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Teaching a child to play guitar

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Eminent Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 26
Topic starter  

I've got a potential gig teaching a six-year old guitar once a week for some extra cash.

I'm a recreational player, not a teacher. I've casually taught adults a bit about guitar, but never a child and never in a structured manner.

I was thinking of looking at some children's guitar lesson books as a start of building some sort of cohesive plan, but that's about as far as I've gotten.

Any advice on how to start, what to expect, etc.?

Noble Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 2171

It will really depend on the kid.

I've had some kids that are just amazing at how fast they pick stuff up and how hard they work.

But most kids will be much more hit or miss.

Start slow and with the basics, of course, and just get to know the kid.

Be patient with attention span. Don't expect to be able to hold his interest for more than about 5 minutes on any one thing.

Be fully prepared to tell the parents that the kid is too young if he or she really doesn't seem to be engaged. 6 is pretty early to start.

Kids really need to hear things first to play them, so record yourself playing whatever the lesson of the week is so that they have something to play along with. Make sure you go nice and slow.

Good luck!

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Illustrious Member
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I'm not a teacher (amongst other things, I have made presentations to IT and board level management, so I know a bit about children's behaviour), I would suggest that you make it as much of a game as a lesson. Keep the interest level high and adjust the musical content to taste. 8)

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Illustrious Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 4921

I've had pretty good luck teaching young kids.

Make mnemonics meaningful to them - I teach string names with things like "Elephants And Dinosaurs Grow Big Eating". I start with single notes, and the first chord is a four-string open G (just one finger). In the next issue (Summer - out soon?) of PlayGuitar magazine I'll have a lesson on 'First Chords' showing how to build up from one-finger chords to full chords.

I ask what songs they sing in school, and teach them chords for those. Most rounds are single chords, like "Row Row Row Your Boat", and most of the others can be harmonized with two chords. I use C (two fingers) and G7 (one finger) to start with, then go to G (one finger) and D7.

The big problems with kids in the 5-6 age range:

- Some of them are just starting to learn to read words. I save note reading until they can read simple sentences... they're confused enough deciphering symbols into sounds before then.

- Many have guitars too big for them. Sit the student at the far side of their chair, so the lower bout hangs over the edge. Body angle is usually forced, as there's only one way to get their strumming arm over the guitar - and that means wrist strain in the fretting hand. I stick to the first 3 strings until they grow into the instrument enough to hold it upright.

- Attention span is really short. I've had a couple who couldn't remember a thing from week to week - I've invited a parent to sit in to remind them at home, and given the parent notes to follow. Keep explanations in their terms, and easy to follow... big fat strings make great big low sounds, like dinosaurs might roar; skinny little strings make skinny little sounds like tiny birds. Whatever you can do to associate sounds with something they're familiar with helps.

One benefit of teaching youngsters... they don't have many adults giving them one-on-one focused attention, except for Mom & Dad. They tend to bond to you, and that helps you teach. The father of one of my little students told my wife that his son wasn't practicing much, so they sat him down and told him no practicing, no lessons. He looked like he was about to cry and said "but I'd miss Tom!". Since then he practices religiously, and at 6 he's now outdoing a lot of my teenage students.

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Noble Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 1882

My son is 5 and is in a class (4 kids) at a local music school.
They are learning piano, but some of this probably applies to any instrument.

The year is 40 weeks, about 45 min per week. And during that 45 min, in addition to being directly taught, they play games (matching symbols, "how many treble cleffs are hiding in this picture", colour all the 1/4 notes blue and the whole notes red....), learn to tell the difference in sound between hi and low notes (early lessons the teacher playes notes 3 octaves apart, later on the notes are adjacent).

In the first few lessons they worked on knowing their left and right hands, and numbering the fingers.
They also learned to recognise where middle C is on a keyboard.
About week 3, the teacher introduces staffs with numbers in place of the note symbols. The kids played the note that matched the finger number (right thumb on middle-C).
They carried on with that for 4 or 5 weeks. Then proper notes on the staff (start introducing whole, half, 1/4 notes) with the finger numbers written below (piano-tab!)
The teacher made up flash cards for the kids to practice at home. One note on a staff per card, with the note name written on the back for the musically-challenged parents. 5 notes only - one for each finger on the right hand.
From there 6-8 weeks or so on, they learned 2 chords on the left hand, and kept working on the right - now with proper notation only.

From there on the kids learn a new song every 2 weeks. Each is 8 bars long, and use all the 5 notes and 2 chords that the kids have learned.
Merrily we roll along, hot cross buns, songs like that.
This week (and last) it's "Go tell Aunt Rhodie". Next week it will be "Raindrops keep fallin' on my head"

So, it would seem that going slow, including fun stuff, repitition, and not teaching too much at a time are important.

And currently, on week 34 of lessons, my 'lil guy can play 5 or 6 songs from memory, and can identify (middle)C thru G on a staff (and on the keyboard), play a C and G chord, keep pretty good rhythm, and can (slowly) sight-read an unknown song that uses the 5 notes that he has learned.

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Noble Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 848

I took my first guitar lessons when I was 5. I stopped before I turned 6. Just wasn't clicking in my 5 year old brain. Didn't pick up guitar again till I was 12. It all depends on the kid.

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Alan Green
Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 5342

I'm with Tom on a lot of what he says. My youngest student is 7 and I was a little sceptical about taking one on so young but she's doing very well. Although she's got her head round the six strings and can play from sight to a good level I'm keeping her to melodies on the top 3 or 4 strings, and I get the feeling she'll let me know when she's ready to step up a level.

You'll need to take things very slowly. A 30 minute lesson is probably about as long as they can cope with at that age, and I break up the lessons into playing a little, talking a little, playing a little, talking a little and so on. Be prepared to spend a few weeks on each very simple nursery rhyme and get to like them yourself because if you can't put it across with some genuine enjoyment your student is not going to respond. Sweet Child Of Mine might turn you on, but Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is going to pay the bills - plug in and rock out when you get home.


A :-)

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Active Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 6

i am a kid still kinda
but i do take guitar lessons, the guy who teaches me is pretty amazing even though he plays americana(nothing wrong with that)but its been the best for me and he has fun teaching me. i don't know about a six year old but i'm 13 and its fun

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