Updated: Mar 26, 2021
As a guitar teacher you’d probably expect me to be of the opinion that all children should have music lessons. After all, let’s be honest, I want some of your money to become my money and giving guitar lessons is one of the ways in which I make that happen. Not only that, but there’s a solid body of research around the various benefits of being able to play a musical instrument; ranging from improved time management skills and cognitive development, to studies that show that people who play an instrument tend to be happier than those that don’t. So I get your money and you get a more intelligent and happy child... win-win right?
Well. Sort of.
Because there’s a question in there that people don’t often address at all, which is whether your child is ready to learn an instrument.
Learning an instrument such as guitar is one of the most involved hobbies a person can undertake. It takes more than a single lesson every week to learn to play music. It requires time spent listening to lots of different types of music, a couple of hours of focused practice almost every day and time spent reading up on the more theoretical side of music as they become more proficient. If the only practise they’re getting is the 45-90 minutes a week they spend with their guitar teacher, your child is quickly going to find themselves frustrated at their lack of progress.
So how do you know if your child is ready to learn an instrument?
Do they like music?
Maybe it sounds obvious, but in order to play music you should probably enjoy listening to it. You wouldn’t sign your child up for a football team or dance classes if they had no interest in those things in the first place, but the pressure parents feel to have their child learn an instrument is often so strong they forget to check this fairly basic thing. A lot of the children that come for their first free trial guitar lesson often don’t have a favourite song, let alone a favourite artist or genre. Whilst part of any good teacher’s lessons should be spent on introducing students to new music, a student will always do much better if they have some initial reason to want to play.
We tend to like music we’re familiar with, and we learn to like songs more the more we hear them. Before you consider having your child learn an instrument, try to create an interest in music itself so that they know what they’re aiming for. Some ways you can do this include…
· Having music playing around the house as much as possible (eg playing some of your favourite albums when cleaning, driving, eating dinner or as an alternative to watching television). If they seem to like one or two artists more than others then play all of their albums, or try using the ‘related artists’ feature on apps like Spotify to find new and similar ones. Try to listen through a decent set of speakers, or at least on headphones rather than phone or tablet speakers that aren't built to play high quality sound. Avoid using Youtube so as to break the habit of needing visual accompaniment to music too. If children see that music is something to be enjoyed in and of itself, as opposed to merely as an accompaniment to Youtube videos TV shows and computer games, they’ll become more appreciative of the music they hear and be more naturally inclined to want to recreate it given the opportunity.
· Learn an instrument yourself. Firstly, there’s no such thing as ‘too old’ so you can stop saying that right now! And secondly, watching you practise and learn will give your child an interest in how it works, what it can do and how much fun you have learning it yourself. It’s also great for demonstrating that effort and practice lead
to results. If your child asks for music lessons because they’ve seen you do it first they’ll be much more inclined to work at it than if they’re simply told they are having them. Make your lessons independent from your child’s, maybe even suggest learning different instruments so you can completely learn at your own pace, but help each other where you can.
· Take them to see live music. Yes I know that’s not currently possible, but in normal times there are lots of music venues that put on daytime events where children are welcome, some festivals are extremely welcoming to families and you can even hire musicians to play at your house! Teach them that music doesn’t just ‘exist’ but that it is always created by somebody, and that that somebody could be them! In the meantime, there are some great online gigs happening right now too! Check out https://stabal.com/ and Chris Difford’s Social Club for two totally different types of live event that are both equally excellent.
Do they have time?
I had a student a few years back who was about eight. I was asking him why he hadn’t practiced for the last couple of weeks, and his response was “I haven’t had time.” I started learning guitar when I was seventeen and at college, so my immediate reaction was “ha! How can you, an eight year old, be busier than I was at seventeen!?” He then walked me through his weekly schedule consisting of school, additional maths and science tuition, chess club, two different sports teams, and scouts. Honestly I have no idea how his eyes even stayed open! if I did as much as some kids do these days I’d be out cold by 6pm every day. Obviously it’s great to be doing a wide variety of activities and additional learning, but learning an instrument isn’t something you can just do for 45-90 minutes a week and then forget about until your next lesson, progress requires focused practise every day.
So go through your child’s week and see if you can find the space for at least half an hour of playing every day, without resorting to feeding them through a tube while they do it. If the time doesn’t exist then consider which hobbies they are most and least interested in. If they don’t want to drop anything right now then don’t forget that kids change interests all the time, and they have all the time in the world to start new things. If they’re really in to their sports right now, music can come later. I have a lot of students who come to me aged anywhere from thirty to eighty who are interested in learning and make great progress. Like I said earlier… “no such thing as too old.” The most important thing is that they have the time to really become dedicated to the instrument and learn to enjoy the process of getting better and playing for the joy of it, rather than having it become another chore. Nothing will guarantee a disliking of music more than being forced to practice it against your will.
These are all things I find myself talking about with students and parents as time goes on through lessons. Sometimes I’m able to help parents find ways to get their kids more interested in music, sometimes they realise that the child was never going to become interested to begin with. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you can help get things off to a good start by getting them interested in the sounds of music before considering the practicalities of playing it, and helping them see what the point of music lessons is in the first place. If you’ve found other ways to get your kids in to music I’d love to hear how. Tell me in the comments below.