If you are interested in immersing your children early on in the wonderful world of guitars, either as a parent or an instructor, this article is for you! Here we will talk about some of the most important do’s and don’ts of teaching guitar to children, with some fun and affordable options.
Don’t: Make them play a full-sized guitar
Even though musical instruments can be very appealing to young children, size and proportions do matter. It could be amusing to see a toddler playing an oversized guitar and. While there may be some workarounds to it, it would be cruel to have them try to play a full-sized instrument since their small hands and arms are not ready to handle it properly or do correct finger positioning. Much less bearing the weight some electric guitars can have, leading to potential wrist and back injuries (and, the smaller the kid, the harder it gets).
Do: Find the right guitar for your child
Depending on the age and size of your child, you can find guitars in sizes your child can handle better. These guitars might look like novelty toys, but they do have the depth, boom, and tone of a full-sized guitar! Here’s a rough guide on sizes and scales:
- For kids 4 to 6 years old (3’9” tall on average), the ideal size would be a 30 inches guitar (these can also be found as 1/4 sized guitars).
- For kids 5 to 8 years old (4’3” tall on average), the ideal size would be a 34 inches guitar (these can also be found as 1/2 sized guitars).
- For kids 8 to 11 years old (4’8” tall on average), the ideal size would be a 36 inches guitar (these can also be found as 3/4 sized guitars).
- For kids 10 years old onward (5’1” tall on average), the ideal size would be a 39 inches guitar (these can also be found as 7/8 sized guitars).
- Teenagers above 12 (5’3” tall and beyond) might find themselves ready to take on a full-sized guitar (40 inches in length); although if they have a 7/8 sized guitar, they can use it with no problems a couple of years more.
Don’t: Oversaturate them with information
By now, most parents with access to the Internet have found that children have amazing capabilities ready to be exploited. Accounts of child prodigies stimulated early in life has driven parents to push their children further to higher and higher standards. This has created a generation of overachieving parents who tend to overdemand from their children. More often than not, devoiding any learning process from the positive association it needs (aka fun, rewards, and play/rest time). Be aware of how much your child can give, but also of their shortcomings and limits.
Do: Be ready to understand the kid’s rhythm
And by this, I don’t exactly mean their strumming. Adding to the previous considerations, here’s some more: The younger the child, the shorter their attention span will be. The average adult’s attention span is of roughly 45 minutes. For a 6 to 10 years old child, this amount is on the low end of the 20 to 30-minute range. Also, children are more prone to struggle with handling their frustration, so lessons should be, in simple terms, short and sweet.
Don’t: Expect them to have military precision from the get-go
Since children don’t have full control over the muscles in their arms and fingers, it’s normal for them to drag or miss a note from time to time. Moreover, children can have their own perception of how things sound until they have trained their ear enough to recognize patterns in melody and harmony. So they will sometimes feel inclined to miss some notes or play notes that aren’t there.
Do: Pave the road a little for the child
There are many ways to make the guitar a simpler and more enjoyable instrument for children, especially for toddlers.
You can simplify chords, either by changing the tuning in their guitar. For example, tuning D-A-D-G-A-d instead of E-A-D-G-B-e for a natural D. Or by teaching easier versions of chords. For instance, playing only the treble strings in C or E so your child has to use only a finger to do them.
Simple melodies can be adapted to be learned in a single string. For example, the riff in Seven Nations Army can be played using only the B string, in the following frets:
Remember, learning anything should lead the children to feel, “Hey, I can do this!” to motivate them to take on greater challenges!
Don’t: Play Good Cop, Bad Cop during the lesson
Much of the child’s learning process comes from our personality and the relationship we develop with them through consistency and positivity. Don’t be that parent or instructor that starts as friendly and supportive, and the next second turns to threats and harsh words to enforce something. Also, while it is important for children to have structure, don’t separate “fun time” and “learning time” in your lessons.
Do: Encourage them to have fun!
Learning for children should be enjoyable, and there are many chances to make this happen in music! For this, you could associate notes to colors. For example, G could be yellow, A could be red, and so on. You could associate even chords to feelings. For example, major chords could be “happy” chords, and minor chords could be “sad” chords. Make laughter and excitement part of every lesson. Don’t be afraid to use dancing, tapping, and clapping in your lessons to practice rhythm! Expose them to various music genres and let them find their style!
Here are some more do’s when you teach a child to play guitar.
Do: Have all your instruments at sight
While we all want to keep our guitars and accessories safe and sound, there are three benefits of having your instruments on display in the house:
- The first and foremost is a memory thing, having the instruments at the ready can be a friendly reminder to practice.
- The second benefit is teaching our children boundaries and respect towards belongings and spaces by stating clear rules (when and what to handle, how to ask for stuff, respecting the space and integrity of the instruments).
- Children learn faster when they can associate the subject with a sense of pride. Conversely, having to hide the instruments from them when you are not playing with the instrument could send the wrong message that playing guitar or music is a part of the child that should remain hidden as well.
Do: Try introducing them to music with a different instrument
Although the guitar is a very versatile instrument, it isn’t exactly the best first musical instrument for everyone. There are many options to get your children encouraged and involved with music, though. Some notable examples are:
- The piano is a great instrument to learn about melody and tuning, and its keys are naturally enticing for children.
- Xylophones are commonly found as baby toys because it allows them to explore a combination of notes and percussion in a friendly (and mostly chaotic) manner.
- The efficiency of recorders to learn the basics of melody is well-documented and is the method used by many music academies worldwide. A DIY alternative could be the use of boomwhackers, which are great tools to teach melody and rhythm, are very easy to handle, and can be made at home for less than $50. Here is a tutorial.
Do: Teach them the value of music as an expression form
Playing an instrument (and the experience music provides overall) can be as valuable as writing, drawing, and talking when we think of ways to express our feelings.
Do: Allow them to explore their interest in other instruments
As much as a guitar aficionado parent would love their son to become the next Eddie Van Halen, the truth is that our children can become fascinated with something else than the guitar and switch instruments. This is a great opportunity to show respect and support towards the child. Also, for teaching them that mastering many instruments can make them better musicians. There’s also the inverse to this: although they are formidable guitarists, many musicians admit that guitar wasn’t their first and only choice. This is the case of big names like Dave Grohl (a self-taught drummer who decided to learn the guitar to become a well-rounded musician), Sir Elton John, Prince, among many more.