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My son is 5 and has asked for a guitar and keyboard which we've bought but I'm not sure whether to enrol him in lessons straight away or let him 'play' with them to gain an interest!?

My husband and I know nothing about playing any type of instrument but wish we had been more involved. What would your advice be? Also he's left handed so we've bought a left handed guitar (I thought that was an April fool the first time I heard it). Will this hinder him in any way and/or is there anything I need to be aware of regarding this?

  • Does your son use a pick or his fingers? Hope your son can handle calluses at any rate. (Calluses probably shouldn't develop in the pick-holding hand, though.) – Dekkadeci Nov 20 '18 at 1:02
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    Lessons straight away. Most teachers offer free trial lessons. If he can’t decide right then, have him pick one and do six months. At the end of the six months he can change if he’d like. He’ll need musical guidance to develop and maintain an interest in the instrument until he can do enough on his own to learn his own songs. Only thing to watch out for is that left handed guitars are usually more expensive and there is less variety. – jjmusicnotes Nov 20 '18 at 1:37
  • @Dekkadeci - what's the big thing with callouses? I've played (guitar/bass) for several decades, most days, and only had callouses from my first guitar, action awful. Well set-up instruments, played properly, shouldn't cause them. – Tim Nov 20 '18 at 8:42
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    Please, please don't give him a left handed guitar. It's not harder to learn normal, just different. It's not limiting him. The left handed guitar however will - he will not be able to play any guitars - except the left handed ones. – Mafii Nov 20 '18 at 15:02
  • "Well set up instruments shouldn't cause them". This is simply not true. Please let us know your make/model/string gauge/etc. I have played for 40years + all types and the calluses are my best friend. Every player I know from bottom to top nurtures their calluses. – ggcg Nov 20 '18 at 15:14
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The first thing to do is let him hold the guitar any way he likes. he has a 50:50 on this one! My take is that the guitar was better suited to lefties as it was originally, for several reasons explained in previous posts.

Then take him along to a teacher. (Someone like myself who teaches guitar and keys!) Try out a few lessons - with guidance from the experienced teacher on l.h./r,h. playing, on both guitar and keys.

Soon, a preference will surface, so go with that. Unless he is inherently musical - maybe his grandparents had that gene - just letting him mess about won't be particularly fruitful.

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    I personally am left handed and could not be happier about the choice my teacher made, trying out a normal guitar and seeing how it goes. I actually feel like I have an advantage in my left hand, not a disadvantage in my right one. – Mafii Nov 20 '18 at 15:04
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When my kids were at this age I tuned their guitar to either open D or open G tuning. That way at least a chord was produced when they played around with it. Neither one took up an interest with guitar, but now they play sax and trumpet in school.

  • So, they could play only one chord ! Maybe that's why they didn't pursue it? – Tim Nov 20 '18 at 8:44
  • I don't think your comment is implied by the above answer. It helps to set a child up for success early. Open string tuning means that the child will hear something musical (harmonious) right away with little effort. I don't think Michael's approach turned the kids off to the guitar. – ggcg Nov 20 '18 at 13:14
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    More than one chord can be played on alternate tuning. Anyway, I showed them how they could use a slide on it too. But, I agree with @Tim's answer - especially the last sentence - I think many need the structure and guidance of lessons. Most won't just get it by fooling around with an instrument. I just isn't that easy. – Michael Curtis Nov 20 '18 at 13:50
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I would take him to a professional instructor right away. There is really no reason to wait. As for letting him play for a while then take lessons? That could back fire. With no experience your son has no reason to prefer holding the guitar one way over another so why not let an expert teach him? He will be just as likely to enjoy that as just playing with it on his own and he will not develop poor habits that a teacher will need to correct. Along these lines I would look for a teacher with experience teaching children. It's been my experience that kids really enjoy learning from someone (as long as that person knows how to communicate with kids). Being able to imitate the instructor builds confidence really fast. Short, simple, digestible exercises each week lead to progress and usually enjoyment of the instrument. You just need to find a teacher with patience and the ability to manage kids in terms of time and other factors (short attention span, need to talk about what they are doing etc). A teacher used to dealing with adults may not be able to communicate effectively with kids.

As for left handed, I think the same applies. Namely that with no experience anything feels just as comfortable or uncomfortable. Left handed people can learn right handed guitar. But now that you have a lefty just make sure the teacher known that. You may have to take his guitar to lessons as the teacher may not have a lefty in their studio.

  • And the teacher may prefer (as I do) to teach him right-handed, for many good reasons. I have taught lefties, and that's not the problem. I still have this feeling that actually, for most guitar playing, the dominant hand (fingers more so) is better on the fretboard. – Tim Nov 20 '18 at 14:38
  • How are you defining rt vs left handed? I always thought that fretting with the left hand was right handed guitar playing. I may have that backwards. But it is constant with the statement that with no prior experience and prejudice you can teach a noobie either way. Do you have any evidence other than "feeling" that right hand on the finger board is better? Other than Mike Batio I don't see any ambidextrous player who can do the same thing both ways. Hendrix may be an odd man out. Great rock player, great composer, but not displaying shredder chops. I'm open to the evidence. – ggcg Nov 20 '18 at 15:11
  • What I tried to say was that if one is a leftie, the left hand (fingers) are more capable, at least initially, of being more in control, therefore a leftie playing a r.h. guitar should be a more natural way. Left hand on the neck. And being a shredder doesn't necessarily mean being a great player!! – Tim Nov 20 '18 at 15:33
  • I got you. As for the shredder comment. I'm not saying that you need to shred to be great. But no one should be restricted in what they can accomplish because of past choices. That is an issue in my mind. I cannot find example of lefty's who have demonstrated that accomplishment so it concerns me. I am not sure I buy the argument that a left handed person is more apt to control their left fingers. Writing and drawing, for example, do not require the fine motor skill guitar does. Hence, either way is going to feel weird at first, regardless of which hand is dominant. jmo – ggcg Nov 20 '18 at 16:40
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Playing guitar left handed has its cons like not many people play left handed so if you want to borrow a guitar it will be hard to find one. Finding a guitar at a store is tough too. At 5 years old he may be able to adjust as a right handed player. I would recommend playing keys first. My guitar students were much better when they had experience playing keys then going to guitar.

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