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Teaching 6 yr old guitar

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Postby longman » October 25th, 2011, 3:20 am

I have been asked to teach a 6 year old guitar, and I was wondering if anyone has any tips?

I have been learning guitar for about 2 years now, so I am still pretty much a beginner.
I was this childs classroom teacher last year and we got on well. He told his mum that he wanted to learn guitar, and that he specifically wanted me to teach him. I told her I had never taught guitar before and I wasn't very good, but she seemed quite o.k. with that!

He said he wants to learn 'yellow submarine', a song I often sang in class. Is there an easy version I could teach a 6 year old? Has anyone any experience of teaching guitar to someone this young?

Any help much appreciated.
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Postby Alan Green » October 25th, 2011, 4:19 am

I teach students as young as six. I expect them to be able to act on an adult's instructions.

You'll need to make sure the child has an appropriately sized nylon string guitar. Half size will probably be too small now, or if not it soon will be so tell the parent to get three-quarter size.

Get a book. A good book at that age is The Guitarist's Way Book 1 - by Peter Nuttall and John Whitworth. ISBN 9-790708-021018. It has simple tunes to start with using just open strings. Then it brings in 3rd string A and so on. The first page will last two or three 15-minute lessons. Don't rush anything.

Yellow Submarine? Excellent choice. Transpose it into one octave - 3rd string G to 1st string G.
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Postby s1120 » October 25th, 2011, 4:49 am

Well I have a 5 year old, and a 9 year old... so I have a little incite... First they have to WANT to do it... seems your doing OK there.... Make lessons short till you learn how the kids attention span is!! Plan for about 15min at first... I would not go over 30min eaven if the kids good with paying attention... Once you bore them its game over. Eaven basic cords are tough for young kids... so I agree a one or two string tune is great to start with. Gives them somehting that they can play... and works up some of the finger streingh..

Leave some time at the end for them to just play around also... strumming, let them make up a little ditty, whatever they feel like. They might suprise you with what they come up with!!
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Postby longman » October 25th, 2011, 5:00 am

Thanks for the quick replies guys. Some good ideas there.

When you say transpose it into one octave, what do you mean? I can work out an easy g, oppen 3rd and 2nd and 3rd fret 1st (which i think is what you described) but how about the other chords? Or is this something i should work out my self...
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Postby Alan Green » October 25th, 2011, 7:04 am

Not chords - teach the tune. Your student will need to develop some hand strength and coordination before embarking on chords, and is already familiar with the melody.

My score shows the melody to have a range of little more than one octave, but it's in 6 flats - Gb - so everything needs to be transposed up a semitone.
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Postby Daew » November 7th, 2011, 8:44 am

Alan Green wrote:Not chords - teach the tune. Your student will need to develop some hand strength and coordination before embarking on chords, and is already familiar with the melody.

My score shows the melody to have a range of little more than one octave, but it's in 6 flats - Gb - so everything needs to be transposed up a semitone.


This. Teaching a 6 year old the melody will probably be much easier then teaching him the chords. Unless he wants to play the chords and sing with it but even then, you can simplify the chords
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Postby sixstringmadness » January 9th, 2012, 10:10 am

I teach guitar privately as well and have several young students, 2 of them are 5. It can be tough. Like what was mentioned, attention span is very short. I have a number of simple melodies we play. Everything from twinkle twinkle to single string smoke on the water and iron man. you can basically take a power chord and teach them to play just the root notes. They love guitar effects. I have one student that I let horse around with my wah pedal once in a while. Sheer noise but he enjoys it. I also give out stickers and have a prize bag if they hit certain goals. Think like a 5 year old to teach one I guess.
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Postby kpheard » April 21st, 2012, 4:16 pm

I agree with all of you. I think the most important thing when teaching children, is to keep it fun! Don't bombard them with chords and theory to soon. Find out what they like to listen to and work towards them learning a song they know and enjoy. That should keep their interest and get them past the pain barrier.
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Postby BluesManTom » July 2nd, 2012, 7:00 pm

Back when I had my guitar school I found 6 was just a little too young. In my experience, they'd show up each week and seem to do okay in the lesson but over the weeks they'd never practice and wouldn't get anyway in the long term. In the end I only took students from 8 years and up. Those 2 years seem to make all the difference.

I'd definitely only teach the very, very easy basic chords, like Asus2 and Em, where they only need a couple of fingers and stick to picking out melodies, like the James Bond Theme etc. That one always puts a smile on their face :-)
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Postby NoteBoat » July 5th, 2012, 6:18 pm

When I started teaching, everyone told me kids shouldn't start guitar younger than age 8. I simply accepted that, until about 10-15 years ago when a woman with a six year old asked if I'd teach her son.

I started researching early childhood music education methods (Suzuki, Orff, First Steps - there are many!) and decided to give it a go with two conditions: that she take lessons with him, and they practice together - both of which are elements of traditional Suzuki training.

He did great. And I realized the common wisdom was wrong. Now I teach kids as young as 4.

Specific tips:

- single notes first, but supplemented with a simple chord (I use Em) so they get the 'full' sound of the guitar

- I also bring in open power chords (E5, A5, D5) to get them used to controlling the pick

- if the student doesn't know the alphabet yet, at least up to G, I tune their guitar to an open chord and we focus on rhythm. Even a four year old can strum and learn the basics of rhythm while making nice sounds. You can even use a slide - if you tune them to open G (quite reasonable for a half size guitar) they can follow the dots - the 5th fret gets you a C chord, the 7th fret a D. You can do hundreds of children's songs with those, and focus on building rhythm and counting.

- attention span is an issue. As soon as they start to lose interest, change gears. Play games. Turn your back so they can't see your fingers - which sound is higher? Which sound is louder? You can even get their ears accustomed to chord types - is it happy (major) or sad (minor).

- use syllabification for rhythm (another Suzuki technique). ! and 2 and 3 4 is much harder for a kid to grasp than "Miss-is-sip-pi hot dog"

- use mnemonics. Open strings for young kids I teach by "Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears". (Be prepared for them to use "H" for the G string for a while, as many will remember 'have big ears')
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Postby Alan Green » July 5th, 2012, 10:30 pm

"Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie"

A teenage student - he lied about his age to get half fare on the bus to music school then lied about his age to get sold cigarettes in Tesco then lied about his age to get half fare on the bus home - told me that one.

Yes, it's slow when they're only 6. No they don't always practise. But it's rewarding. Always involve the parents as much as you can, even if it's just a matter of them listening to their children play a couple of times each week.
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Postby imalone » July 6th, 2012, 2:53 am

If the student doesn't know the alphabet yet, at least up to G, I tune their guitar to an open chord and we focus on rhythm. Even a four year old can strum and learn the basics of rhythm while making nice sounds. You can even use a slide - if you tune them to open G (quite reasonable for a half size guitar) they can follow the dots - the 5th fret gets you a C chord, the 7th fret a D. You can do hundreds of children's songs with those, and focus on building rhythm and counting.

It'd be interesting to know if children who start this way develop a different way of thinking about playing (though I see from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuki_method that there's probably already a lot of literature about it).

I also bring in open power chords (E5, A5, D5) to get them used to controlling the pick

Umm yes I should work on that...
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Postby shimone » July 6th, 2012, 5:18 am

Keep updating yourself with high skills and teach your student too.
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Postby NoteBoat » July 6th, 2012, 5:49 am

imalone wrote:It'd be interesting to know if children who start this way develop a different way of thinking about playing (though I see from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuki_method that there's probably already a lot of literature about it).


There hasn't been as much study as you'd think... because individuals will vary in ability and practice habits, it's rather difficult to form a broad assessment. Every criticism I've heard boils down to anecdotal evidence.

I don't use the "Suzuki method" for guitar - in my opinion, it's a re-hash of the violin method, and the instruments present different problems to the performer. But I do use some of Dr. Suzuki's teaching methods, gleaned from both his musical materials and the biographies of him and his school.

Criticisms of Suzuki fall into two main groups: 1, that learning by ear delays and/or inhibits the ability to read well. 2, that Suzuki's emphasis on group performance hinders individual musicianship.

For criticism 1, the same is true of guitar tablature, or the methods which stress "learning by ear". Music is a language, and a complex one; the ability to play is not dependent on the ability to read, or vice versa. Neither are they mutually exclusive. I feel quite strongly that reading standard music notation will not hinder developing other musical abilities... and that the ability to read is essential to fully understanding some aspects of music.

But there's also a reason we don't teach reading comprehension to toddlers. It's quite possible to 'speak' music without reading it - in fact, the vast majority of guitarists do that. While it's true that learning to read after you learn to play requires a step back, that doesn't seem to hinder children - perhaps because they are learning new things all the time, and consequently have a beginner's mindset to new skills. While an adult who can shred will often be bored silly (and frustrated!) by trying to tackle reading "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star", children find joy in acquiring a new ability.

Over the years, the students I've had who most fluently read music were those who developed their musical reading ability at the same time as they were learning to read words. Both skills are the interpretation of written symbols, and they seem to support and supplement each other (much as bilingual ability is more pronounced in people who learned a second language early on). I have two students now who are 12; both started reading music at age 6. Both read fluently in all positions, and up to five accidentals in the key signature.

All of the American Suzuki string instructors I know supplement the Suzuki material with other methods by grade 4 (of 10). No method is complete, and individuals have different goals and learning styles. That's why I use several different methods with my students, and supplement with other materials.

I don't think the second criticism of the Suzuki method applies to the guitar. Although most contexts use guitar in a solo or duo combination, most also require working with the ensemble. So while it may limit your ability to wring out all the possibilities of a cadenza... how many guitarists need to do that? I think it's far more important for the average guitarist to be able to play with others!
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Postby imalone » July 6th, 2012, 9:15 am

NoteBoat wrote:But there's also a reason we don't teach reading comprehension to toddlers. It's quite possible to 'speak' music without reading it - in fact, the vast majority of guitarists do that. While it's true that learning to read after you learn to play requires a step back, that doesn't seem to hinder children - perhaps because they are learning new things all the time, and consequently have a beginner's mindset to new skills. While an adult who can shred will often be bored silly (and frustrated!) by trying to tackle reading "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star", children find joy in acquiring a new ability.

Over the years, the students I've had who most fluently read music were those who developed their musical reading ability at the same time as they were learning to read words. Both skills are the interpretation of written symbols, and they seem to support and supplement each other (much as bilingual ability is more pronounced in people who learned a second language early on). I have two students now who are 12; both started reading music at age 6. Both read fluently in all positions, and up to five accidentals in the key signature.

That's interesting, it chimes quite strongly with some rambling I posted a while back about what implications research into (normal) reading acquisition. There's a degree of interdependence between spoken and reading language in children and it would seem reasonable (but of course not necessarily true...) that the same might apply to reading and playing music.
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