5 Duties when Teaching Guitar to Kids

Posted by The Fretwire on

I had my first guitar student when I was 17.  He was 13. Recently he ran into my mom and reminded her what I told him on his first lesson:  "Playing guitar is a great way to meet chicks."  It was true then, and it is true now. Since that time I have taught dozens of kids to play guitar.  But more than teaching them the mechanics of reading chord diagrams, music, and tab, I believe a guitar teacher is critical for filling many other important roles.  Here are my top 5.  If you are not a guitar teacher, you still might find it interesting.  If you are looking for a way to hone your skills (if you are a beginner or advanced) check out JamPlay.  

1. Foster love of the instrument and of music

How many kids take piano lessons? Almost all of them.  How many adults that took piano as a kid play piano now?  Almost none. I believe something went terribly wrong when some stuffy old piano teacher invented the first piano book for kids.  It was painfully slow, and you played no  recognizable  music.  Bo-Ring. How many kids stay engaged with that? Right- almost none. Guitar is great because you can jump right into real music on day one. Learn 3 chords and you can play half of popular music recorded in the past 50 years! Teaching kids the details of reading notes as outlined in the blue Mel Bay book is great to produce a well rounded player. But it has to be only a piece of their education. Nothing makes you love an instrument than feeling like you are good at it.  And nothing makes you feel you are good at it as playing real music.

2. Teach how to self-learn

Teach a man to fish = Teach a man to find music they like and learn it. You won't be their guitar teacher forever, so be sure you equip them with the skills they need to dig up new music, find it online (or even better, figure it out by ear).  I have had a few kids come to me thinking the only thing they can play is what is in their book.  What is rock and roll about that?

3. Provide a path of learning

In a similar vein, I always like to lay out for my students what they can do when they stick to it.  By providing benchmarks (chords, finger-picking patterns, barre chords, tab, improvisational scales, etc) they can see the big picture of where they are headed.

4. Be a guide to new gear

As a self taught player, I didn't understand a lot about the equipment.  I had a thrift store guitar, and I new I wanted a better one.  I had a musician's friend catalog, and I read it over and over again.  I studied it for months.  It took me a long time to figure out what an effect pedal did.  It took me a long time to realize why there are different picks. And I dreamed at what a Wah-Wah could possibly sound like. Does your student need a smaller scale guitar?  Should they start with an entry-level Yamaha or get a nicer guitar right awa? As a teacher you can guide students through this process.  Actively introduce new equipment such as electric guitars, effects, capos, slides, etc.  I have a good relationship with most of my students, and frequently lend out various pieces of equipment.  Some equipment like the new iStomp gives students exposure to lots of effects in a small package.

5. Music Appreciation

This might actually be #1 on my list.  One time a mother of a 9 year old asked me to take him on as a student. My schedule was full, and I really didn't want to  open up a new spot.  Then I heard the kid talking about how many Bruce Springsteen concerts he had been to.  I took him on. It is really hard to teach adults to appreciate new music.  It is not hard to teach kids at all.  Some get it from their parents, but many do not. The age of the internet has given people exposure to all sorts of underground groups and niche genres, but someone has to teach them to appreciate the past.  That's where you come in. I have noticed the past few years this part of the job has gotten easier due to the popularity of Guitar Hero. I used to talk about Cream and Clapton and get blank stares. Now I play Sunshine of Your Love and they get it.  And they want to play it. The jump from Cream to the old school southern blues is an easy one.  Play Albert King's solo on Pretty Woman next to Cream's Strange Brew and the light bulb will start to glow. I like to eventually work all the way back to Robert Johnson. They will appreciate the classics- the music that built the music of today.

It is a big job

And you thought all you were doing is teaching technique. Pshaw. Raising the next generation of guitar players takes a lot- teaching them taste, technical understanding, and a love of the instrument. But nothing is more rewarding than seeing a kid you taught on stage, blowing the crowd away, so it is worth it.