[NOTE: I no longer teach children under the age of 15, but I definitely have some advice for those of you who have children who have shown an interest in playing!]
Teaching kids to play guitar is a whole different experience from teaching adults. Over the years I’ve taught many children, with varied results! One thing you have to keep in mind with children is the fact that they have shorter attention spans . I tend to take little breaks from playing with them to ask them questions, just so they don’t get too frustrated or restless. Then we get back to the music. On the other hand, kids are little learning sponges and they don’t tend to be as hard on themselves or have the higher expectations of themselves that adults do.
If you are considering giving your kids music lessons, here are some things to consider:
1. If possible, just try it out for a month. Some kids just aren’t musically inclined, or they simply aren’t interested! It’s not a failure…there may be a time later on in their lives when they would like to try again. If however, you get through a month and your child is still interested, then you can make a longer commitment. Some schools or organizations want you to commit to a whole year at the very beginning. You know your child best…can they stick to something for a year? If you think that it’s just a matter of MAKING them, consider the fact that they may end up having a pretty negative feeling about music for a long time if they are forced to do it that way. I have taught many adults who experienced exactly that in their childhood, and it took them years to recover. I imagine some never do.
2. Okay, so you’re ready to give them lessons…but what about an instrument? If it is at all possible, try to rent one first. I recommend this to adults too. This way, you are not stuck with an instrument you don’t want if you child doesn’t continue. A lot of music stores will also put your rent towards the purchase of an instrument later on…so you can’t lose! Most guitars rent for $20-$40 dollars a month, other instruments vary.
3. Practice time! If your child is taking serious music lessons, including theory and sight reading, then you should check with the instructor as to how much they expect your child to practice. I teach pretty simple and basic songs and don’t include much in the way of theory. If a child sits down for 10-15 minutes a day and plays, I’m happy! Leave the guitar out where your child will remember to play it. Make practice time at the same time every day, which will make it a habit. Some kids have no trouble practicing because they are loving it! But others need a little encouragement. If, after a period of time, your child starts to grumble about practicing, unless you are grooming them to be a virtuoso…let it go. If they don’t come around again, consider giving up lessons for awhile. I don’t believe in forcing your child into music lessons!!! I can’t stress that enough!
4. I allow parents to sit in on the lesson if they want to. I don’t care what the teacher says, you should be allowed to do this! This will not only give you a sense of how your child is doing with the instructor (and how the instructor is doing with your child!), but it will also give you an idea of what they are working on so you can encourage your child at home. If you would rather not join your child, that’s okay too. And there are some kids who have behavioural problems when their parents are around, so don’t do it if that’s the case. You don’t have to sit in on every lesson either, just once in awhile if you prefer. It’s always good to know what the teacher is like with your child at any rate.
5. Don’t be afraid to switch teachers. Sometimes your child and a teacher might not click, and the last thing you want is for your child to think that all teachers are the same. Obviously, they are not! Interview a few of them if you have time, to see which one your child favours. Most teachers will be willing to meet with you first and explain their methods and give your child the opportunity to get to meet them.
Music can turn out to be a life-long love, especially playing an instrument. Don’t be too discouraged if your child loses interest at some point. They are continually changing and growing, so of course their interests will change too. But giving them some lessons at the very beginning will plant a positive seed that they may sow later on in their lives and will be grateful for!