So, my 13YO niece wants me to give her guitar lessons

My 13YO niece messaged me on Facebook. “I want guitar lessons for Christmas.”

She means (in context) that she wants me to teach her to play guitar. Not pay for professional lessons.

The problem is … I abandoned the guitar 20+ years ago, to devote myself to the bass guitar. Sure, I can still play guitar, but I’ve never considered myself to be more than “adequate” as a player (despite playing for, what, 34 years now?). I’m no lead player; when I was still playing guitar, I considered myself to be a rhythm guitarist, and that kind of led to my becoming a bass player.

My niece is also coming at the guitar from a completely different place, compared to how I got to the guitar, and then bass. I started out with piano lessons when I was a child, then took up the clarinet in the 5th grade (say, age 10 or so). Clarinet led to the saxophone, saxophone led to the bassoon (I dabbled in flute, but never got to spend time with an oboe). I spent my junior high school years learning to play every musical instrument I could get my hands on. I was focused on woodwinds, but learned how to play the trumpet. Needless to say, I already knew how to read music. I found the guitar completely by accident: I was digging in a bedroom closet at my paternal grandparent’s house, and found my aunt’s old guitar from the 1960s (this was in 1980). It was a cheap, piece-of-shit, Japanese-made guitar (from when “Made in Japan” still meant “Piece of shit”). But I was still in “learn everything” mode, so I tried to teach myself to play guitar on that POS. Shortly thereafter, I was playing that POS guitar in front of my other grandfather, who happened to be an alcoholic, who had just fallen off the wagon and was drunk as shit. He watched me playing that POS and said, “You can’t learn to play on that POS! Here, you can have my guitar!” At which point he handed me his 1968 Gibson acoustic. And I took it (hey, I was 14 at the time) and I still have that guitar. Holy shit, my guitar playing took off once I had that Gibson.

My point is that, my guitar-playing, and my subsequent bass-playing is all rooted in my entire musical experience. Before I ever picked up a guitar, I had already learned to read music, and I had played a wide variety of different musical styles, and all of that experience went into how I approached the guitar and bass.

My niece, OTOH, has only the guitar. My mom, her grandmother, has tried to teach her some piano and music-reading, but mom/grandma travels around the country and isn’t here in the same town like I am. My niece looks at me like I’m a guitar genius.

So I’ve promised my niece that I’ll teach her, to the best of my ability.

But, I spent some time with her this week, and she played her “original song” for me (she’s already had some guitar lessons from school, and knows a few chords). Yes, it was what you might expect from a 13-year-old. But it was an instrumental piece, that she played with her fingers (not a pick), and it was a one-note-at-a-time riff that was actually pretty cool.

And that made me tell her, “You might want to be a bass player.” (And honestly, she has the demeanor of a bass player) And I explained to her how there are 200 guitarists for every bass player, and if she played the bass she could be almost assured of a job in a band …

But then, as a bass player myself, I understand that there are times when you want to break out the guitar. So I want to teach her the guitar first, while encouraging any bass-playing tendencies that might be there. Because I believe that being a competent bassist requires an understanding of chords and how they work. So I want to teach her chords, and how to groove, and then maybe give her a bass.

No real question here, just inviting comments.

Paging WordMan!

Since you have no real question, I have no real answer. But I was thinking as I read your post that she might enjoy Rocksmith. Adds a video game element to learning an instrument and she can bounce around between bass, rhythm, and lead guitar as she sees fit. And it can be a good lesson tool when you aren’t around.

You can provide a good grounding, I think that’s enough. You can judge aptitude, tenacity, and such-like. Six months later, if she needs to know more, you take her to someone else, a friend in a band perhaps (female, if possible?).

Such is my advice, speaking as someone with no musical skills whatsoever.

You may suffer from the problem of knowing way too much about music to teach a beginner who knows little or nothing. Then again, maybe you’re gifted at explaining things from scratch, and this won’t be a problem. It’s hard to say.

I tried teaching my son guitar, and he was alternately intimidated by me or frustrated that I could demonstrate things he couldn’t do as easily as I could. In turn I had trouble thinking like a beginner because I’d been a beginner 30+ years ago and didn’t remember what that was like. We finally just found him a “real” guitar teacher and he seemed to do okay with that.

I’d grab a copy of Zen Guitar and check out Guitarhabits particularly the Steve Vai video. Both are about why you want to play.

I’m going to second getting her Rocksmith, and supplementing that with personal lessons. I’m not sure what those supplemental lessons would be, but you could get good advice for that at the Rocksmith forum, or on Reddit.

Start with buying her aMel Bay Chord book. Seems like that’s what almost everybody used. The thin one with just the basic chords.

She’ll be busy learning chords for a couple months. Just getting her fingers toughened up.

Then teach some basic strums. Youtube has a bunch of simple song lessons for the guitar. Look for the ones on Justin Guitar’s channel.

Beyond that, a structured course would be great. Justin Guitar has a free one. Jam Play is really good paid site. Jam Play has over 20 instructors teaching beginning and intermediate guitar courses.

Justin has some really good drills on chord changes. Pointing out the common finger that can be anchored and quick ways to move the other fingers. One of his early drills is D-E-A chords. keeping the first finger anchored. It helped me a lot after not playing for 15 years.

He teaches the A chord like this. First finger stays anchored (slides back a fret) going from D to E. Slide forward to go back to A. Saves a lot of time on beginning student’s chord transitions.

Kids have a big advantage. They learn so much faster. Their hands are more nimble. They progress a lot faster than adults.

oh, also give the beginner a break and put on light strings. 11’s Either Elixir Custom Lights or D’Addario Custom Lights.
Heavier strings have better tone but they really are rough on the fingers.

I’m a huge fan of the School of Rock program, because it gets kids in a band right from the start, playing music with other kids. It is a weekly 45 minute private lesson plus a weekly 3 hour band rehearsal. Its not cheap, $200 - $300 a month depending on location, but they have a scholarship program that some of my favorite kids benefit from.

I know she wants you to teach her, but it is an extraordinarily effective program, focused on getting them playing music they’ve heard. I shoot video of School of Rock performances, and just last weekend saw kids who have been playing for 3 months do a show playing the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and Neil Young’s “Rockin in the Free World”.

I am an absolutely terrible guitar player and I’ve been giving my 12 year old nephew guitar lessons for about 4 years.

Although I am terrible at getting music out of an instrument, I have a good understanding of music like you do. I focused on this early on- so many teachers who teach kids go the “this finger goes here and this finger goes here” route to have the kids playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” within the first week …but the kids don’t actually understand what’s happening musically, they just know “this finger goes here and this finger goes here”.

I figured I’d foster an understanding of music and encourage his love for it. I set him up with a good foundation. After that, I knew that if he was truly into it he’d go through his phase when he’d totally geek out on it and immerse himself in it.

I also figured he’d move on to better teachers once I got him started. This has happened too: for the past year and a half, he’s been studying at the Silverlake Conservatory of Music (the non-profit organization founded by Flea).

He and I still have our lessons because, and this is the part you should pay attention to, he likes me.
Your niece likes you and you have to realize how invaluable that is. Lessons with you will feel natural, comfortable, and fee of judgment. Teach her what you know. Encourage her love of music. If it’s something she ends up really getting into, she’ll branch out. Set her up with a good foundation and add to that foundation with your personal strengths (it sounds like you have many). I’ve started teaching my nephew songwriting because I am far better at writing songs than playing any instrument.

Make these lessons special time spent with someone she loves and admires- that might even be what she’s most looking forward to.

::yawns, stretches on a Sunday morning::

mmmmmyyyyyyeeeeaah? Sorry, just waking up :wink:

I hear you. They say they want to play, and you have to figure out: a) are they serious about applying themselves; b) do they have a musical bone in their body; and c) do you have an approach that can help them?

Have dealt with this with my son, my daughter, and dozens upon dozens of folks over the years.

Let’s see if I can tie some of my basic points together -

First - the basic mindset - talk with her and make it clear she understands a few basic points:

  1. Anything (reasonably affordable) that keeps you playing guitar is better. So if you like lessons, a deadline to learn a song (because deadlines help you), a red guitar, a guitar like X plays, or whatever - make the decision based on what will keep you playing. So - if a person does NOT want lessons, or WANTS to hold the pick with two fingers+ thumb instead of the proper 1 finger+thumb, or doesn’t want to do scales - let them for now. Let her come to that need.

  2. **The Groove comes first: ** Scales, chords, navigating the fingerboard, songs - DO NOT MATTER at first. Playing the Smoke on the Water groove on one string, or playing Muddy’s Hoochie Coochie Man riff, or the Peter Gunn theme, or Good Love. Get her playing one-string (or one note each on a few strings - oooo, progress!) and FEELING the groove. Make sure she makes her own crowd noises while she is doing this - it helps ;). Until she gets a feel for a groove, she won’t know why she is trying to learn chords or scales - the feel she will be looking to have when she uses them, too.

  3. Be okay with Practice - know that there is muscle memory involved. People get discouraged and think they have no musical talent when they really just don’t have enough practice in yet.

  4. Know that you spend 50% working on making the right sounds happen and 50% of your time keeping the other noises you DON’T want from happening - random strings, squeaks - argh! Own it and make sure she knows it’s okay that the other noises happen at first - they are as hard to control as the ones she wants to happen. IT’S OKAY - we all face this!

5)** USE A TUNER**! Every goddam time - a poorly tuned guitar is discouraging. And her fingers are going to mess up chords, stretching strings out of tune, etc. - Don’t make it worse with an out of tune guitar. The basics, people.

Within those rules, here are three basic exercises:

  1. Single Note grooves - see above. Show her the Peter Gunn theme on the Low E string (if the open e string = the 0 fret, then the riff is played by 0, 0, 2-0, 3-0, 5-4 - easy to find on YouTube). Also show her That’s What I Like About You by playing the open strings E, A, D D, A A. Play along with with the song. NOTE: She is playing each open string, AND THEN MUTING them by quickly laying her fret fingers on the open string to damp it. In effect, she is playing a simple bass line groove, and practicing some of my Rules - bopping the single note and controlling how long it sustains so that it fits in the groove and she is stopping the noise when she needs to.

  2. Dry strumming - lay her fret fingers across all the strings so they make no notes, only a cool, dry percussive strummy sound. Practice strumming - UP and DOWN - to set up a percussive, strum groove with NO music. I give my folks a stoopid word to remember like Booka-taka, Booka-taka - can they dry strum a rhythm like that? When they are by themselves, a stupid word helps them re-find the strum groove.

  3. Circular Chord Riffs - teach her chord forms for E, A, D and G. Show her That’s What I Like as a simple circular riff E, A, D, A. Or do it for La Bamba D, G, A, G. They always come back to the last chord ready to pick up the first chord and loop around again. This is the hardest of the three - and should come a bit AFTER she gets the single-note groove down and has done some dry strumming without her pick getting hung up.

Final two notes:

  • For the three practice routines I describe above: get in front of a TV with something on that she can watch with half-attention: a sports event, an old show or movie. Work on these exercises - only paying half attention. The goal is to build up muscle memory, NOT to sound perfect. Slop is more than fine - especially for the groove; missing the note is a LOT less important than sticking with the groove. Sitting in front of a TV, watching an old episode of South Park, dry strumming out a Booka-Taka groove - that’s what got my son started.

  • Have fun! If they want to play for 5 minutes - cool! Don’t overly structure their time. The only rule is that for anything fun that they do - e.g., finding the groove for Peter Gunn (they will enjoy it), they also need to do 1 practice thing - e.g., work on D to G transitions.

That’s all for now - she has to want this, so give her space. But these basics set up good habits and a good mindset that make it easier to keep going.

Hope this helps!

Wow, lots of great pointers there, WordMan!

Yikes! I’ve been holding the pick with two fingers+ thumb for 25 years and I never knew I wasn’t supposed to!

Whatever you do, don’t be this guy. :smiley:

My mom was a piano teacher, and never had much luck trying to teach me, but I did fine with other teachers. She learned that most piano teachers don’t teach their own kids — it just doesn’t often work very well, for whatever reason.

I’m a fan of School of Rock, but I’ve never heard of the program being available in my area. We’re in a rather “rural” agricultural town far from “big” cities.
Does Rocksmith require an electric guitar?

WordMan - great tips, thanks!

Some additional info:

My niece started taking lessons at her public school when she was 10 or so, but now I think she’s attending a private school (one of her multitude of grandfathers is paying her tuition), and it sounds like that school doesn’t offer guitar classes. So she’s been dinking around on the guitar for 3 years or so, but hasn’t had any instruction since changing schools.

I do think she needs a new guitar. The one she has is a classical guitar with nylon strings. It doesn’t stay in tune very well. I tune it for her every time I visit, and even I can’t keep it in tune! Though the problem might be the strings; she got the guitar from another grandfather (my stepfather), and I helped my mom pick it out when she wanted to buy him a guitar and I don’t remember it being so hard to tune when it was new. I’ve very little experience with nylon strings, so for all I know they’re simply too stretched/worn out to stay in tune. They might be the original strings that came with it! I also think that wide classical neck might be a bit too big for her hands. I’d be happy to pass my Gibson on to her if she’s serious, but that would leave me without a guitar and would make it kind of hard to teach. So in the meantime, I’ll try to encourage my sister to get her a better guitar that would also fit her better. My sister is not a musician at all, so probably doesn’t appreciate the difference that a better instrument would make.

My niece likes older rock & roll (big Queen fan), but as far as current music, she seems interested more in guitarless electronica - she played some of it for me and it was totally unfamiliar and I didn’t recognize any of the artists’ names. But fortunately, I grew up on that older rock, so I can definitely help with that. And point her at some good, current rock acts.

Probably not. They tend to be either in big cities or in bedroom communities to those big cities.

If she is into rock, a nylon-stringed guitar isn’t going to support that kind of strumminess.

bienville - yeah, if you have a single contact point between finger and thumb, you can flicker up and down faster. What’s interesting is that someone like Eddie Van Halen also started off using two fingers, but ended up dropping his index finger and holding the pick between middle finger and thumb.

There’s no wrong way to play guitar…

I post my distilled 35+ years of guitar experience into a few thoughts, and your poor thread sank like a stone. O, cruel Internet! :wink:

Seriously, hope you got what you needed Mister Rik. I hope she sticks with it!

I did, thanks :slight_smile:

Rocksmith does require an electric guitar. It also has a downloadable pack of 5 Queen songs but you would need the original Rocksmith in order to download them. This could be considered a bit of a drag because Rocksmith 2014 offers a much nicer interface but they are frequently on sale (both on sale now through Steam at least in Canada).

I’ve been goofing around on Rocksmith for about 8 months or so and have gone from can’t play a lick to being able to get the rhythm portion of 11 or 12 songs within 95 to 98% accuracy. The chord changes are coming easier and I’m picking up new songs faster than when I started. It is not a replacement for a live teacher but playing all good with the track and seeing your progress makes practising more fun.