingly good at rhythm - he sounds pretty good just banging away at open strings (I even caught him doing some slides, fretting with his entire hand and sliding up and down the fretboard and keeping a "chunk-a-chunk" rhythm going).

So, if anyone has any experience with getting kids started, or has any suggestions, I'd appreciate it.

Thanks.

Blame it on the lies that killed us, blame it on the truth that ran us down.


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(@noteboat)
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Joined: 17 years ago
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I have students as young as five, and nearly 1/3 of my students are now under 10.

If they can reach all the strings, I start teaching sight reading from the very beginning, using the Mel Bay books. Kids are very accepting of reading music, and since they've recently learned to read printed words, they're still excited about the idea that symbols = sounds. In fact, I have six year olds that are better readers after two months of lessons than most of the teenagers who've studied for a year or so.

The big thing with kids is the attention span. Nine should be ok, but some seven year olds are iffy. I try to structure lessons in much the same way their school teachers would - at five or six, it's a lot of 'play' time and variety, and as they grow it's longer and longer periods of working on specific things.

I use simple mnemonics to teach things like string names (Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears). I give them simple finger drills to build strength, usually starting with just 1-2 fingering moving across three strings - and alternate picking with it. I try to have them getting a tone out of each fingertip on the 1st string, but I don't really work much with the little finger for the first 3 months or so.

I don't put a lot of emphasis on pick position to start with, although I do work a lot on posture. These students are going to shoot up like weeds in a few years, and their arm position will change as they get bigger - but the headstock should still be high, and the face of the guitar close to vertical. Oh, I usually sit kids right at the side edge of their chair - that lets the lower bout hang down more.

I also teach simple chords from lesson 1 with young kids. We start with a 4-string G (one finger) and then add a 4-string C (2 fingers) in lesson 1 or 2. We strum one strum per measure, then every other beat, then on the beat in 4/4. I do D7 next - that gives them three fingers, and the basic chords in one key.

For songs, kids under about 11 usually aren't listening to a lot of pop stuff (with a few exceptions). I try to use songs they'd be singing in school, and transpose them into G.

Lessons with young students tend to go about 15-25% reading from Mel Bay, about 40-50% chords and strumming, about 10-15% finger drills, and the rest is pretty flexible - answering questions about music, playing a song they can aspire to within the next month or two, etc.

If student's can't reach all the strings yet - maybe because the guitar is too big for them, or they're very small for their age - I stick to simple chords and finger drills. As they build a little dexterity, within about a month, I start the reading stuff.

If they have very long fingers, I'll show them a simple boogie pattern in A using open strings within the first couple of lessons.

If kids have REALLY short attention spans, which you sometimes see in 5-8 year olds, I try to get them into a semi-private lesson situation with a sibling (or even a parent). That breaks their lesson into smaller bites, and helps with focus.

The great thing about teaching young kids is they fall into the two extremes - they are either exceptionally dedicated to learning, or they're just experimenting with the guitar and don't practice very much. Believe it or not, those extremes are easier for me to deal with than the students who practice diligently some times and not at all at other times - they catch me off guard, with either too much material prepared or not enough... with kids I have one clear goal: either teach full speed ahead, or motivate, and I don't need to guess which one I'll need this week :)

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


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(@slydog)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 243
Topic starter  

Thank you. Tom, for that thoughtful and thorough reply. I've printed it out and will start working on it. My daughter is the more responsible one, doing the things she feels she should be doing, while my son is the more determined one - if it's something he wants to do. If he wants to play guitar, he'll do it. In either case, I want it to be something they enjoy and not a chore.

Thanks again for getting us all started.

Blame it on the lies that killed us, blame it on the truth that ran us down.


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(@noteboat)
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Joined: 17 years ago
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Anytime, amigo!

One of my sons, the drummer, now doubles on bass and guitar. Since he's the drummer, band rehearsals are always at our house, and his bandmates often leave gear here... so he starts fooling around with it when they're not here, buys himself a bass, and gets to be pretty good at it. Next he turned to guitar.

He asked me for lessons, so I started teaching him. He hated it. Told my wife I was 'teaching down' to him. So now he learns from the lead guitarist in his band - who happens to be one of my students!

Sometimes the 'Dad' thing gets in the way, I think. Of course, he's going to be 16 in a couple weeks... so he temporarily knows more than I ever did - maybe it would have been different a few years back :)

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


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(@slejhamer)
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Joined: 16 years ago
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Hey Slydog,

Santa gave my 6-year old daughter a guitar for Christmas (she had begged him for it - but it had to be a red one!), along with the book "Kid's Guitar Course." I find it very good for teaching her the absolute basics - there's even a little bit of notation. She loves it!

Your children (especially your daughter) might already be too advanced for it, but there's a second book in the series as well.

Take a look; see what you think:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0882849891/qid=1136341692/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/102-7989865-6541744?n=507846&s=books&v=glance

Of course, be sure to incorporate Tom's good advice! ;)

"Everybody got to elevate from the norm."


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(@kingpatzer)
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Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 2198
 

The great thing about teaching young kids is they fall into the two extremes - they are either exceptionally dedicated to learning, or they're just experimenting with the guitar and don't practice very much. Believe it or not, those extremes are easier for me to deal with than the students who practice diligently some times and not at all at other times - they catch me off guard, with either too much material prepared or not enough... with kids I have one clear goal: either teach full speed ahead, or motivate, and I don't need to guess which one I'll need this week :)

Wow does that describe my most difficult student.

One week he'll show up and the two or three songs we've been working on in Mel Bay are done to perfection. We'll move to the next page and I'll send him home with 3-4 songs, and he'll come back and not one of them will sound like they've been practiced at all. We'll scale back to 2 of the songs, and it'll take him 2 weeks to get those down. Then He'll show up and have worked ahead two pages, covering 6 songs on his own, and they all sound great.

I've taken to having his Mom call me in the middle of the week to let me know if he's having a practicing week or a no practicing week so I can at least have an idea of what to expect when he shows up!

My thoughts on teaching younger kids. I don't do a lot of chords to start with. I start with the Mel Bay books as well, but focus on those for the first 5-6 weeks. If the kids are really interested in learning the guitar, at the end of that time they'll have covered 4 strings and will have developed the finger strength and coordination to start doing the chords as they come up in the book.

Young kids don't generally have a notion that they'll come in, take two lessons, and be able to play like Eric Clapton. They are used to having to work hard to learn how to do something, and when they struggle a little bit I often ask them things like "do you remember when you first started to read chapter books?" That usually puts them into the mood to say "yeah, I couldn't do that at first but now I can, and this will be the same thing. I just have to work at it!"

I do agree that young kids have low attention spans and need to have the lessons mixed up with lots of play time and joking around. We'll play a song, stop, do a finger drill, talk about music they heard on a cartoon or movie, go back to the song . . .

I'm not as experienced a teacher as Noteboat, but I'd say that in my experience his break-down of ages and the different issues is right on.

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST


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(@slydog)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 243
Topic starter  

I do agree that young kids have low attention spans and need to have the lessons mixed up with lots of play time and joking around. We'll play a song, stop, do a finger drill, talk about music they heard on a cartoon or movie, go back to the song . . .

Hate to say it, but that's probably what my instructor says about me... do a song, talk about a CD, tell a joke, discuss real estate, do another song.

Anyway, great advice all around. I'll check out the books and I'll probably seek out an instructor who works with kids, because I think the dad thing will get in the way here, too (both from a parent and marginal talent standpoint).

By the way, my wife taped a six year-old kid on the Ellen Degeneres show playing Twist and Shout on his 3/4 Squier Strat. He was impressive (my daughter said if I was that good, she'd probably let me play). But now the kids are even more motivated, so the time is right.

And when the kid was done playing, Ellen gave him a full-sized hollow body Gibson ES 335. His jaw dropped and he couldn't speak (except for "Oh my god!")

Thanks again.

Blame it on the lies that killed us, blame it on the truth that ran us down.


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(@slydog)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 243
Topic starter  

A quick update: My kids are apparently like every other guitar player in the world - no patience for the fundamentals, they just want to rock. They've gone straight to doing classic riffs, with today being perhaps the ultimate classic riff, Smoke On The Water (they watched School of Rock today). Two electrics with their little amps switched to overdrive. Drove my wife nuts. It could be a long winter.

Blame it on the lies that killed us, blame it on the truth that ran us down.


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(@juliadavid)
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Do you guys know any music university which is offering 4 years Degree Program in music? My boy is learning guitar online nowadays and he has command on other musical instruments also. Now I'm thinking about his career.

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(@alangreen)
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@juliadavid - please remove the spam link from your signature

If you're in the UK, look for BMus courses - your son will need A-levels at Grades the University will dictate, plus a likely minimum of Grade 8 at his first two instruments along with "good progress" at his third

"Be good at what you can do" - Fingerbanger"
I have always felt that it is better to do what is beautiful than what is 'right'" - Eliot Fisk
Wedding music and guitar lessons in Essex. Listen at: http://www.rollmopmusic.co.uk


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