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By Jami Taylor
Leaning how to play the guitar can be a great experience to give your child. Often, children are excited to start guitar lessons and can’t wait to learn how to play a few songs. This excitement can quickly dissipate when they realize that the guitar can be a difficult instrument to learn. Learning the guitar takes time, and you’re not going to sound like your favorite rock star overnight. When your child starts to feel overwhelmed or just plain inconvenienced by learning how to play the guitar, how can you help keep them motivated?
I have been teaching others how to play the guitar for over 20 years. I am also the parent of a beginning guitar player. Over the years, I have noticed that there are some common threads out there that parents use to keep their kids motivated and learning:
1. Be an Example
Your child is much more likely to follow your example rather than your advice. This is the biggest tool you have to help motivate your child. If you play the guitar, your child will be more likely to also want to learn to play the guitar. If you already know how to play the guitar, here are a few ways you can motivate your children.
- Make sure your child sees and hears you practicing regularly. This will show them that even good guitar players still need to practice. I have made a habit of practicing after I put my kids down for bed. That way I am less interrupted than I would be during the day, but they can still hear me and know that I am doing the same thing I have asked them to do. My oldest son takes guitar lessons from me and it’s not uncommon for me to hear him pick up his own guitar and practice at night in his room when he hears me practice as well.
- Play in front of others. If your kids see you playing the guitar in front of others, they will be more likely to want to do the same. You will be giving them an internal motivator to want to get better. This can be as simple as playing on your front porch where anyone can walk by. You can also join a music circle, play at an open mic or even join a band. Sometimes what you perform does make a difference. I have played fingerstyle acoustic guitar for weddings, events and dinners for years. My oldest son didn’t find this motivating in any way. It wasn’t until I started playing with a rock band again that he decided that he wanted to learn the guitar too.
- Continue to take guitar lessons. This will help your child see that learning, guitar lessons and practice can be a regular part of life. There really isn’t ever a finish line when it comes to learning the guitar. Instead of your child feeling discouragement that the task of practicing never ends, hopefully they will see that practicing and lessons can add joy and fulfillment to their daily lives.
You can still be an example to your child even if you don’t know how to play the guitar yet. Some of my most successful students have parents who are also beginning guitar players. There are a few different ways that you can learn how to play the guitar alongside your child.
- Learn together. You can do this by taking a semi-private lesson together or by joining the same group guitar or online class. Adults generally learn faster than kids, so this works as long as you don’t mind slowing your own learning pace down.
- Ask your child’s’ teacher if you can bring your own guitar along to their private lesson. I have had parents bring in their own guitar and learn along with their child. I’m still teaching to their child, but they are picking up enough to be able to play along with them at home.
- Take lessons yourself, but not at the same time as your child. I have some parents that started out with their children for the first few months and then moved into their own private lessons. This option works when you find yourself learning at a faster level than your kids. This also works if your child has decided that they no longer want to take a lesson with you. My mom took lessons with me when I started playing at age 5. I loved it for quite awhile and then I told her it was time for her to get her own teacher.
2. Take your kid to live shows
I wanted to learn the guitar after I saw a friend of my parents play. Every time I saw a guitar player or band in concert, I would become more motivated to be a better player. If your child is 10 years old or older, try and take them to see a band that they already like. Most children younger than don’t have bands that they like yet. Younger children often do better seeing live music at daytime venues that are outside where they can still run around and be kids. I have found art festivals and farmer markets to be great places to find live music for kids.
4. Ask them to commit
It’s so much easier to pick up the guitar if you have a practice space already set up. A good practice space should have a sturdy music stand, a chair without arms that is the correct size for your child, a guitar stand, and a table or desk to put picks, pencils, a tuner and other practice items on. Other optional gear ideas for your practice space would be a guitar footstool (this will help your child hold the guitar closer to their body), good lighting, and an iPad or computer to listen to music examples on or follow online lessons. My son has a practice space set up in his room. Since his guitar is already out and his music is on his stand, it is easy for him to sit down and practice whenever he feels like it.
5. Empower them
After your child commits to practice a certain number of days each week, give them the choice as to when they want to practice. I have learned that forcing children to practice at a certain time of day doesn’t always work well. Let them decide if they want to practice before school, before dinner, just after dinner or at night. Help them make that time work and be open to letting that time be different depending on the day. Also, let them decide which days they want to skip that week.
6. Listen to music
Get your child listening to all styles of music from an early age. I have one student who recognizes almost every song I give her because her dad listens to music while he makes dinner at night. It can be that simple. Make sure they easily recognize some of the hits of each era. It is much easier to teach a song to someone if they already know it. If they don’t recognize a song they are learning, make sure you make it easy for them to listen to that song several times while they are learning it.
7. Give your child opportunities to perform
If your child is studying with a private teacher, make sure that they offer guitar recitals. You can also have your child play for others that come over to your house. Another option is to look for performance opportunities at their school, community center, or church. My students practice the hardest when they know a performance is coming up.
8. Change up the way they are learning
If you’re not happy with the online course or private teacher that you’re using, don’t hesitate to make changes. Your child might just need a different teacher or learning platform. In my opinion, nothing can surpass a great private teacher. Try to find a teacher who not only is good with kids, but one who has curriculum geared toward teaching children. It is also important to find a teacher that will teach your child music fundamentals like note reading and rhythms. If possible, try and find a teacher with a college degree in music. There are also some great online courses out there now, so it’s possible to get an excellent teacher no matter where you live.
9. Be involved
If it all possible, sit in on their lessons. If you know what is being taught in their lesson, you will know how to help them at home. You will also know if they are practicing what they are supposed to. In addition, sitting in on lessons will help you to create a relationship and dialogue with their teacher so you can easily ask about their progress. If you are unable to attend their lesson, ask your child to “teach you” what they learned when you get home. This is a great way for them to review what they learned and to try and teach it to someone else.
10. Don’t ask them to practice for too long
The human brain will learn practice material better if it’s broken down into smaller practice sessions more often. If you child knows they only need to sit down for 5-10 minutes once or twice a day, they may be more willing to practice. The advantage here is that they will learn the material better than if they crammed in that same practice material into practice sessions that happen to be longer, but less often.
Lastly, Know When to Stop
I have a great retention rate as a private teacher. Even still, there are times when it’s obvious that a student needs to discontinue lessons. I have had some students take a break for a period of time and then resume when they’re ready. Others leave the guitar altogether. These students sometimes find a different instrument or move onto something else entirely.
If you are constantly pulling teeth to get your child to practice no matter what you do, it might be time to consider discontinuing lessons for awhile. If you decide to discontinue guitar lessons, don’t get angry at your child. This will make it more likely that they won’t want to try again later. If I have a student leave, I try and make our last lesson a positive one. I tell them that they their time learning the guitar and practicing was never a waste and that it will help them in other facets of their life. I tell them that when they are young, they get to try lots of different things and that it’s okay to try something and let go of it if they don’t like it. I make sure that they understand that discontinuing guitar lessons doesn’t mean that they are quitters or bad people. I also encourage them to think of what they might want to try next.
Hopefully this gives you a few ideas of how to get your kids motivated and practicing!