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My six year old has been taking guitar lessons in a small group of his age (3-4 kids, 5-7 year olds). The teacher is considered very good and is famous in my city. He has been working for many years with small children, and also himself is an accomplished musician.

Anyway he told me it's a good idea for me to buy my 6 year old son his first guitar. He suggested a full size (4/4) classical guitar of a good Spanish brand (around 300 euros new).

At the music store they told me, and also as I read on the internet, for such a small child smaller guitars are suggested, like 3/4 or even 2/4. However our teacher insists on a 4/4.

His reasoning is that he should learn the correct size from the beginning, and anyway more complicated notes that required bigger hands he will not play anyway the first years. When time comes for him to play chords that need bigger hands, then he will already have grown enough.

I've also seen another very little girl bring her 4/4 guitar to the lessons! Of course her mom carries it for her, but that's what she uses.

I'm trying to figure out what to do here... Any thoughts? Note that I would really like not to change the teacher, basically because my son likes him, and when starting out, the stress of going to a different teacher and seeing new faces might make him not want any lessons at all.

EDIT: Many people who answered here figured out that his teacher teaches classical guitar. Indeed, and his lessons are at a conservatory. I've seen him also accompany the kids on a piano and he teaches theory using coloring books.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Doktor Mayhem Nov 1 '18 at 18:03
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    Something to consider is that it would be considered quite strange for any child taking piano lessons to learn on anything besides full-sized keys, and they don't seem to be hindered. (The board might be shortened for price and space concerns, but there's no real analog there with a guitar.) – Matthew Read Nov 1 '18 at 21:04
  • I wonder if a smaller guitar would sound different and if this is partly the teacher's concern. – Chan-Ho Suh Nov 3 '18 at 19:43

11 Answers 11

61

I can answer this question from the kids point of view.

When I was 6 I also started guitar lessons in a group of 3, just like your son. The first lesson I arrived with a 2/4 sized guitar and my teacher also recommended a full sized 4/4 guitar for me. My parents got one for me and I learned for about 5 years with it.

At first we only played simple melodies and learned reading notes at the same time. This took quite a while and the size of the guitar was no hindrance there at all. After about 1 year we started with the first chords. The songs were picked carefully and only contained easy chords. These were chords without bar chords, as pressing down more than one string at the same time with one finger is quite hard, especially for small children. Also the chords were picked so they did not contain the low E string, as reaching that one is quite hard for little hands, too. After some while, we learned to combine chords and melodies and only after that we got to chords with the low E string and bar chords, as we could play them properly then.

In the whole time I never had the feeling, that the guitar was too big for me or that I couldn't play what my teacher expected me to do. She picked the songs well and made sure we were able to play them properly despite having a slightly too big guitar. After a while I knew the distances which I need to shift my fingers from one note or chord to another. I am pretty sure that learning that distances again would be pretty frustrating, as it interrupts learning new songs and returns you to learning the old ones all over.

With that in mind, I would recommend you to trust in the abilities of the teacher. Since he seems to teach kids for a while, I am sure he knows about the limits your son will have for a while and will look out to play songs only with notes and chords he can reach.

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    Gosh, a year before chords! I expect my students - of any age - to play at least 5 or 6 before the first month's gone! I wonder whether having a smaller guitar would mean fewer restrictions on repertoire, thus better progress. – Tim Oct 30 '18 at 14:58
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    My teacher focused on teaching classic guitar and not that much on chords. She had the opinion that learning to read notes and music sheets is critical and should be done as early as possible. I am glad she did that, as I can read and play them pretty well now. But yes, for a young me it seemed like forever until we got from children songs (that seemed pretty lame to me) to the "real songs" (i.e. the songs I heard in the radio). – Starguin Oct 30 '18 at 15:06
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    @Tim this might be difference between ages, but starting very slowly with young kids can have great advantages, since you can focus on the basics. I only played with my thumb and empty strings for weeks, then only thumb and a few notes on the left hand for months. I was 5. I went on to be a good guitarist in years, nontheless. It's obviously different for 10+ year old kids/adults. – Mafii Oct 30 '18 at 15:17
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    @Mafii it's not, for many of them. Adults tend to learn more slowly than children, both because their brains pick up information at a different rate and in different ways and because they tend to have too many other things on their mind. If you just want to jam along with the radio, learning a few chords and how to read tab is pretty much all you need. If you want to learn to really play, you need to learn reading music and what each note does, how they're positioned on the fretboard. It's the difference between a tourist phrasebook and a full blown language course. – jwenting Oct 31 '18 at 6:35
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    @Tim I didn't mind actually. But these probably weren't truly puerile, and my teacher played chords to it, IIRC. You know, kids of the age 5 or so can be very easily enthusiastic about small things – Mafii Oct 31 '18 at 8:56
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Interesting. Well, here you have a bit of a test between ego and technique, it seems.

First and foremost should be correct technique. The teacher’s approach might work for some kids, but a good teacher modifies instruction for each student to get the desired result. Playing on an instrument that’s too large could result in your son learning odd techniques to compensate for the size. He’ll then spend many years unlearning them as an adult.

Further, improper technique can yield hand / wrist / muscle problems later on in life, things that won’t bother your son for 30-40 years but will be exacerbated by a lifetime of imposer guitar playing.

We have a saying: you fit the instrument to the person, not the person to the instrument.

Multiple sizes are common for all string instruments (violin / cello / etc) and with brass, sometimes kids even learn entirely different instruments until they’re the proper size (tuba for example).

Using different instrument size in the music world is very common. Shoe-horning kids into adult size instruments is not.

If your son really is big enough for 4/4, have him sit with both and tell you which one he’s more comfortable with - you don’t want him learning in an instrument that makes him uncomfortable.

All the reputation in the world is meaningless if pointed in the wrong direction.

20

Seems like the teacher has a good reputation. That doesn't come easily. The argument that son will have grown big enough after a while sounds like he could make slow progress, or be stuck on basic pieces for a long while. It also depends on how big your son is. 6yr olds come in many different shapes and sizes. Also E300 seems like a lot for a beginner guitar.

From my experience, a small child wielding a big guitar can invoke the feeling that it's all too much, and he'll be put off by the physical struggle that a larger person wouldn't. Going out and spending that sort of money is a bit of a gamble either way. Personally, I'd go initially with teacher, after having a protracted heart to heart with him, buy a pre-loved guitar, or borrow one, full size, for 2 or 3 months, and suck it and see. If teacher is proved right, get a decent starter guitar, or at that point, get an appropriate sized one for son. Teacher may reserve the right not to include your son in lessons without the prescribed guitar, of course!

Good question - should get some answers from experienced teachers.

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    I think it’s at least as likely the child will not pursue guitar long enough to justify the investment in a new full size instrument. Even when I bought my first guitar as an adult who felt very committed to learning I didn’t drop €300 on it, so I completely agree about not spending that much at any size. – Todd Wilcox Oct 30 '18 at 19:47
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    300 Euro isn't a lot for a decent beginner's guitar, not in my experience. Sure you can get junk cheaper, but if you want something that sounds nice, plays decently well, and isn't going to frustrate you into giving up, you need to spend some money. – jwenting Oct 31 '18 at 6:36
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    @ToddWilcox my first guitar was a cheap clunker from one of those kits. The frustration trying to get any sound out of it that didn't hurt my ears left me to give up music for a decade. – jwenting Oct 31 '18 at 6:37
  • +1 for buying second hand. If you get a decent beginners instrument second hand, it will likely hold its value well. There are also likely to be a lot of second hand beginners instruments available. I'd recommend checking out reverb.com and facebook marketplace in addition to the usual suspects. – Guy G Oct 31 '18 at 9:54
  • @GuyG - it's always been my mantra. Not been let down yet, and bought some very nice instruments for very nice prices, and guaranteed to get at least my money back sometime! For a beginner, it makes more sense, provided someone who knows things can look over it. – Tim Oct 31 '18 at 15:39
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You could go either way with size. For example you'd be unlikely to find a "Full size" contra-bass these days, but many still play them. Most pro bass players play 3/4 - 7/8 size basses. My point is that a smaller guitar is not necessarily bad. I might recommend it to an adult who is shorter than average. On the other hand, as some have said, kids (and people in general) are adaptable.

One thing to consider is that as your child grows gradually (and continuously) they will slowly adapt in technique etc until they grow into the full size guitar. With a smaller instrument your child may out grow it without knowing it. Then they will have to adapt to the sudden change in size when you buy a new one. This is harder to get used to for many people. Look on line and you will see videos of tiny 3yo kids playing full size guitars.

A couple factors for you to consider are (1) how serious is your child (or how serious are you as a parent) in pursuing the guitar, (2) do you want to keep buying guitars every couple years as they grow, (3) and do you trust the advice of your locally famous teacher?

If this person is going to be teaching your child and they feel that a full size is the way to go it may be worth taking that advice. I recall starting on a full size violin at 4, and a full size classical at 5 or 6 and eventually grew in to them.

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    Even "full-sized" guitars vary in scale length and fretboard width. Some kinds of music are easier to play with a wide fretboard, and others are easier with a narrower fretboard. Even though I'm a good sized adult (about 1.8m or 6') and have some full-size guitars, I also really enjoy playing my 3/4-scale one. – supercat Oct 31 '18 at 16:17
  • True, the "guitar" is one of a family of several instruments, like the violin family. – ggcg Oct 31 '18 at 16:34
4

I find children are quite adaptable to adult situations, in this instance guitars. They see them as something to be played with at their age and excited and proud to have one of their own. Having a grown-up guitar is even better in their eyes and I've seen them proudly carry their own "too big guitar" to lessons. Mom's just there to pay the tab. At the age of six, I see no reason to have him become part of the orchestra yet, he's young and has plenty of time to grow into his instrument. I was fooling with my dad's guitar as a baby and started learning little things on it by three or four and it was a big bodied guild. I just adapted and had fun with it. I couldn't stand with it but I could sit and hold it and enjoy the whole experience. My love of music started with those kind of experiences. That's what I would focus on most if it were my child. As an afterthought I'd like to add, I think it's much more important to make sure whichever guitar you choose for him is properly set-up. It will make his practicing time much less painful on his fingers. Like many players, I learned the hard way, and new guitars are not necessarily set-up correctly.

2

This is difficult to answer without knowing your son's skills and the teacher's reasons behind that. I'm guessing he is studying classical guitar and/or music. Many partitures (specially on the beginner level) take into account the "age" of the student proposing different fingerings that may adapt to hands that are smaller.

For example where an adult may suffice with his ring finger to reach a certain note this partiture may suggest using the pinky instead.

As they pointed out maybe your kid has bigger hands than most. A 300 euro guitar for a beginner can be considered expensive by some, but you should also evaluate that he will use it for years (be positive and think that he won't drop the hobby!!) so it's an investment, and worst case it's also possible to sell it away or maybe give it away as a present.

He might be a great musician but that is no reason to take anything he says to the bank, if you still have doubts maybe you know someone with a guitar that can lend it to your kid, see how he adapts and how he feels with it.

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    Never heard of a 'heart' finger. Which one is it please? Maybe ring finger (love,marriage, etc). – Tim Oct 30 '18 at 15:01
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    you are right, my mistake. I used a false friend from Spanish, ring finger is called dedo "corazon" – ipop Oct 31 '18 at 8:26
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I'd recommend to follow the teacher's advise. I myself have played on a smaller than normal guitar before I bought a full size one, and I've never been able to fully adapt to the bigger size as my hands and fingers were used to the smaller size.

1

Assuming that 300 euro is way more than the money for an average birthday gift for your child: get a used one first, if your child is learning fine with it, upgrade it to a new one later if needed. If not, just sell it and get a smaller one.

I had problems reaching around the neck with my hand when I learned to play as a child and it contributed a lot to not having fun. I wasn't able to push down the strings the right way, so I made way more errors than needed. And maybe with the right choice of songs it could have been prevented, but the teacher did not notice that this was a big issue for me. In retrospect I guess, I had the feeling that no matter how much I tried, my playing would not improve, which was very frustrating for me. I guess if the rest (teacher, music, more practice) was better, the too big instrument would not have stopped me, but since everything else was not fun as well, I simply gave up.

Watch your child playing. If you notice that it looses interest, it may be just because of the wrong sized instrument and a child likely won't notice. Then ask, if it wants to try a smaller one. But if you trust the experience of the teacher, and from your text I assume you do, first try the full sized one.

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The first year of learning guitar is a crucial time for developing correct technique.

Your sons guitar teacher has his best interests at heart. Yes it will be a little difficult at first and maybe he'll need help carrying it to class. But by the time he's 8-9 he'll have grown enough so that it wont matter.

Don't spend 300 Euros on a 2/4 guitar that he'll want to replace by the time he's 8.

In fact don't spend 300 Euros on any guitar until your son shows that he will stick with guitar. I'd suggest spending around 150-200 on a secondhand guitar. There's absolutely nothing wrong with used guitars. I didn't buy a new guitar until I'd been playing for 8 years.

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I must say that I find that reasoning a bit strange.

What you are getting used to is not primarily the absolute size of the instrument. You're getting used to the relative size compared to you. I'm not saying that using a full size guitar is necessarily an extremely bad idea, but it WILL force you to change how your fingers move over time.

It is actually pretty equivalent to give an oversized instrument to a grown up person that has decided to learn to play, and then gradually give him smaller and smaller instruments. I'm pretty sure it would work if you pick the learning material carefully, but what's the point?

If your kid plays hockey, would you force the kid to use adultsized equipment to get used to it? Maybe not a fair comparison since that would be impossible, but I guess you see the point.

Another comparison illustrates my point a little bit better. When your kid learns to walk, would you insist that the kid make the steps as long as an adult steps? Afterall, the kid needs to get used to a step length of around one meter. Or does it make more sense that all the angles in the limbs stays the same, and the step length increases naturally when the limbs grow?

If you ask me, I think it sounds very weird to really insist on forcing a full sized instrument on a kid. If that's all that's available or all you can afford, that's fine. But I really cannot see any benefit at all.

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I think a 3/4 guitar is appropriate but the teacher should bring his 4/4 guitar along and let the student note the difference. For 300 pounds I would want Luthier training. There are tons of talented guitarists with free/paid lessons like justinguitar.com.

If you are worried about the stringed instrument's size I think an 8 stringed mandolin would be a great sized string instrument with same fundamentals although the chords will be different. But you should learn how chords are made from the given scale. Also consider an/a ukulele (4 nylon strings) is a small stringed like the erhu (2 strings).

I suggest TuxGuitar for Tablature and Guitar Tuna is a great phone app.

Can I suggest Rocksmith the game seems like it will be a great method of learning and the Playstation or Xbox can also be used for entertainment purposes.

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