Kids and Guitar Lessons Pt 2 - How Young Is Too Young?
In Part One of our series on "Kids and Guitar Lessons" we discovered the multitude of benefits that a music education can deliver , with the effects being even greater for youngsters. Within reason the idea is to get started as early as possible. From our point of view we love teaching young beginners as they are a "clean slate" - no bad habits , an open mind and young brains are a real "sponge" looking for new things to learn.
The next question we need to answer is the age at which guitar becomes an appropriate instrument to learn. Aside from the challenges commonly associated with learning any instrument at a very young age (short attention span/limited motivation to practice etc....) the guitar does present some unique physical challenges. All things equal , as a child becomes older these challenges become less of a hurdle which means less frustration, an increased likelihood of practice and much better progress.
Before we get into the detail on why , we'll answer the question at hand. In our view (outside of a child prodigy) it takes an exceptional child and a great teacher for guitar lessons to be productive at anything less than 6 years old. The ideal balance between starting as early as possible and having the required attention span and physical attributes is generally around the age of 9-10 years old . The ability of a child in the 6-9 year age range varies quite a bit and can be assessed on a case by case basis.
But Children Can Learn At Any Age , Right?
If we consider a child's development in art class and try to relate that back to learning the guitar we can find some good parallels - both activities require fine motor skills and see similar stages of development.
At this age kids are having a great time drawing and learning about colours and being a bit creative. Giving a child a guitar lessons at this age would be like giving them a pen and asking a teacher to get them to begin writing letters. In actual fact the sounds produced on the guitar will be at a similar level to the quality of the drawing above - it may be fun but that's about it. A guitar teacher cannot add a great deal to what is already being achieved.
All kids do this sort of drawing at school but what if they did not do it? Would it be any less likely that they could learn to write and draw later in life. The answer is no. Likewise , kids who wait until they are in a more appropriate age range to learn the guitar are not starting at a disadvantage.
At around four of five some basic motor skills and meaningful drawings begin to take place - even if the people have no bodies! As they move into ages six and seven the drawings start to have better perspective and include houses, trees etc.... but are still very much "as known" rather than "as seen." So kids have the ability to achieve some meaningful progress with their dominant hand , but what about co-ordinating their dominant and non-dominant on a guitar and navigating a fretboard? In most cases.....not quite.
Now we are starting to see drawn objects appearing more "as seen" in terms of look and scale. This is indicative of a surge in fine motor control and also a sense of what looks (or sounds) good. The same substantial difference we see here between 4-6 year olds and 8-10 year olds is applicable when it comes to learning the guitar. The ability to achieve meaningful progress then feeds into heightened enthusiasm and helps with maintaining concentration and motivation to practice , which produces even better results.........and so on. Taking the opposite side of the equation - children who cannot find a reason to practice will not progress , which further erodes the desire to play and the student will end up quitting.
While on the subject of motivation it is important that any child who is about to start guitar lessons has a degree of enthusiasm for music coming from within. If your child does not want to learn and needs to be dragged along to lessons, then do everybody a favour and find something that they are interested in. They will be then much more likely to succeed later on in life with the guitar if they wait - those who have a bad experience early in life and feel pushed to learn rarely return later.
What To Do If Your Child Is Too Young?
There are many options available to you. Many children respond well to a ukelele that is tuned to a particular chord , which means they can strum and play some music without the need for any "fretting hand" involvement. Combine this with a cheap percussion set (tamborurine, triangle, sticks etc.......) and get them to play along with some music and nurture a love of music that can then feed into guitar lessons in a few years. Also expose them to as much music listening (and as many different styles) as they find enjoyable.
Another option is to look at lessons on another instrument for the time being - an instrument that is a bit easier to start on such as keyboard/piano. Some of the best guitarists in the world (Eddie Van Halen for example) began as pianists.
In A Nutshell.........
If your child is to progress well on the guitar they need to be old enough , interested enough to practice (which leads to progress and further motivation) , have an appropriate instrument and learn from a good teacher.
In the next part of this series of articles we will look at how to choose a suitable guitar for your child.