STG 056: Teaching Guitar To Kids

The Start Teaching Guitar Podcast

Have you ever pulled your hair out trying to teach an 8-year-old how to play an open C chord? Some guitar teachers think teaching younger kids is the least desirable way to make a living, but that’s only true if you don’t understand the special way you have to approach teaching this unique group of students.

In this episode I’ll tell you why kids can be a great addition to your student portfolio, I’ll share some of the limitations you have to overcome if you’re used to working primarily with adults and I’ll give you some key skills you’ll need to bring to the table if you want to be successful. I’ll also wrap up this episode with some best practices you can use to make your lessons with your younger students more successful.

To call in with a question, a comment or to leave feedback for the show, call the Listener Feedback Hotline at (719) 428-5480 and leave a message! I just might include your recorded message in a future episode.

Items Mentioned In This Episode:

Link – Riff Master Pro Software
Link – STG Podcast Episode 52 (Girls Guitar School – Interview With October Crifasi)
Book – Progressive Guitar Method For Young Beginners, Vol. 1

Podcast Transcription

Alright, one of the most common questions I get from guitar teachers that email me and that I speak to about different things like this is how to be more effective with teaching guitar to a child. It seems like one of the great mysteries of being a guitar teacher. Some people figure out how to do it really well, other people struggle with it, and even other teachers are just so terrified of working with kids that they never even attempt it. But the truth is that working with younger kids can be really lucrative financially for your teaching business, and there are some other benefits to working with kids too, but it really does take a special set of skills to make it work effectively.

It’s not for everyone. You know, just like not everyone is probably cut out to be a parent or a schoolteacher. You know, not everyone is probably cut out to be a guitar teacher to a lot of younger kids. It’s definitely a special set of skills required to be successful with it. So, in this episode, what I’m going to do is I’m going to cover some best practices and tips for being more successful with teaching guitar to younger kids. So, this is stuff that I’ve kind of picked up over the years, being a teacher myself, and best practices I’ve also learned from talking to other teachers that work with kids quite a bit.

Why You Should Consider Teaching Guitar To Kids

So, let’s jump right into this discussion here. The first thing is: let’s talk about why you should think about teaching kids. See, some of you. I could just picture some of you right now in my mind, as I’m sitting here, looking at the microphone and the computer screen, recording this. You’ve tried to teach kids before. Maybe some of the first lessons you’ve ever taught were teaching kids and it was just a disaster. It didn’t work out good. The kids weren’t paying attention. You weren’t able to keep their interests. They weren’t making very much progress on the guitar. Probably just some of you had a totally, completely frustrating experience working with kids in your teaching studio.

You know, and there are others of you that are listening to this episode and you teach kids all the time, and you just love working with kids, and you’ve understood and gravitated towards them, and you realize what they can offer you as a teacher. You know, because a lot of times you learn from the kids too. So, if that’s you, then you’re listening to this episode, thinking: “Okay, what are some ways that I can be even more effective teaching with kids,” and there are some of you that just the idea of working with kids one-on-one probably just scares you to death, so you’ve never tried to do it before. So, what I’m going to give you right now is some of the benefits to working with kids as a guitar teacher, and these are some really cool things.

Benefit #1 – You Get To Make A Difference In Their Lives

So, the first one is that you get to make a big difference in their lives. Now, I read this cool quote recently. It’s by Henry Brooks Adams, and he said, “Teachers affect eternity. No one can tell where their influence stops.” And that’s so true for us as guitar teachers because the people that we teach, especially the younger people that come through our teaching studios, if we can make an impact on their lives, they can grow up and become teachers themselves. They can become performers. They can influence tons and tons of other people to be guitar players and make a positive impact in their lives all through the things that you planted into the lives of this one young student.

You know, not all of them are going to do that. They’re not all going to grow up and teach and be successful musicians as a career. You know, some of them are just going to be good husbands and wives, and have jobs, and just pursue the guitar on the side as adults, but having a positive impact on their lives whenever they’re younger kids is a really cool thing. You know, I’ve worked with teenagers a lot. One of my former career, I had a career in IT for a long time, and before that though, I was actually a youth minister whenever I lived in South Louisiana, which is where I’m originally from. And I got to work with, man, hundreds of young people between the ages of like 11 and on up into college and career age, 19 to 22, sometimes even older.

And I got to walk with them through all of their problems and through the challenges of life and high school, and dating and relationships, and personal issues and parent issues, and different things like that. And you know, I also got to teach a lot of them how to play guitar and influence a whole bunch of guitar players during that phase of my life too, which was really cool. But you know, I worked with a lot of younger people, and it’s amazing how big of an impact you can have in a young person’s life if you just take the time to make an investment in them. I mean looking back on that part of my life, it’s really cool now to see, almost 20 years later, a lot of those people being happy and successful adults with families of their own, and a lot of them are also making a difference in the lives of other people too.

So, that’s one of the most rewarding parts of my life, when I look back. And I have the same kinds of feelings when I look back at some of the kids that I’ve taught guitar to. It’s really cool to see kids that I’ve taught in the past grow up to be excellent guitar players. And while you’re teaching them, they grow and they make progress on the guitar right before your very eyes. It’s amazing. And their parents are grateful, and you know, they may not always appreciate what you’re investing into their lives whenever they’re eight years old or ten years old, or 13 years old, but later on, when they grow up and mature a little bit, they’re going to look back and they’re going to have so much gratitude for the part that you played in making them the person that they are when they grow up.

So, if you can connect with teaching kids, if you can make that connection, then you really can alter the course of their lives for the better. You know, there are going to be kids that come into your teaching studio that may come from broken homes or may come from tough situations, bad circumstances. They may have a lot of pain or fear in their lives. And just working with someone that can help them feel good about what they’re doing and feel good about themselves can make all the difference in the world. So, you’ve studied guitar for years and years. Some of you, if you’re like me, maybe even decades. I’ve been playing for a long time. But you have all that knowledge. You have all that experience. You have all of this amazing stuff that you can share, and teaching kids is a great way to give something back and to share your knowledge and experience with the next generation of guitar players that are coming up.

So, you get to make a big difference in the lives of younger kids. And it’s true you can do the same thing with adults and with older people too, but with kids there’s just something special about it because you get to catch them when they’re at a really formative period of their lives and you really can make a big difference. So that’s a huge benefit to you and to them. You get to give back and make a difference in their lives.

Benefit #2 – You Get a Lot of Fulfillment, Joy And Happiness

Now, the next reason why teaching kids is so cool is that you get a lot of fulfillment and a lot of joy and happiness from teaching kids, if you do it right. Some of you are thinking: “Man, you know, I tried to teach kids before. It wasn’t too fun. It wasn’t too fulfilling for me.” Well, that’s because you may not have approached it in the most optimal way.But like I mentioned, it’s really fulfilling to have a part in helping someone develop and grow into an accomplished guitarist. There’s really no better feeling than that. Man, to look at somebody else’s life and to know that you played a part in helping them get where they are, it’s amazing. And if you do it right, if you teach kids with the right mindset and the right approach, it can be a lot of fun for you too, because if you have kids, you know this, but kids are hilarious, funny, they’re always cracking jokes, and doing wisecracks.

They always put a smile on my face whenever I’m around kids. Just some of the things that they come up with. And they’re funny and they’re fun to work with if you make the lessons fun. I’m going to talk more about that in a little bit, but as a teacher, you set the environment. So, if you make it a fun and engaging environment for younger kids, they’re going to have fun, you’re going to have fun, and it’s just going to be so rewarding for you. So, I mean to bear this out, I did a recent survey of a bunch of guitar teachers that are part of the Start Teaching Guitar community and also some aspiring teachers too. And one of the questions I asked a lot of them was: “What’s one of the biggest reasons that you want to get into teaching guitar?” This was the aspiring teachers. “Why do you want to do this? What’s motivating you to become a guitar teacher?”

And I was expecting different things. I was expecting, you know, answers like I want to make some more money and things like that, but one of the biggest reasons why most of them were interested in teaching guitar was because they wanted to do something fun and fulfilling with their musical skills. You know, I was kind of surprised by that. Money wasn’t the primary motivator. It was: “I want to do something cool. You know, I have all this knowledge and skill and experience. I want to share it with people, I want to give something back, and I want to experience some fulfillment by sharing all of this knowledge that I’ve accumulated over the years.” So, teaching kids is a great way to do that. It gives you that feeling of fulfillment. You know, you get that with everyone you teach, especially if you can help them progress on the guitar, but with kids it’s even better. It’s even more fulfilling, if you do it right.

Benefit #3 – It’s a Great Way To Fill Your Teaching Schedule

Okay, the next cool benefit of teaching kids is that obviously it’s a great way to fill up your teaching schedule. If you’ve only been teaching adults up until now and you have some gaps in your schedule, then teaching kids and advertising for kids can be a great way to fill up those gaps pretty quick and get your roster full, because there usually are more kids looking for lessons than there are adults out there. There are parents that are out there looking for good teachers for their children and stuff, usually more so than adults looking for lessons themselves. And you can even build your whole business around teaching kids if you really connect with them and you like it and you want to do it.

Like I did an interview a few episodes back, Episode 52, with October Crifasi, and her teaching business is Girls Guitar School in Los Angeles. I’ll put a link to that episode in the show notes, but she basically built her whole business around teaching girls. Teaching young girls. She specialized in that. And you can listen to that episode to hear more about how she put that together and kind of what her focus is, but she’s a perfect example of this stuff. You could actually build a whole teaching business and brand it around teaching kids. You can decorate your teaching studio so that it appeals to kids. You can have stuff in your waiting room that appeals to kids. And you can gear the lessons and all your advertising and everything to the kids and to the parents of the kids, and build a really successful business around that, because if you’re a parent, like I am, then you know that it’s worth investing extra money into someone that’s going to pour themselves into your children and is going to mentor them, is going to mold and shape them and teach them, and help them become a better person as a result of learning the guitar.

So, all of those things make you more valuable as a teacher to those parents. So, if you build your whole business around that, then you can make a lot of money and be really successful just teaching kids, if you wanted to.I’m not saying you have to do that. I’m just throwing that out there as an idea. Some of you might want to jump on that, but you really can. You can differentiate yourself that way and build a business around teaching kids exclusively if you want to and be really successful at it in a lot of places. So, it is a great way to fill up your teaching schedule.

Benefit #4 – Parents Are A Great Referral Source

And then the last benefit I want to mention is that the parents of your young students are a great source of referrals for you. As a guitar teacher, probably have your new students are going to come in through referrals. So, you want to find ways that you can increase the number of referrals, because that’s more students for you, more income for your business, and makes you more successful as a teacher. So, a lot of times, those young kids that you teach are going to have brothers and sisters. They’re going to have cousins. They’re going to have friends from school, and they can all become your students too if you get referrals. So, parents of those kids. I mean the kids themselves may go to school or may go home and talk good about you to their friends and stuff. It may go that way, but typically what happens is that the parents of those students, if you make a good impression on them and you over-deliver and give them a great experience, then what’s going to happen is those parents are going to talk to the other parents that they know and they’re going to say, “Hey, this guitar teacher over here is phenomenal. This is what they’re doing with my kid. They’re helping them to learn this, this, and this. They’re making them feel so good about playing the guitar. They have such a higher level of confidence now, since they’ve started taking guitar lessons. I love this guy. You really need to check him out for your kid.”

And if you do a good job and if you create that experience for them, then other moms and dads are going to hear about it too, and then you’re going to get word-of-mouth referrals coming in for other children that you can teach. So, parents are a great source of referrals, so that’s another great reason why you should look into teaching kids.

Limitations To Remember When Teaching Guitar To A Child

Now, let me talk a little bit about what’s involved with teaching kids guitar, and then I’ll wrap things up with some best practices and how to do it more effectively. But kids have some limitations that you need to take into consideration whenever you’re teaching them.It’s not a one-size-fits-all type of deal here, where you have this kind of one curriculum, this one teaching method, this one style, this one approach, and then you do the same thing with everybody, whether they’re 80 years old, 18 years old, or eight years old.

It doesn’t work that way. Kids have some specific things about them that you need to consider and adapt yourself to. I’ll get into more about that in a second, about the adaptation part, but some of the limitations that you’re going to run into with kids is obviously they have smaller hands. Just because of their age, kids are going to have shorter fingers. They’re going to have smaller hands. They’re going to have shorter arms and legs. They’re probably going to need a smaller guitar.You can’t just like throw a Les Paul in their lap and expect them to be able to play the same kinds of things that someone that is physically developed completely is going to be able to play.

Limitation #1 – Physical Development

You have to consider where they are physically in their development as a person. You know, the growth of different parts of their body. Their hands are small, so you’re going to have to probably work with their parents to help them get a quarter-scale guitar or a half-scale guitar. Something so that they have a smaller fretboard, a shorter scale neck, and they can actually play things on the guitar easier based on the size of their anatomy. So, they are going to have smaller hands, and you need to account for that in the lessons.

Limitation #2 – Attention Span

They’re also going to have shorter attention spans. If you’ve worked with kids before, you know that this is true. And, again, it’s because of their age. They’re not going to be able to pay attention for as long as your average adult. Now, I know some adults that have the attention span of an eight-year-old, but they’re going to have shorter attention spans. They’re going to have a harder time tracking with you and listening and paying attention in the lessons and staying fully engaged. So, you’ve got to keep that in mind when you teach them. You don’t want to do one-hour lessons with younger kids. You want to keep things shorter.You want to make sure that you cater the lessons to their attention span.

Limitation #3 – Short-Term Memory

Okay, the next thing you’re going to notice about kids is a limitation is that they don’t have the best short-term memory either. So, if you teach them something one week and then they come back a week later, they may not really remember everything that you told them.And that’s all right. You can show them again. They need more repetition. So, they may not remember everything that you showed them the last week. They’ll remember some of it, and they are going to learn the guitar. Just don’t expect them to remember every single thing that you say, like an adult would. Don’t expect them to sit there and take notes.They’re not going to have that same set of cognitive skills that a grownup has.

Limitation #4 – Sense of Responsibility

Okay, another limitation is they don’t have that sense of responsibility that grownups have.They are probably going to lose any handout paper or lesson plan papers that you give them.They’re not going to remember the dates and times of their lessons, and things like that. Okay, obviously that’s what mom and dad are there for. Hopefully there’s a parent there with them. That’s who you give the papers to. That’s who you give the practice schedule to. That’s who you give the dates to. That’s who you talk to about collection and tuition payments, scheduling, and all of those things like that.It might be obvious, but you know, just something that you’ve got to keep in mind.

Limitation #5 – Motor Skills

Also, another limitation of kids is that their motor skills haven’t fully developed yet. Okay, that means things like playing scale patterns on the guitar, something that might be easy for a grownup to play, it might be a little harder for them at first. But that’s okay. That doesn’t mean they can’t learn it. It just means you’ve got to slow things down and you have to keep repeating things more often so that they actually can grasp the concept and remember it. So, no big deal. Just remember they’re not grownups.They’ll get it eventually, but you need to always remember that they are not adults yet. We make the assumption a lot of times as guitar teachers. You know, everybody does this. You know, we think that everybody is just like us.

We think that the way that we learn best is the same way that everybody else is going to learn best. We think the things that are important to us are going to be important to everybody else too. Well, that’s not the way the world works.None of your students are going to be exactly like you, and you need to remember that, specifically with kids. They’re not going to think like you. They’re not going to process information the same way that you do. They’re not going to act like you. Okay, they’re going to act like a kid, and that’s okay. You shouldn’t act like a kid because you’re a grownup, right? You own your own business. You should be a little more mature than that, but don’t get frustrated with a kid for acting like a kid.

Okay, don’t get aggravated with a kid or irritated because they think like a kid. You shouldn’t expect them to be anything other than what they are. They’re children. They are not fully functional grownup adults yet.But you are an adult, so you can adapt and you can learn how to deal with them at the level that they’re at.They’re not going to value and appreciate the same things that you do. You could play this awesome piece of jazz music or classical music for them, this really cool, technical thing, and they may not appreciate it. You know, they may just be all about learning songs by some crazy band that makes no sense, but that’s okay. They’re not going to have the same values. They’re not going to appreciate the same kind of music that you do.

Okay, the point is that you are there to kind of help them and mentor them, but don’t expect them to be like you.Remember that they’re not adults yet, and that’s something that applies to parenting. That’s something that applies to anything that you do to interact with younger kids. Just understand and appreciate the fact that they’re different than you, and kind of cater everything you do to work with them at the level that they’re at.

Skills You’ll Need To Teach Guitar To A Child

Okay, so those are some of the limitations of working with kids that you’ll have to deal with. Okay, not bad things. Just the reality of the fact that they are not fully grown adults yet. Okay, now here are a few things that you’re going to need to be able to bring to the table to be successful.

Skill #1 – Patience

First thing is you’re going to need some patience. Patience is a virtue. That’s what we’ve always heard. Well, it’s true. And with guitar lessons in general, it’s a necessity, but especially with kids. If you’re not a patient person, you’re not going to make a good guitar teacher anyway. You’re going to irritate people and people are going to irritate you, and man, it’s just not going to be fun.Patience is so much a huge requirement for being a successful guitar teacher. And if you’re not the most patient person, that doesn’t mean you can’t be a teacher. It just means you’ve got to work on that. You know, you need to work on developing your patience, because everybody needs a patient teacher, not just kids. You know, we all do, but kids need an extra measure of patient from you. Everything that you do with them is going to take longer. It’s going to require more repetition. It’s going to be slower. So, you’ve got to be patient.

Skill #2 – Creativity

The next thing you’re going to need is creativity. Like I kind of alluded to before, the same things that work so well with adult, if you use those same methods and approaches when you go try and teach kids, it’s not going to work as good. You’re going to notice that right away. You need to have the ability to think outside of the box with the kids, because the normal ways you teach concepts on the guitar are not going to work as well with them. You’re going to have to come up with fresh, engaging, and interactive ways to teach things to your students.

And the good news is that there’s lots of curriculum out there that you can look at that’s geared towards teaching kids. I have a couple of them really quick right here. So, there’s a series called Progressive Guitar Method for Young Beginners, and it’s by Andrew Scott and Gary Turner, Volume I, and then there’s Volume II by Gary Turner, and then there’s Volume III by Andrew Scott and Gary Turner. And it’s a three-volume set that comes with CDs, and they also sell DVDs and videos around it. But I just pulled these out and I’m just looking through it real quick right here, as I’m talking, and what they’ve done is they’ve put this whole curriculum together in the form of, you know, they look like little kid books. And they show the basics of teaching guitar, of reading music, and of playing different pieces of music on the guitar.

So, these books are good to look into, but they make a lot of other ones that take everything that you’re doing and put it into a format that makes it more interesting for kids. So, what you want to do is get a few resources like that, and you don’t have to use them step-by-step, page-by-page for the kids, but you could pull lessons out of that that apply to what they want to learn.So, the whole point is come up with fresh, engaging, and interactive ways to teach the guitar to them, and don’t try to use the same methods that you use when you teach adults, so you’ve got to think out of the box a little bit to come up with stuff like that.

Skill #3 – Ability To Communicate

The next skill you’re going to need is obviously you’re going to need good communication skills. You’re going to have to speak and teach in a way that the kids can understand. You know, if you use a lot of big words and music theory terminology, the kids aren’t going to always be tracking with you. So, you have to break it down and use common words that are going to make sense to them first, until they learn and get up to speed. So, you’re also going to need to be able to communicate well with the parents of your young students. You know, it’s kind of like you’re working on two different levels at the same time. You’ve got to get through to the kids when you’re teaching them, but you’ve got to get through to the parents as far as coordinating everything. So, good communication skills are important.

Skill #4 – You Have To Like Kids

And then, finally, you have to actually like kids. If you can’t stand to be around kids, don’t try to teach them. You’re not going to be effective. If you can’t get down to their level and make a personal connection with them, the lessons with the younger kids aren’t going to work. So, you’ve got to like them. You’ve got to be willing to get into their world a little bit. So that’s an important skill to have, and you can just kind of evaluate yourself and see where you are on those four things. Am I patient? Am I creative? Can I communicate well with kids and adults? And do I actually like being around kids? And if those four things are all there, at least in a moderate degree, then there’s a good chance you could be really successful with teaching them.

Different People – Different Learning Styles

So, one last thing you’ve got to understand, before we get into the best practices here: kids have a unique learning style. You may not have thought too much about this as a guitar teacher, but there are three primary ways. The educational theory tells us that there are three primary ways that people learn best. We have visual learners, auditory learners, and what I’m going to call physical learners.Visual learners are people that learn best by seeing. And these are adults, okay? Probably 65 percent of the adult population learns best by seeing. They process information through their eyes, and that’s how they learn to do things through what they see. So, diagrams and handouts and charts, and things like that work really well. Videos work really well with visual learners.

The second group is auditory learners, and they learn best by hearing things. So, they learn best through discussion and talking, and listening to other people talk, and lecturing, and things like that. Okay, and then you have physical learners. And physical learners are people that learn best by doing. So, auditory learners make up about 30 percent of the adult population. Visual learners make up about 65 percent. The other five percent are physical learners, and those are people that don’t want to see something. They don’t want to hear something. They want to use their hands to learn, and that’s how they learn best.

So, out of all of those three types of learning styles, all kids, until they reach a certain age, are physical learners.That means you have to adapt your teaching methods to fit their learning style if you want to be successful teaching them. Okay, so there’s this cool quote. Ignacio Estrada said, “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” Wow, that’s a million-dollar nugget right there. If you could just internalize that and think about that concept for a second, it’s true for adults too, but if a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn. If a student isn’t learning the way we teach, maybe we should adapt our teaching style for that student and teach them the way that they learn best.I’m just saying.

But the more ways you can find to get kids actually playing their guitars, using their hands, the better their lessons are going to go. Okay, you’re going to find that if all you do is talk in lessons with kids that they’re going to fidget. They’re going to goof around. They’re not going to pay attention to you. If you talk too much in the lessons with kids, you’re going to bore them. You’re going to find out that if you use too many handouts and charts, you know, their parents might be impressed, but you’re going to lose their interest. They’re not going to know what to make of all of that stuff.

If you want to teach kids successfully, you’ve got to get them involved actively in the process. It has to be interactive because they learn best with their hands.So, things like games that you can make out of playing the guitar and learning new things. Getting them to tap their feet. Getting them to feel the different rhythms and clap the rhythms out, and play air drums on their legs with the rhythms, even getting them to sing different things and even sometimes dancing in the guitar lessons can work well, depending on the kid. Younger kids it’s probably a little better with, but the point is anything you can do to get them active in the learning process is going to help them connect with what you’re teaching them and be a lot more successful at it. Okay, they’re going to catch it and connect with it better. So, realize the kind of learning style you’re dealing with, with kids. It’s very important.

Best Practices For Teaching Guitar To A Child

Okay. Now, to wrap this up, let’s talk about some best practices with teaching kids.I’m going to give you a big secret here. The secret to teaching kids successfully is the exact same secret as teaching anybody else successfully. I kind of hinted at it a few minutes ago, but the secret is cater the lessons to your audience. That’s the big, amazing secret. Cater the lessons to your audience. Follow Ignacio’s advice and teach the way they learn best. Now, I’m going to give you some specific things here. You may already be doing some of these things, but here are some ideas that I’ve found to be effective over the years regarding teaching kids.These all have to do with catering the lessons to your audience.

1) Keep Things As Fun As Possible

Number one: you want to keep things as fun as possible. Anything you can do to inject an element of fun into the lessons with your kids are going to pay you back in spades. Okay, you can’t make the lessons too fun. The more fun you can include, the better they’re going to enjoy it, the better you’re going to enjoy it, and probably the better they’re going to learn the guitar.I’m not saying that you should just play games the whole time and not focus on anything important, but you have to weave them together into the context of fun.

So, look for ways to include age-appropriate games in your lessons. Give prizes to them whenever they do things that they’re supposed to do, and find other ways to reward them that they would appreciate. And another good idea to keep things interesting and fun is to try to mix it up a little bit. So, include a mix of talking, of playing, of listening, of watching videos – short ones -, and things like that so that you can engage all five of their senses, primarily their sense of touch though, because, like I said, that’s their primary learning style. But make sure that you have a wide variety of sensory stimulation coming in through your lessons, and then the kids are going to be more engaged as well.

So, these kinds of things are going to help make it a fun and a memorable experience for the kids, and not just another guitar lesson that they have to show up for. You don’t want to be the thing that they dread coming to every week because they think it’s boring. You know, instead, try to make it fun. See, you wear a lot of different hats as a teacher sometimes, so just when you’re teaching kids, don’t forget to put on your entertainer hat. Okay, because that’s going to help them a lot, and their parents are going to appreciate that too.

2) Tap Their Hidden Motivation

Okay, number two. The second best practice is: try to tap their hidden motivation. Okay, this is true for every student, but specifically for kids. There’s something deep down inside that kid that’s motivating them and making them want to play the guitar, even the youngest ones. You know, even like your kids that are four and five years old. There’s something about them that makes them want to play the guitar, and hopefully it’s not just mom and dad forcing them to learn the instrument. Hopefully there’s something going on that makes them want to play for themselves. Okay, there’s got to be something there that got them excited about wanting to play in the first place. Maybe it’s a certain song or a band that they really like, and they want to be able to play some of their music, or maybe they have other friends who play guitar and they just want to be a part of that. You know, maybe they want to start a band with their young friends or they just want to be accepted and be included in what these other friends are doing. That’s a big reason why a lot of kids want to learn how to play.

But whatever the reason, if you can figure out what it is – okay, mom and dad can help you with that sometimes – and then you can help that child to achieve that goal, then they’re going to be a lot more interested in learning the guitar and a lot more interested in participating in the lessons.It comes back down to internal motivation versus external motivation. Internal motivation, which is the child is excited about playing the guitar themselves. That always works better than you trying to motivate them from the outside.The carrot always works better than the stick. Okay, so if you could tap into that hidden motivation, that’ll get them a lot more excited about what you’re doing.

3) Get Their Parents Involved

Number three. This is so huge. This is actually one of the biggest keys to success with teaching kids, so pay special attention to this. Get the parents involved. Get the parents involved. Okay, when you teach kids, you’re really dealing with two students: the child and their parent, maybe even both of their parents.You’re not just dealing with the child. The child is not necessarily your student. It’s both of them. You have to connect and engage with the parent and the child for them to be successful. For the kids to really make progress on the guitar, they obviously are going to have to what? They’re going to have to practice at home. So, if you can get mom and dad to be the guitar teacher at home, the kids are going to obviously make a lot more progress on the guitar a lot faster.

And formal methods, like Suzuki, actually make this a requirement. The parents and the kid go to lessons together, and they practice together, and it’s a mom and dad and child type of thing.I’m not saying you should go that far, but you can learn some principles from the Suzuki Method and you can get the parents involved and help them with the kids to get better results.So, for example, you could have the parents actually sit in on the lessons with you, Suzuki style, to where they’ll actually in the lessons with their kids and everyone learns everything together, or you could just work with them after the lesson real quick for a few minutes, give them a written practice schedule, give them some tips on what the kid needs to do during the week before the next lesson, how to do it correctly, and some ways to reward their child whenever they complete their assignments and things like that. So, you could do a quick meeting after the lesson or you can actually have them sit in the lessons with you and work with them both together.

Okay, either way would work well, but the bottom line is that kids who have a parent practice with them are always going to do way better than the kids who don’t.Plus, it benefits you because getting the parents involved really helps communicate the value that you offer as a guitar teacher too. Okay, so get them involved. Don’t just try to work with the kid on your own. Get the parents involved as instructors too.

4) Remember The Three S’s

Number four. The fourth best practice is: remember the three S’s. I’m going to give you three things that start with the letter S. If you can remember these three things when you’re teaching kids, it’ll help you kind of stay on their level. Okay, and those three words that start with S are shorter, slower, and simpler. Make everything shorter, make everything slower, and make everything simpler compared to when you’re teaching adults.So, let’s look at each of these real quick.

Shorter

Shorter. Don’t try to do full hour-long lessons with kids.I mentioned that already, but honestly you want to keep the lessons short, definitely no longer than 30 minutes. 30-minute lessons are ideal for younger kids or for adults that have challenges with their attention span too.If you keep the lessons shorter, then the kids are going to be more engaged and they’re going to do better, and they’re going to pay attention better. If you try to draw out a private lesson to 60 minutes with a kid, it may not go as well. And there are always exceptions to this. It really depends on you and what you do during that time, and on the kid, but in general, as a general rule, you want to keep the lessons 30 minutes or less when you’re working with kids.

Slower

The next S is slower. Don’t try to use the same pace with kids that you use with adults. For example, I’m just pulling an arbitrary number out of the air here, but if it takes six weeks to teach all of the major open position chords to an adult, it’s going to take longer than that to teach them to a kid. So, don’t try to shove them on the child at the same pace that you do with adults because it’s not going to work. Slow it down and don’t be afraid to campout on the various musical concepts a little bit longer so that the kids have time to really learn them well.It’s totally okay to do that; to slow things down.

Simpler

And then the last S is simpler. So, if you want to get through to kids better, break even the simple concepts down into even smaller pieces. So, for example, I used the example open chords a second ago. If you’re teaching kids how to play like an open G chord, for example, or an open C or an open D, break it into smaller pieces. You know, take it one or two strings at a time first, and then get them playing partial versions of those chords, and then add on to those later as time goes by so that you’re breaking everything into smaller and simpler pieces, and that’s going to help them to process all of this better, and it actually makes things a little easier on you too.So, remember the three S’s.

5) Use Repetition

And then the last best practice I have for you – number five – is to use repetition.Don’t be afraid to repeat things as often as you need to. Kids need a lot more repetition to grasp concepts that are complicated, like all the things we do when we play guitar.Break it into small pieces and then repeat those often, until they internalize them. So, while you’re doing that, obviously you want to keep an eye on their progress and the level of their motivation. You don’t want to keep repeating something so that you’re like beating it into the ground and they’re not interested in it anymore, but you definitely want to keep drilling the same concepts over and over until they get them right. You may have to come back to things after you shift gears and work on something else, but repetition is key when you’re teaching kids.

So, there’s obviously a lot more to learn about this – about teaching kids – than I shared here in this episode. Okay, you can get a whole college degree in the subject of education and working with kids if you want one, but you don’t need that to be successful as a guitar teacher. Hopefully this information was helpful to you and it’ll give you some confidence about teaching kids if you haven’t tried it before. And if you have tried it and you’ve had some difficulty, hopefully this episode is going to help you do a little bit better with working with kids in your studio. But teaching young kids can definitely be a big boost to your teaching business if you cater the lessons to your younger audience and you do what you can to engage their parents in the learning process too.

Thank You For Listening!

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STG 056: Teaching Guitar To Kids was last modified: May 12th, 2014 by Donnie Schexnayder

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  • Hi Donnie,

    Great podcast, as always! I have one question. In the podcast, you make mention of teaching shorter lessons for kids. But, I seem to remember in an earlier podcast (one of your really early ones) where you talk about the business side of things and suggest only offering hour slots to maximize earnings and minimize scheduling headaches (i.e. fewer students to contend with). Can you help me understand how you reconcile this?

    Thanks!

    • DonnieSchex

      You bet! 1 hour lessons are definitely the way to go, but teaching younger kids is the exception to that rule. They don’t generally have the attention span to sit through one hour lessons.