Lil’ Folks Want to Play, Too!

Baritone ukulele helps lil’ folks learn guitar!
Note: Folk instrument instructor Darrell Phillips will be teaching ukulele classes on Mondays & Thursdays in May, 7:30-8:15PM.  Get a great deal on a soprano or baritone ukulele when registering for the class.  For more information, call 229-985-0093.

We often have parents ask if their 4, 5 or 6 year-old child can learn to play guitar. There are many music instructors who will not take students this young because of the innate challenges that come with little folks. These challenges typically fall into two categories: challenges related to the limitations of the student and those related to the limitations of the instructor.

The limitations of young students are many and varied. The ones that most often inhibit learning are attention limitations, exposure limitations and physical limitations. Once the instructor is aware of these, he/she can make necessary adjustments to get results with the little musician.
News flash: very short students have very short attention spans 🙂 With a teenager, the instructor would teach skills, technique and theory in a focused lesson.  However, with a young student the instructor must turn the 30-minute lesson into a fast-paced, creative and entertaining experience. Think of a great pre-K classroom… stations, toys, colors, sounds and LOTS of energy. The lesson can be broken into two or three fun activities that keep the student engaged and learning. The instructor must overcome his/her own teaching ruts in order to keep things lively.
Young students also tend to have a limited back catalog of cool songs to learn; they have not been exposed to modern standards in music.  To overcome this limitation, the instructor can pull out less trendy tunes like “If You’re Happy and You Know It”. Though we try to keep our song selection current and interesting for the students, old standbys are necessary for these young learners. If the instructor does not have young children at home, he/she may be rusty on kiddie songs. He/she should consider tunes from popular kids shows (Yo Gabba Gabba!, Spongebob Squarepants, any music-oriented shows on Nick Jr, Disney Jr or PBS Kids) along with kid-oriented albums like KidzBop.  Of course, there are always those old-school camp classics that every American kid should know.
Finally, the physical limitations of younger students can make the guitar hard to learn. This can be overcome by sizing the student for the right guitar in a fractional size. If a kindergartener is playing his granddad’s Martin dreadnought, he will struggle to stretch his arms and fingers to learn basic playing skills. Steel strings can also be difficult for young fingers to push down. A creative way to overcome this limitation is to teach young guitar students on a baritone ukulele as a precursor to the six-string guitar. This little fella looks just like a 3/4 size guitar but only has four nylon strings.  These four strings are tuned the same as the bottom four strings on the guitar (strings 1-4, tuned eBGD in standard) and are much easier to push down than steel strings. Once the little strummer gets the hang of this pseudo-guitar, he/she can graduate up to a steel string guitar and will only have to add two strings! This step-up method of learning guitar is much better than other open-tuning methods for young learners because they are building chord forms that they will use with six-string guitar.
Regardless of the educational gymnastics that we do to keep young students learning, the most important thing the instructor should do is help parents and students clearly define their goals for music lessons. The primary purpose of music instruction for any student should ALWAYS be to foster a love for music in general. Accomplishing this goal will likely involve some dodging & weaving as the instructor moves forward with the student, but the process should always be engaging and fun.
For more information about music lessons with Beans & Strings, give us a call at 229-985-0093. Our instructor team teaches acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, drum set, piano, mandolin, banjo and ukulele in private and group settings, Monday-Friday. We would love to help your little learner fall in love with music!
Eric Foster-Whiddon owns and operates Beans and Strings LLC with his wife Vanessa, with whom he has four wonderful children. Eric has been playing guitar for 18 years and has been teaching others to play since 2001.
  • RSS
  • Facebook
  • Twitter