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GUITAR LESSONS - NJ and NY

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KIDS & GUITARS

I get several calls a month from parents of children who are looking for information about guitar lessons. Some children are great candidates for guitar lessons and others are not. The reason for this article is to inform parents, relatives and teachers, so they can avoid common mistakes when it comes to kids and guitars.

AGE:

The EARLIEST appropriate age for a child to begin guitar... GENERALLY...is about 9. But many 9 year olds are not yet ready for guitar and there is a TINY number of 7 and 8 year olds who are -- but it's a VERY TINY NUMBER. Please read this carefully:
4, 5 and 6 year olds are ABSOLUTELY OUT OF THE QUESTION, although there are unscrupulous 'teachers' who will gladly take your money for 'teaching' your child. Don't do it. (I know there are Suzuki and other guitar programs for very young children, but as an instructor who has had to diplomatically 'undo' all the errors children absorb from this early and watered down exposure, I strongly discourage you from considering them.) These ages may seem arbitrary to you, and may even spoil a plan you or a child you know has, but I will elaborate. I hope to enlighten you and save you the terrible mistake of throwing a child into a very complex and difficult challenge, that may result in coloring the child's attitude toward all music and musical instruction for the rest of his or her life.

I hope I have your attention.

ABILITY:

So, you have this 9 or 10 year old for whom you are seeking guitar instruction. Before you even consider lessons, here is a mental checklist you owe to yourself and the intended student to complete:

• Is he/she reading at least a grade or two above their actual grade level?

• Is he/she very comfortable with using a computer?

• Is he/she and aural or audio learner?

• Is he/she often singing a song after hearing it just a few times?

• Is he/she intrigued by languages and is it common for them to repeat a word or phrase in a languagethey do not know, with accuracy?

• Is he/she already bilingual?

• Does he/she have a long attention span when engaged in something they enjoy doing?

• Does he/she have above average eye-hand coordination, including their non-dominant hand?

• Does he/she have average to above averagefine motor skills? (usually determinable by penmanship, artwork, shoe tying and other things that require small and precise motions)

I know this is quite a list, and you may have noticed that ability in mathematics in not mentioned. Let me dispel a misconception: music is not mathematical, although it can be explained mathematically. The truth is that music is utterly and completely linguistic. The same part of the brain that processes language and the ability to use a computer, is responsible for processing heard and played music. It has to do with the perception of patterns and relationships that may or may not be present in a child who is adept at math. Often a child with a vivid imagination has the innate abilities to learn music, but not always. So, if you have a child who is learning a language, other than what is spoken at home, and they are doing well above average, the child may be a good candidate for music. If the child is already bilingual, they are likely a good candidate. (I once taught an 8 year old who spoke 5 languages fluently. He was mentally ready to learn music.)

The issue of dexterity cannot and should not be overlooked when contemplating guitar lessons. Children's hands are small and are rarely strong. If the intended student has any difficulty with holding a writing instrument properly (most children don't and are not corrected at school) or printing letters clearly and accurately, I urge you to wait to have them begin guitar lessons. If they are very slow on the computer keyboardor using the controls of computer or video games, wait. The technique necessary to play the guitar properly consists of very unnatural hand positions and movements, combined with strength and precision. Keep it in mind.

DESIRE:

Who wants the child to have guitar lessons? You or the child? If it's the child, or you and the child, that's good. If it's you but the child is neutral or uninterested, forget it. There is a lot of work to learning and practicing a musical instrument and most particularly the guitar. If the child is not desirous, it's neither the time nor instrument for him/her. If the child is asking and asking and asking for guitar lessons, they may be ready, but they may not be. Don't let their pestering wear you down. Are they being influenced by something they have seen, like TV or a music video? The idea and the reality of learning to play the guitar are very different. Is the child under the impression they will be wailing on an electric guitar for their first lesson? A good instructor will not teach a beginner on electric guitar, for a variety of reasons. If the intended student does not wish to pursue guitar lessons because their first guitar should be acoustic, he/she is immature, and should probably not take lessons. In fact, it is better for them not to take lessons. They are not ready, if the equipment is more important to them than making music on the instrument.

If you know the value of music in a child's life, love music yourself and know the Mozart Effect is real, but the child for whom you are seeking an instructor, lacks a lot of the qualifiers above, seriously consider something simpler than the guitar. An electronic keyboard or electric or acoustic piano are great choices. They are technically easier to play and they are visually understandable. If a keyboard player, later embarks on learning to play the guitar, theory will be far easier to understand than if guitar were their first instrument. Electronic keyboards also offer a lot of interesting sound effects and that is sometimes enough to keep a slightly reluctant child interested.

THE GIFTED CHILD:

When a gifted child is taught, it is crucial that the instruction they receive, be given by an experienced and accomplished teacher. A gifted 10 year old, who is brighter than a 16 or 26 year old, can not and should not be taught in the same manner a 16 or 26 year old is taught. Gifted children require a more perceptive instructor who can lead the child's curiosity, mete out accurate, thorough lesson material, but also remain atuned to how the child is thinking.A gifted child requires more dialogue than many other students. The child must be heard and guided accordingly.

THE INSTRUCTOR:

There are a few guidelines you should use when searching for a guitar teacher for a child. (You should also read the Find a Teacher link) The instructor you choose should have a lot of experience working with children and should want to speak with you and the child before scheduling lessons. An astute and experienced teacher can converse with an intended student and by asking a few questions and interacting with the child in particular ways, can usually determine if a child is ready and able to begin learning to play the guitar.

Don't shop by pricebecause the lessons are for a child. Good quality is good quality. Good children's clothes cost more than crummy children's clothes. Good instructors are worth their fee. Realize you are making an intangible investment in the richness of a child's life when you choose any private instructor for them.

PRACTICE:

Regardless of the age of a music student, they must practice. If you think there is the slightest possibility that the child for whom you are seeking a teacher, will balk at putting in 30 minutes a day of practice, look no further. The practice can be two 15 minute sessions, and in fact, at the beginning, that is more beneficial than one sitting of 30 minutes. Practice is not optional, it is essential. The guitar is a complex and difficult instrument. Without practice, the student will be unable to advance. The child must understand what is expected. Also, consider the child's weekly schedule. If they are already participating in sports, religious training, scouts, art or dance lessons and or school clubs, there may not be sufficient time in the child's schedule, for lessons and practicing. As the adult, you have to be the realist and possibly the bearer of bad news to the child. During my career, I have seen too many children who were over scheduled, depressed and worn out by the age of 11. A schedule like that is untenable and unhealthy. Don't add to it, even if the child wants music lessons. When there is a time of year when decisions have to be made about re-enrolling in clubs, classes and sports, that might be the time to consider eliminating an activity or two, in order to fit guitar lessons into the child's schedule. You and the child must understand that a person cannot do everything.

THE GUITAR:

A first guitar should be acousticand is should fit the person who is going to play it. It should not be a "toy" guitar, just because the user will be a child. If you do not play guitar and don't know what buy, seek the help of a friend or the child's intended instructor. If the instructor will not counsel you about what to buy, you have chosen the wrong instructor. Most of the time, I accompany my students to buy guitars, whether it's their first or fourth. A savvy instructor will guide you toward good value and away from guitarsfor which you will not get your money's worth.

A guitar 'fits' when it can be balanced on the lap, solely by the weight of the right arm coming over the lower bout. If the neck has to be supported, to keep the guitar on the child's lap, the guitar is too big. The other aspect of 'fit,' is the ability of the left hand fingers to curl over the fretboard so that all the fingers can reach across the neck. There are a few guitar makers that offer smaller profile, full size guitars. I highly recommend them for children and petite teens and adults. The other good alternative is a "travel" guitar made by a reputable guitar builder. One of my favorites is the Baby Taylor. These diminutive guitars do not come at a diminutive price. They are well made instruments. DO NOT PURCHASE A 'HALF' OR 'THREE QUARTER SIZE' GUITAR that costs less than $175. (This was last updated in January of 2013, so take that into consideration when you read this.) Most half and three quarter size guitars are pieces of junk that cannot be tuned. They sell because people want their small children to have guitars.

Of course, there are exceptions. In the 1960's Epiphone, which was still making their guitars in Kalamazoo, Michigan, offered a three quarter size guitar that was made to the exacting standards of their full size guitars. When I bought one, it was approximately the same price tag as a full size guitar. I kept that Espana (model) until a very tiny student of mine needed a "good" guitar. There were none that fit her in the guitar stores around the NY metro area, so I swallowed hard and sold it to her. But that Epiphone Espana was an older, used guitar. I doubt that you will find a factory made half or three quarter size guitar of sufficient quality for a beginner in ordinary guitar shops.

If the child is a good candidate, and you decide to purchase a travel guitar. The good thing is that when the child outgrows it, if they still enjoy playing, it will be the guitar they can stow in the overhead of an airplane or take on overland vacations. Good quality travel guitars are made by Martin, Boaz, Taylor and some other makers. If you have a lot of money to spend on a really good small guitar, check out the Larivee Parlor guitar, but only if you have a very serious small student.

THE COST:

Setting a child up with guitar lessons is a financial undertaking. Do not ask nor expect an instructor to teach your child for three months and think your child will have all the training they need. In addition to a weekly lesson fee, you will need to borrow or purchase a guitar. If you purchase it new, expect to pay from approximately $225 to $350 (in 2013).
I know it's quite a spread, but I am taking into consideration the price fluctuation from city to city as well as that you may find a clearance guitar for sale that suits your needs and is worth much more than what you pay for it. Then, there will be a case (hard or soft, it's your choice), a humidifier (unless you live in a consistently humid region), a tuning fork, picks (if the guitar is a steel string), a spare set of strings or two and a music stand. (If your budget is tight, a book stand on a desk or table top is acceptable for a music stand.) Just remember, you want to create a practice environment in which your child will be sitting upright and able to breath and be comfortable. That will not happen if they sit on a bed, sofa or the floor with their music laying next to or in front of them.) If your child is big enough, you might want to consider making an investment in their posture by getting the Guitar Chair.

 

Tell a guitarist friend who might also have questions

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017