Should 5 year olds be taught to play guitar? Absolutely!
I recently posted an infographic on Facebook about the reasons five-year olds should learn to play guitar. It started quite a conversation and the question of “at what age do you start teaching young students?” certainly came up. Many guitar teachers will reply to this question with, “I don’t teach young kids at all” or “I don’t start teaching them until they’re nine or ten years of age”. Recently when having this conversation with a colleague they said, “I don’t teach young students; they are more interested in playing with their iPads than learning guitar”.
Let’s be honest, younger children are not self-motivated to practice and don’t always act on your instructions, no matter how many times you explain something to them. Poor fine motor skills, limited concentration span, the inability to understand the complex musical components of written music and the subsequent frustration children experience during lessons are the reasons often cited for recommending parents to start lessons when their children are older.
Reading the music contained in most beginner books is difficult. Reading music requires analysis, thought and concentration. A child is required to process the pitch and duration of many notes many times within a short, seemingly simple piece, as well as making sure that their posture and hand positions are correct. How often have you, as a guitar teacher, been struggling to teach your child something like, ‘Mary had a little lamb?’ This is a song that contains notes of only four different pitches and three different rhythmic figures. It shouldn’t be hard to learn, but it is.
Not that long ago the five year old child sitting in front of you holding a guitar was a toddler. They were dependant on their parents for everything. They believe in the Easter Bunny, Father Christmas and they are still trying to make sense of the world. They will often fall short of your expectations if you will not teach them at their level. I love the quote by Ignacio Estrada, “If a child cannot learn the way we teach, then maybe we should teach the way they learn?”
With the right teaching resources and mindset, learning guitar can have amazing benefits for young children.
5 Reasons 5 Year Olds Should Learn to Play Guitar
1. Playing guitar improves a child’s dexterity and fine motor skills.
School teachers do this with activities like colouring in and cutting out. These activities make use of only one hand at a time and children can usually cope quite well. Guitar teachers however may expect the child to combine the actions of two hands which have separate functions and are operating independently. It’s a good idea with younger children to start with open string pieces before combining left and right-hand actions to assist them in developing their fine motor skills and dexterity.
2. Playing guitar (or any musical instrument) and reading music can improve a child’s cognitive ability.
The skills attained through learning an instrument; focussing, listening, concentrating and recognising patterns have been shown to improve overall outcomes in literacy and numeracy. Some teachers have told me that they believe that teaching a child to read music lessens the enjoyment of their musical experience and that children shouldn’t learn to read music until they are much older. It’s possible this might be true for some teachers but that’s not been my experience. Children are taught to recognise letters, put them together and interpret them as words from about the age of five. With the correct teaching materials and mindset, you certainly can teach them to read, decode, and respond to written music - my young students do!
3. Playing guitar can improve a child’s confidence.
Have you noticed how young children and toddlers receive positive validation by just being cute? They really don’t have to do much and they don’t have a care. As they pass the stage from toddler to child and are asked to assume some responsibility on their journey to adulthood, they will often get upset or frustrated as the validation they once received for just being cute is now dependant on the attainment of goals. A teacher can set small, achievable, and measurable goals and as children achieve them, they feel good about themselves, building their confidence and sense of self.
4. Encourages healthy competition
Children can be competitive and will strive to be better especially when compared to the achievements of their peers. This competition is meant to be fun and as their teacher, you can provide them with a safe environment for them to discover their competitive side.
5. Music helps them to express their feelings.
It goes without saying that when words fail, music succeeds.
But why learn the guitar specifically?
At the risk of preaching to the converted, everybody loves the guitar and more people have an affinity with this instrument than most others. The guitar is reasonably inexpensive compared to other instruments and can be used as a tool for composition. Legend has it that Schubert played it in bed. The Guitar is a social instrument. It’s portable and great for impromptu sing-a-longs. It’s versatile and can be used to play any number of genres using many different techniques.
I started teaching five-year olds 10 years ago and now over 60% of my students are aged between 5 and 8. There are a huge number of young budding guitarists wanting lessons and their parents want them taught so I say embrace teaching younger children, it is an incredibly rewarding experience.
If you’d like to see how the Copy, Play and Learn Guitar teaching system may help you to teach children as young as five, check out my videos at https://www.copyplayandlearn.com/
Author: Bryce Leader
Bryce is a teacher trained conservatorium graduate who has been teaching guitar since 1978.