A Guitar Guide for Parents with Children (Ages 4-12)
Over the last 28 years of teaching, approximately half of my students have been kids between the ages of 4 and 12. This article sets out to address many of the common questions asked by parents and provide insight into the music learning process.
How old does my son or daughter have to be to begin guitar lessons?
Although I have never taught a guitar player younger than 4 years of age, I feel that is about the youngest practical age due to the size of the instruments available and attention span of the student.
How frequent and long are the guitar lessons?
Most kids who are total beginners respond well to 30-minute lessons. For students who have previous musical experience or are very motivated, sometimes 45-minutes works best. In very few cases, a 30-minute lesson needed to be shortened to 15 or 20 minutes.
What kind of guitar should we purchase?
Finding an appropriately sized guitar is essential for kids. A guitar that is either too large or too small will create numerous problems for the player.
Guitars are available in quarter, half, three-quarter, and full sizes. In general, kids between 4 or 5 usually require a quarter-sized guitar; players between 6-9, a half-sized guitar; and players between 10-12, a three-quarters-sized guitar. Prices for a new smaller-scale guitar are between $100-400, though there are some cheaper and more expensive makes and models.
The player's fretting hand (left for a right-handed player) should be able to easily reach the first fret while maintaining a bend in the elbow. The arm of the strumming hand (right for a right-handed player) should comfortably rest on side of the guitar without any neck and/or shoulder discomfort. If the shoulder is elevated higher than it normally would when relaxed, the body of the guitar is too big.
Most guitars of a smaller scale are acoustic. Some are nylon-stringed; others are steel-stringed. I suggest choosing the guitar that sounds most appealing to your son or daughter because that is what will inspire them to play it. Unless your son or daughter is really set on an electric guitar, I recommend purchasing an acoustic first because they do not require the additional expense of an amplifier.
The type of strings are important in terms of the sound produced; however, the way in which the guitar is set up is even more important.
Unfortunately, many guitar manufacturers do not set up the guitars that come out of the factories. Stores used to set up their guitars before putting them out to try, but few of them do this any longer. (Instead, they add an additional charge to set up the guitar.)
The height of the strings and intonation of the guitar need to be properly set in order for the guitar to play properly. If the height of the strings is too great, the player will struggle and likely grow discouraged. Additionally, if the intonation is off, the guitar will not play in tune. A skilled luthier/repair person can adjust these aspects when necessary.
Based on what I have observed, Yamaha, Cordoba, and Taylor tend to produce smaller-scale guitars that play well right out of the case. I have found these do not often require a setup, though there are occasional exceptions.
In realizing how overwhelming and confusing this can be for some parents, I offer to meet with them at a store in order to help them with selecting a guitar.
Are there any other things I need to get other than the guitar?
A guitar tuner (phone apps work fine, too, and are often free).
Guitar picks (if not playing fingerstyle).
Either a guitar strap or footstool to elevate the guitar when seated. Note: if you buy a quarter or half-sized guitar, you may need to ask for a shorter strap as the standard length will be too long.
Music stands are useful in order not to cause any strain on the neck.
Lesson and method books, but these are not usually determined until after the first lesson.
How long should my son/daughter practice?
At least 15-20 minutes of focused practice three days out of the week. But keep in mind that the way in which the player practices is as important, if not more so, as the amount of time spent practicing. (20 minutes of proper practice is more productive than 10 hours of improper practice.)
For many players, establishing a consistent set of practice times helps is more effective than random times.
Practicing more than 50 minutes without taking a 10-minute break is not recommended.
Is my son/daughter progressing quickly enough?
First and foremost, the music learning experience should be an enjoyable one. Regardless of the age, if the student is not enjoying lessons, then finding an alternate route is best. I do not place any pressure on my students in expecting them to become virtuosos. My role is a coach who is there to encourage and guide them.
If parents have to harangue and cajole their son or daughter week after week to practice, then either a break from lessons or a different teacher may be a good idea.
As long as the student enjoys the lessons and practices the lesson material properly on a regular basis, then I am happy; the players will progress and develop at their own rate.
Have other questions? Please write them below.