Thursday, October 4, 2012

Guitar Lessons for Your Child

by Charlotte Adams

Setting Your Child Up for Successful Guitar Lessons
Is your child itching to play guitar? In this article, I will suggest ways not only to provide an appropriate instrument and teacher for your beginning guitar player, but also to support the learning process while nurturing the deeply personal aspect of music making. 
Once you have determined that your child is motivated to start a regular program, you will need to decide if they are mature enough to enjoy and benefit from professional instruction. When assessing your child’s readiness, consider not only age (six years old is probably the earliest you would want to begin), but also attention span and development of motor skills. For a young beginner, sometimes waiting just a few months can mean the difference between frustration and success.
Can your young one follow directions, sit quietly and concentrate on a task for ten minutes or more? Does he or she have sufficient hand strength, finger independence and coordination to handle the beginning stages of learning the guitar? If you are unsure as to whether your child meets these basic qualifications, consult a qualified teacher for advice. 
Choosing a Guitar and Accessories
It is not necessary to spend a lot of money for your child’s first guitar, but it is imperative to get a guitar that is small enough for their body and one that is easy to play. Although a ½ size guitar is best for very young or small beginners, a ¾ size guitar will be appropriate for most kids over the age of 7. A guitar with nylon strings will be easier on little fingers. Buy a case to protect the new guitar and ask the salesperson to instruct you regarding proper daily care. Resist buying a guitar book until the teacher you have chosen tells you which one she or he prefers to use. A simple electronic tuner is helpful and it’s wise to get a handful of picks while you’re at the store. Most kids like to choose their own colors and designs when it comes to picks. I don’t recommend a strap or any other accessories at the beginning stage.
Choosing a Teacher
Needless to say, your child must be comfortable with their guitar teacher in order to enjoy the lessons and learn quickly. If you can get a recommendation from a friend, you will have the benefit of knowing something about the teacher’s style and approach. Local music stores are good sources for referrals, although it’s best to inquire at a store that doesn’t employ guitar teachers on-site, in order to get the least biased opinion.  
When you contact the teacher, find out the cost, length, and frequency of lessons, policies regarding payment and missed lessons, and expectations regarding practice. Inquire about whether the teacher stresses note reading, ear training, theory or technique. Ask what styles of music they prefer and are qualified to teach and whether they have recitals.  Answers to these questions will give you an idea as to whether your goals are aligned. 
If you are interested in setting up a personal interview with the teacher, be prepared to compensate him or her for the time involved, and understand that an interview will not necessarily provide you with information that guarantees a successful learning experience. Although it is important to have someone who is kind and relates well to children, the qualities of an effective teacher can best be assessed over a period of time.
Supporting Lessons
Don’t start guitar lessons with the idea that your child will know if he or she wants to continue based on the first lesson or two. Instead, do your best to find an appropriate teacher and then commit to lessons for at least several months and preferably a year. Be willing to devote the time it takes for your young guitarist to develop a relationship with the instrument and the learning process.
It’s important that your child attend scheduled guitar lessons. The longer the period of time between lessons, the more difficulties a student will have, in terms of practice, motivation, and recall of material. In fact, because it takes time for a new guitar student to establish a regular practice schedule and to ingrain effective practice techniques, it can be helpful to schedule twice weekly lessons for the first few months of study.
Although regular attendance is important, never take a sick child to a lesson. Even if your child does not have a contagious illness, she will not be able to concentrate on the work and benefit from the instruction if she doesn’t feel well. In the event of illness, give as much notice as possible and ask the teacher for any advice or assignments that can keep your child motivated and moving forward when they are ready to get back to practice.
Make it a point to arrive at each lesson on time and with the appropriate materials in hand. Likewise, make sure that your child has all materials and instructions when leaving the lesson.
Respect the guitar instructor’s payment policy and be diligent about timely payments. If you determine you would like to suspend lessons, give a minimum notice of 30 days. Advance notice will allow the instructor to adjust from a long-term plan to a shorter one, giving your child the maximum benefit for their musical future. In addition to benefiting your child, advance notice will allow the teacher time to contact prospective students and fill the space left by your child.
Respect the policies of the music studio, whether it is in a store, an office, or a home. A music studio is not the place to bring pets, energetic friends or siblings, soft drinks or snacks. 
Although it is important to communicate with the teacher, try to minimize your interactions during the lesson. If your child is a young beginner, it may be helpful for you to sit in on some part or all of the lessons, but the teacher should make this decision. You might ask to reserve a few minutes at the end of each lesson, in order to allow the teacher to share praise, advice, or assignments.
Supporting Practice
Set aside time for daily practice. A young music student will need regular help not only with scheduling practice, but also in pushing through challenges and resistances. A happy, upbeat attitude, a sincere interest and a lot of encouragement and praise will go a long way toward furthering your child’s musical development. 
Supporting Music Appreciation and Enjoyment
Play music while you cook dinner or clean the house. Sing in the car. Discover different styles of music by investigating a variety of Internet radio programs. Seek out concerts and live performances. Make music a part of your everyday life and everyone in the family will benefit!

Charlotte Adams is a guitar instructor and author of a complete line of 
guitar instruction books and materials.