My son, SqueegeeJr, has expressed an interest in learning to play guitar. I play guitar (electric, for about 30 years, off and on), so maybe I could get him a reasonably priced instrument and I could give him some guidance or lessons.
He thinks he’d like to learn on an acoustic. I’ve told him electric is easier to start on, but he’s sure acoustic is for him, I’d guess because he’s seen schoolmates playing one. Or he doesn’t want to try to measure up to how I play (which isn’t amazing by any means, but he doesn’t have anything to measure ability with yet). I like the idea of acoustic, because its one less thing to keep track of without a guitar amp.
So I’m thinking about getting him that guitar and let him get started and see where that takes him. I’d like to spend enough to get him a non-crap instrument, but small enough that its not a big deal if he doesn’t continue. I do know that learning chords and fingering is very tough for a beginner, and I’d understand if he tries it and doesn’t think its for him.
Is he really old enough to handle learning guitar? Should I encourage him to wait? I know that this is a “that depends” answer, but what in general do you all think?
He’s a moderate/average sized kid. He has average sized hands for his age, IMHO, though they’re pretty muscular. Should I look for a scaled-down (3/4?) instrument? Or is it okay to give him a full sized instrument?
I’ve never taught someone on an instrument; I’m not sure if I’d be a good teacher, especially given that I probably intimidate the heck out of him musically and, even worse, I’m his dad. I thought I’d try to look for 3-4 songs he likes that have some open chords (2-4) that he can learn. Any tips?
Old enough depends more on his attitude and enjoyment of the instrument than anything else - I’ve taught as young as 8, and it can work out or be a struggle. You’re actually in a better position to judge than I am…
I’m a big fan of 3/4 size guitars for kids. When they’ve got to their full height, you can switch. There are lots of well made 3/4 sized instruments in the $100 to $200 range.
I’ve changed what I do with beginners over the last couple of years - I used to start them off with chords, but now I like to take them through about 4 or 5 pieces before I show them chords. It’s because I want to show them pieces that use parallels, pivots and guide fingers and then show them how to change between A, E and D major using the available parallels, pivots and guide fingers. (I don’t tell them all that stuff verbally, I just teach them the piece and let them discover that this shift works better if you don’t lift 3…) Starting off with chords can lead to students lifting off everything between chords, which is a hard habit to get out of later on. Every teacher is different; this is just a thumbnail of my personal methodology…
No, he’s not too young to start playing guitar. As to what kind of guitar, I guess you should go to a guitar store with him and have him try out a bunch of different ones. You should be able to get a good acoustic guitar for 500 dollars or less. You can also get him an acoustic pickup so he can plug into an amp if he wants to at some point.
Most rock songs have pretty easy chords. What kind of music does he like?
Well, that’s a hard one. He’s still finding himself musically. We gave him a 15-song iTunes card at Christmas and an MP3 player, and he has yet to buy one song. I ripped all the songs I’d gotten for him into the MP3 player, and that’s all he wanted for a while.
He was into Rap for a while (finding family friendly rap is a challenge!); I’ve tended to previously feed him novelty songs (hamster dance, that sort of thing) that I think he’d find funny. Now he’s been playing Guitar Hero, and likes the crunchy metal in that selection. Since then I’ve been trying to find guitar-centric pieces on my iPod-connected car that will intrigue him – this morning’s selection was Hocus Pocus by Focus, over and over (gah!), which he finds amusing for the yodeling and likes the crunchy guitar. OTOH, for some reason he was earlier on a Sheryl Crow kick, of the 5 or so rock-ish songs she put out.
You should have him listen to the Beatles. I was a big fan of the Beatles when I was his age. Most of their songs are good for children because they’re fun, have catchy melodies, and are educationally useful for understanding things like harmony and bass lines.
I’m purely an amateur, but I always advise people to start with acoustic: if your fingers get used to an acoustic you’ll be able to play an electric with ease, but if you start with the electric and want to switch, it’ll take some practice to toughen your fingers up.
Kid of a guitar player chiming in!! (No, I didn’t learn at age 9. Started bass at 11 though.)
I think having a musically inclined parent is a great benefit in teaching youngsters to play. There are a few advantages, one being the “I can do that too” mentality. It’s one thing to see a video (or even a live concert) and see a master making beautiful music. It’s quite another to see mom or dad (and, at age 9, they’ve probably figured out that you’re a human) making the music. So that’s one thing you’ve got going for you. Also, IME, if he’s been around and seen the way you treat your instrument(s) - with respect - he’s going to be much quicker to pick up on it. I remember far too many times when my friends would come over after school and start banging on dad’s Strat…NOT good times! Obviously YMMV, and you, being his parent, are the best judge of his readiness and ability to learn.
That said, I can only think of one real issue, and that relates to his hand strength. Being of the female persuasion, I never had much in the way of muscles, and I found it pretty difficult, when I first started, to be able to press hard enough on the strings to gt the right notes! I tried using thimbles on my fret hand, but that was just clunky and awkward (duh!!) Eventually I developed some calluses, which made it easier, but please keep in mind that he may get frustrated with it at first.
Best of luck to you and your son!! The world needs more musicians.
It’s not like it’s something potentially dangerous like a rifle or a motorbike. And it’s not like he HAS to practice ever single day so he can grow up to be the next Jimmy Hendrix or Eric Clapton. It’s ok if he just decides to dabble in it over the years. Just buy him a cheap one and see if he likes it.
I have always thought that the Baby Taylor was a good little guitar. Yamaha makes good starter acoustics so does Epiphone.
I stated learning to play when I was 11 and my hands were small. At that point in time Epiphone made a great guitar (which I still have and play regularly) that had an ever so slightly tapered neck, so the open chords were easier to grab with small hands. I don’t know the model number anymore but I know guitars of that sort are out there (and really, it’s a fantastically good guitar).
If you know of a good guitar shop in your area I would recomend heading over and trying some of them out yourself and then talking to a good salesperson (i.e. not a guitar center drone) who will be able to help you narrow your search.
I think MrSmith537 (and the rest of you) are probably right. I think I’ll go ahead and get him an instrument soon, probably a 3/4 size. He does get discouraged sometimes when he tries something new and is not immediately good at it, but hopefully I could jolly him along until he’s better and starts seeing some progress from practicing.
Le Ministre de l’au-delà, what kind of songs do you teach that don’t have chords? Just a simple melody of some sort? I’m not sure I understood the rest of your post re pivots and guides. I probably already do all that and don’t think about how it works, its been so long since I was a beginner, so I’m not sure how to break something down further than the level of chords.
ETA: the only local guitar store around here is Guitar Center, so I’ll probably reconnoiter there and ignore a lot of the advice.
I tried to teach myself guitar around age 14 (didn’t work out so well - I’m not musically inclined) but I remember getting tabs for stuff by Nirvana, Alkaline Trio, and other songs with only a few chords. Nirvana’s songs are very recognizable so it was fun when I was able to play a bit of it correctly. A lot of punk-ish bands also have very simple songs and often the bands might have only one guitarist, so if you know the song, when you play it, it sounds just like the recorded song pretty much. It’s also a good party trick to be able to play songs everyone knows (a friend in college played guitar, and at the frat houses would find an acoustic and play 90s rock and we’d have drunk sing alongs - obviously your son is waaaay too young for that now).
I’d try to seek out some stuff like early Weezer. Nirvana, Beatles, Ben Folds Five, and any really popular songs you can think of - if they’re easy enough for him to learn, maybe being able to play stuff that is “cool” or other people (his friends) recognize it would encourage him to keep trying to better his playing? Like “oh cool you can play that song?” etc. I can’t rec any particular songs because I’m at work and don’t have any of my music and have a bad memory. But I’ve always thought playing guitar is a very cool skill, and am still saddened I sucked at it so horribly.
Guitar Center carries the Baby Taylors for $299. You can’t go wrong there. They also carry Yamahas. Yamaha (as previously recommended) makes some great guitars — I don’t remember the model, but they did make one with a thinner neck that would be better for your son’s hands.
Here’s how I would do it:
(1) Look at the good brands — Taylor, Martin, Takamine, Gibson, Yamaha, Seagull, etc. Stay away from generic guitars.
(2) See which one sounds good when you hit an E chord (arbitrary, but I like the E chord). If it sounds like shit, don’t buy it. On an acoustic, you really want the guitar to sound good, resonate, and feel sweet when you play it. If your son doesn’t like playing it, he won’t practice.
(3) See which one your son likes out of the ones that pass the first two tests. Things for him to consider: comfort (most important), appearance, and coolness.
(4) Buy it.
(5) Sign him up for lessons. I never took them, but I always envied the kids that did. Why? They got better than I did really quickly. They learned things that I never got a foundation in (like soloing). And finally, where else do you meet your eventual band?
If he never plays it, oh well. You’re out 200-500 bucks. But if he plays it, you will not have paid nearly enough for the amount of enjoyment and fun he will have with that acoustic.
Yeah, I think you’re right there. I took lessons when I was a young teen, and it really seemed to make a huge difference for me. Especially vs the other kids I knew who just plinked around. At the time, I felt like I was serious about learning guitar, and they pretty much weren’t.
Yep, point taken.
I suppose one thing I could to try for him is make a play list of all the songs he’s been “playing” in GH II, and see if any of them could translate to acoustic play. There’s a list here, anyone have suggestions from that list? I’m familiar with all the “classic” ones, and most of the newer stuff, though not all by any means. These all seem “harder” than something you’d do on acoustic, but maybe I’m wrong.
I got interested in playing when I was 8, watching my older brother play.
So my Dad went to a local store (something like the 1981 version of Giant Tiger or something) and found a ukelele, which he tuned to D-G-B-E. That’s what I started on, until my brother got a new guitar, and I inherited his old one.
Squeegee: Okay, this is going to be too long, and I apologize in advance for anything I say that you already know.
First Steps is what I currently teach beginners from. Full disclosure - it is written by my current teacher. I used to teach from Frederick Noad , Julio Sagreras or Aaron Shearer, and still would if a student was already working through them. What I like about First Steps - it’s published in Tab and notation, so after the student knows all the pieces from learning them in tab, you can learn notation from something you already know how to play. The student starts off playing with all four standard fingers of the right hand in simple patterns that repeat throughout the piece. There’s a well written duet part for many of the pieces, and the student can play either first or second guitar fairly quickly. The noodly, new agey nature of the pieces makes it easy to encourage the students into improvisation and/or composition. And, all the pieces involve the use of guides, pivots and parallels right off the bat.
Now, I need to clarify two things - This would take about 10 minutes to explain in the studio with a guitar in each of our hands. Writing it down makes it harder to understand, in my opinion. Also, I don’t talk about guides, pivots and parallels to beginning students, I just talk about how ‘highly recommended’ the fingerings are. I try to allow them the discovery of how it all works. That being said, here’s a quick run-down.
A guide finger is any finger that stays on the same string but changes frets.
A parallel finger is any finger that changes strings but remains at the same fret.
A pivot finger is any finger that stays on the same string at the same fret.
So, consider the standard D chord and the standard E chord. If you’ve just learned them as two different grips, (or chord shapes, or chords, or whatever you want to call them.) you might succumb to the temptation to lift all three fingers and bring them down again in the next grip. However, if you slide your first finger from the second fret of the third string to the first fret of the third string and move your second finger from the second fret of the first string to the second fret of the fifth string, you have used a guide finger and a parallel, leaving only the third finger to have to lift off and sort itself from the third fret of the second string to the second fret of the fourth string.
I use a different fingering for the standard A Major grip: [First finger, second fret, third string], [second finger, second fret, fourth string], [third finger, second fret, second string]. This is easier for bunching up the three fingers at the second fret, and it means that when you change to D, you’ve got the first finger as a pivot, the second finger as a parallel and the third as a guide.
All this guide, pivot, parallel stuff is how you keep things smooth, efficient and ergonomic, and it’s common (despite different terminology for the same thing) to many different styles of guitar - classical, country, jazz, folk, rock. It’s one of the things I love about the instrument, that the same techniques apply across the board. Whether you call it a ligado descendente or a pull-off, it’s the same manoeuvre. Chet Atkins called pivots ‘anchors’, which is a pretty good word for them, too. I don’t care if you call them carrots, bedknobs and barfbags - they’re incredibly useful for learning how to navigate the complete fretboard easily.
Looking at the above, Lord, it’s a lot of electrons to explain something that’s pretty easy to just play.
Le Ministre de l’au-delà – thanks for the lengthy discussion. I’m far too tired right now to drink that all in, and will re-read your post over a cup of java in the morning. But I wanted to thank you for trying to put that down on electron-paper before heading to bed.