About me: I'm an intermediate guitar player whose preferred style is extreme metal. I've never given lessons before. I only read tabs but I have a basic understanding of music theory.

About the student: She's 10 years old. I got her a guitar and told her I would teach her to play, so it's a journey for both of us! She mostly listens to pop/country and some classic rock.

What we've done so far: We about 6 lessons in. I've taught some basics as far as what notes, octaves, chords, etc are. We've mostly worked on four chords (Em, C, D, G) and a short melodic bit (The first part of this).

The problem: She's able to play the chords if I walk through the finger positions with her, but the notes don't ring nicely. She can play the melodic bit, but slowly and not in time. I've stressed to her the importance of practice, and she does practice but she doesn't have much time. Our practices have become me going over the same things with her for the last few weeks, with tiny steps of improvement. It's hard for her to press notes (Understandably, so I keep stressing how much easier it gets once she build calluses)

The question: Is there anything I could be doing better to instruct her? How can I keep her excited to learn? Will she just be stunted if she doesn't have time to practice? (Bonus question: What should I teach next?)

I've basically instructed her in the ways that I learned to play. For example, once I learned the first part of the song I linked, I sat and played it for hours while watching TV, talking to people, etc. I've instructed her to try doing the same thing. I had a hard time getting technical ability down when I started, so I wonder if this was a good approach?

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    I hope someone has a great answer to this but I'm skeptical. I have yet to find anything that can replace practice for any of my students. The flip side is one student I had would literally sleep with his guitar cradled in his arms. His mom complained he wouldn't do anything but play guitar all day long. She had to take it away or else he wouldn't do his homework. He learned more in two years than I learned in ten. Feb 18, 2016 at 21:13
  • What kind of guitar? Steel string acoustics are notoriously difficult for kids to play; If that's what you're using, consider a nylon string acoustic, or an electric guitar. Chords should be easier to fret.
    – Ryan Kinal
    Feb 19, 2016 at 2:03
  • The problem with nylon is the much wider neck. I always found steelstrings easier to for chord shapes on; however I never tried a small-format nylon, which would probably be best for a 10 year old. Feb 19, 2016 at 10:38
  • Not an answer as it doesn't address the actual question, which is about guitars, but if you really think she is getting disheartened, here's a list of reasons why it might be worthwhile her having a ukulele as well until her fingers get a bit stronger. The answer is targeted for a younger child, but I think still mostly relevant: music.stackexchange.com/a/39851/18292 Feb 19, 2016 at 10:57
  • P.S. If you do do that, I strongly suggest you use the transposing technique and use the guitar names for the chord shapes. Feb 19, 2016 at 10:59

6 Answers 6


Some ideas which may help her play and practice:

  • If she's not a larger than average ten-year-old, then I hope she has a smaller than normal guitar. If not, then a smaller size guitar may make it easier for her to learn and play.
  • Electric guitars are usually strung with lighter strings and are easier to get started on, as long as she likes the sound.
  • Let her pick the music she wants to learn. Or let her come up with ideas and start her on the simplest of her favorite songs. Learning music she loves will hopefully be a good motivator. If you learn to play her favorite songs, she'll have a deeper connection and respect with you and it might be more inspirational to her.
  • Working on melody lines on the high E string can help her feel like she's making music that she loves without being overly difficult.
  • Likewise, teaching the power chord versions of chords at the beginning can help provide an easy path to making actual music early on.

She probably likes some music that might be very simple. Taylor Swift songs (for example) can be done with just a few chords and playing a single chord with a fun rhythm can really get younger kids excited about music over trying to do all the changes to "Hey Jude".

She might be into "Let It Go" from Frozen, which of course will be more complicated. You can try transposing it to an easier key and just teaching the chorus. Be aware that simplified and transposed versions can be less satisfying for students who I think are more musically perceptive (just in an untrained way) than we might think.

Finally, it is a sad truth that guitar is not everyone's favorite instrument. It was the third instrument I learned but when I finally found it, I knew it was what I should have been learning all along. I believe music is for everyone but I also believe that everyone has their own way to make music that speaks to them the most. Understanding what she likes to listen to may be a good clue for what she would be most motivated to practice.

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    +1 For Let her pick the music she wants to learn. I picked up learning guitar on my own at 14, after several years of failed childhood attempts by my parents for me to learn from a tutor. The difference: I was more motivated to learn the songs that I liked! Feb 19, 2016 at 2:02
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    Excellent answer Todd. I would have said many of the same things. I like to teach simple versions of songs the student wants to play. I have not found a student yet who wanted to play The Saint's Go Marching In. I might introduce the capo early in the process as well to help with transposing songs to easier to play chord sets. Feb 19, 2016 at 5:27
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    Yes, let her pick the music. She needs to have pieces to practice that make her want to practice. Get her to bring you music that she wants to learn to play and teach her to play that music. Feb 19, 2016 at 11:50
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    It's funny, I had a brief, friendly argument once with another teacher on the topic of repertoire. He said, "we have to teach them taste!" And I was mildly horrified. Who can say they have better taste than anyone else? Well, everyone, I guess, but clearly that's not true. Feb 19, 2016 at 12:02
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    As an aside, a small scale-length guitar for children, when tuned to concert pitch, has a lot less string tension than a full length, so if you go that route, you don't necessarily have to go to a very light string gauge. (E.g. if the low open E is achieved using the same string length as a G note on a regular guitar, then it's like being effectively detuned down by a full minor third.) So if you're thinking .009 to .042, maybe .010 to .046 is fine.
    – Kaz
    Feb 19, 2016 at 22:53

In terms getting the notes to ring, I hope she is using an electric guitar that is an appropriate size for her.

In terms of playing in time, I hope she is playing with a drum track, not a metronome.

In terms of teaching, I would first teach her power chords and the first blues (pentatonic minor) scale and then teach her how to approximate the songs she wants to play with those tools in the hope that she'll start getting excited about playing the guitar and practice.

But honestly, if she's not practicing with full attention, she's not going to get anywhere. But she can get surprisingly far with relatively little practice if she concentrates. See the following video for an example of what 20 hours of practice on an instrument can do.

  • It is 10000 hours to be an expert, not to learn something new, strangely as the speaker in the video said. I don't think it every became 10000 hours to learn something(but I am going off track).
    – atw
    Feb 20, 2016 at 15:46

C G and D are too different in hand and finger positions to work well for a raw beginner. Try E, A and B7. They all are very close finger wise, and the arm and hand angles are similar. So changes are much simpler. Then find half a dozen songs that use only these. Not difficult - and not difficult to play. She obviously has a very different drive from you, so you can't try to take the same pat that worked for you.

  • I disagree. If you play the G with pinkie on first string, it's an easy transition from G to C and I think D is one of the easiest chords to play. I think B7 is one of the more difficult chords to play - at least it was for me. I used to avoid learning any song that required a B7 because I could not play it. Every person is different. But G, C, D and Em are the exact first four chords I teach new students. Then they can play thousands of songs. And if the student likes country, all she needs is G, C and D because I am told all country songs are just G, C and D -lol. That's a joke. Feb 19, 2016 at 5:34
  • And after watching the video in the answer by user "empty" - I see that the speaker makes a very strong case for G, C D and Em as the chords a beginner should learn. Feb 19, 2016 at 6:02
  • @RockinCowboy - agreed that E A and B7 leave out the opportunity for a simple relative minor, although a sort of C#m is E with 2nd string, 2nd fret. Aren't ALL Country songs in G?? Both the ones I know are!!
    – Tim
    Feb 19, 2016 at 6:26
  • The standard joke is if it's country - the chords are G C and D - in the key of G. It is true that more country songs are either in G or played with the G chord set (with a capo) than in any other key from my experience. That's cool by me because the key of G is right in my wheelhouse as a vocalist. Most of the country songs I have written are in G. Feb 19, 2016 at 18:13
  • @RockinCowboy - it's the voicing. There's nothing like the ring of an open G shape. What I don't understand is that one key is suitable for one vocalist. Since songs can go up to G or down to G means that the tessitura for two songs in G could be very different. Maybe the songs you write take this into account. In fact, they must do, for you to sing them.
    – Tim
    Feb 19, 2016 at 18:20

Get some colored star stickers or colored circle stickers and put them on the fretboard to show where chords "live" in common-tuning.

Then you can teach her a few chords and have her practice switching among them on her own time.

I did this for a friend recently and she said it was very satisfying, since she could clearly see where the chords she wanted to play were and it would definitely make a harmonious sound.


Just start with power chords and show her a few songs (the 80/20 learning principal, à la Tim Ferriss). Once someone can play a song start to finish, their enjoyment goes up immensely, and power chords is the quickest way to do that. Then build up to barre chords from there gradually. Teach that all open chords are just the easiest positions of each of the barre chords (and from there the CAGED system)... This will promote a better understanding of how to play guitar and the music theory as it relates in the long run - starting with open chords doesn't do that :)


If she is having trouble getting the chords to ring, try having her adjust where on the guitar she is strumming and try having her learn chords that don't involve several fingers in a close area.

Depending on her level of dexterity, I would recommend a G with a muted 5th string (using the ring and pinky fingers). You should also stress the importance of having the fingers curled and of fretting strings with the right part of the finger. I would additionally recommend asking her some of her favorite songs and trying to teach them to her using simplified chords. Nothing motivated me more when I was starting than when I thought "This is going to sound so cool when I'm done." Youtube videos can also make good references for outside of her lessons.

On the matter of calluses, it's important that she play for as long as she can every day; without taking it to any extremes (If it hurts to fret anything, stop). Checking the action of her guitar could also help. I would definitely leave any of the more difficult barre chords out of the picture until she improves.


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