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I'm a self-taught amateur guitarist of about 10 years. Never had any formal lessons. Picked up what I could from books. When my nephew was 4, he saw my guitars and wanted to try them. He was quite interested and enjoyed making sounds on it. He ended up getting a Raptor 1/2 size kit as a gift that year. He played with it for months. I was impressed with his tenacity so loaned him an old zoom pedal. Changed his world. He taught himself a couple kids songs over the years (twinkle twinkle, etc) really seems to have a knack for it. He's 6 now, going on 7. His parents asked me where they could get him guitar lessons on the weekends. I checked a few local places but the weekend hours seem to be a deal killer.

I've checked a couple youtube videos (that's where I got the idea for the three string chords) and looked around the web but is there a better method? I sure as heck don't know enough about this frustrating instrument to be a teacher but want to keep this kid motivated. Any tips?

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    If the child speaks English, there's a wealth of tutorials and videos online. The question is whether a 6-year old will have the discipline to methodically practice each step long enough before moving on to the next topic, and whether he will not skip all the "boring" theory. Also, having a teacher or more experienced player correct your technique now and then is invaluable. Maybe you could follow an online course together? Or you take the course and then teach it to him? – Your Uncle Bob Jul 7 at 21:13
  • If he's in Britain, it's certainly worth a look at RGT. It's exam orientated, but there's no need to do the exams (although the majority of my students have). It takes one through learning the guitar in (obviously!) a graded way. – Tim Jul 8 at 4:37
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    With 10 yrs playing under your belt, if you have the patience (and every other attribute) to be a teacher, have a go yourself. It's often been said, and I believe it, that you learn a heck of a lot by teaching it, so you will improve at the same time - and probably understand some of the things you already can do. A couple of steps ahead of a kid isn't a lot to be... – Tim Jul 8 at 4:42
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    Kudos for your desire to encourage your Nephew and keep him motivated to learn the instrument. If he learns young and learns to play things he enjoys playing to keep him inspired to continue his lessons, he may enjoy playing music until he is an old man which will keep him young forever! – Rockin Cowboy Jul 9 at 16:10
  • Sifting through the videos is kind of daunting since I'm not sure the presenters are teaching the best techniques. Playing a D chord for instance - I taught myself to play it in a way that my fingers are all scrunched up. It never occurred to me that I could use a barre on the 2nd fret and my ring finger on the 3rd. Sooo much easier but my brain has never fully comitted to it. I always have a bit of a microsecond fumble with that chord. Hoping to save him some of that frustration. Then again, those aha" moments can be positive learning experiences in themselves. – Will T. Jul 10 at 11:16
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I think with younger children (below 13 or 14ish) it's important to keep clear and simple goals and discuss the goals openly with the student. Good small goals appropriate for a lesson are IMO things like:

  • Learn one new rhythm pattern
  • Learn one new chord
  • Learn one new song (using known chords and patterns)
  • Make that difficult chord easier to transition into/out of
  • ...

I would introduce only enough theory to support this focus on one useful new thing each time.

After enough repetition of the above basics, then introduce one new fun thing to do, or fixing one problem or difficulty.

  • Simple Pentatonic runs and improvising simple rock/blues solos while other player does the chords (trade back and forth)
  • Travis picking
  • Tuning to an open chord
  • Open tuning with a slide
  • Wah-wah
  • Fix that chord that always has a muted note
  • Identifying the root-third-fifths in chords
  • ...

Most important is to emphasize that it is play time. We are playing guitar. It should always be fun.

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    +1 if only for the last line. Brilliant. – Tim Jul 8 at 4:34
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    Ditto @Tim comment. The last line is worth a plus2 but I can only give you plus 1. The concept you outlined of taking things step by step and not overwhelming a young student is good as well. I don't think your intent was to dictate exactly what techniques to emphasize or introduce but you are providing an example. Not every student will care about learning to use a slide or wah-wha etc. but there you could substitute anything you wanted. – Rockin Cowboy Jul 9 at 15:49
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    Thanks for the tips! Great tips, especially keeping it fun. I've given him an Am scale on the 3rd fret to practice. Asked him to give it one try every night after he's played around a bit and then go back to playing around. – Will T. Jul 10 at 10:52
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I expect that eventually he'll want to take lessons from a real teacher, but I can recommend some things you might be able to show him that will help him be able to play lots of simple songs quite easily.

I started my son out by showing him the primary chords for the key of C, three chords in open position, C, F, & G. Then we worked up a song using those chords so he could get an idea of how chord progressions work.

Next, we moved on to the primary chords for the key of G. This meant only learning one new chord, D, since he'd already learned the C and G when he learned the chords for the key of C. Again, we learned another simple little song using the three chords we'd learned in G.

Once again we moved forward to learning the primary chords to the key of D, where he only had to learn one chord, A, because he'd already learned the D, and G from the previous lesson.

In case you haven't figured out what I was doing, I'll tell you. I started at the top of the circle of fifths, moving clockwise, showing him the primary chords for each key. After the first lesson, He only had to learn one new chord each lesson in order to learn the primary chords of each key, and after twelve lessons he also had a twelve song repertoire. That gave him a good head-start and by that time his callouses were well on their way to being in place and he could study painlessly with a teacher.

Another point I always like to make for beginners is to make sure the guitar is properly set up to minimize the difficulty in playing it. Nobody needs to be playing a poorly set up guitar.

I applaud the fact that you've taught yourself as much as you have, and I suggest you show him some of the tricks you used to teach yourself. Even with a good teacher he'll probably need to find answers the teacher doesn't cover in lessons.

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    Plus 1 for teaching chords in popular keys that allow the student to play a three chord song. I take the exact same approach when teaching beginners only I don't teach keys that are not commonly used guitar keys. For example, the key of B would involve too many Barre Chords. I introduce the capo which can allow a guitarist who knows the chords in C, G, A and D to play in the other Keys with the easier chord progressions. One other thing I do is to provide simple arrangements of songs that interest the student and allow them to learn at least three songs they enjoy playing before moving on. – Rockin Cowboy Jul 9 at 15:57
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    Bit harsh starting with C F and G! E, A and B7 are far, far kinder, and all in the same plane for his hand. I never understood why C needed to be so important. On piano, maybe, but certainly not on guitar. In fact, C and F would come at least around the 8th or 9th chord I teach. – Tim Jul 9 at 16:33
  • @Tim- Actually I agree with you. My answer was just a description of what I did to get my son started, but I didn't have the advice and additional perspectives of others available to me at that point in time. Still he picked it up quite handily and continues to be interested in learning more. He still comes to me for advice when he has musical questions even though I'm no longer his primary musical educator. He seems happy the way things turned out. – skinny peacock Jul 9 at 20:08
  • @Rockin Cowboy- The process I described can be taken as far as you might wish, but I like to think it's a good idea to have the ability to play the occasional less common chord when they show up in a song. I know some folks refer to a capo as a cheater, but I showed my son how to use one after his fourth or fifth lesson, along with the admonition not to become to heavily dependent on it's use. – skinny peacock Jul 9 at 20:26
  • Cheating or not, there are some keys that are very unfriendly to guitarist. Try transposing any chord arrangement to B Flat for example. So the capo is a wonderful thing for guitarist. I also use a capo to alter the chord set on certain cover songs just to be able to add fills and melody runs between chords that are more conducive to what you are trying to do. Perhaps the F chord set will not allow you to use as many open strings in a melody line inserted between two of the chords for example - but perhaps if you switch to the chords used in key of G using a capo, you can more easily add. – Rockin Cowboy Jul 20 at 18:49
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6 is pretty young to try and self learn from online videos, though not impossible I suppose.

I do teach kids, but in groups. The youngest private student I've had was 13 when he started and stuck with me for 3 years until a move separated us (this was in the 80s so no skype).

There are great kids books for learning guitar from Mel Bay and Hal Leonard, etc. But you really must get a real teacher to work with him. It is too easy to pick up or develop bad habits or misunderstand what you are seeing on a video. A video cannot critique what you are doing.

Motivation is a different story. Sometimes lessons can be turnoff but it's the right way to go. The teacher has to have a good rapport with kids, being able to get them to listen and follow proper instructions while having fun. This is a real talent. For many, the motivation comes in the form of learning a song, or to play something that they like to listen to. I do not know what a 6 yo listens to these days. I listened to KISS. It might be video game music, cartoon music, idk. But if you can identify something easy to play that they like, they will respond positively.

The upside of working with kids is that if they don't have a musical taste they will play what you give them no fuss. For my kids this usually starts with a few open string songs, you can play the roots for Wild Thing changes on open strings (and this covers most 60s style pop rock tunes, I IV V). Then a one string song, I like Smoke on the Water on the low E string. It can be done with one finger to start. Then try a few one finger chords on the top three strings, C, G, G7, etc can all be played on the top three strings with one finger and the open strings. Then a simple, strummed, chord melody using just these open chords. You can also try having them mute the strings with the left hand a strum different rhythms with the right hand (a simple Spanish dance rhythm, or Voodoo Child by Hendrix depending on complexity). Giving them something easy and melodic to play is the hook. Then you introduce something slightly harder and they will want to try harder.

Ultimately kids respond to music positively. We are all programed to like rhythm and simple melodies. So if you can introduce these in a way that is not frustrating they will want more. Not all kids have the same attention level or interest. It sounds like your nephew does so he may already be hooked. Basic books provide just the approach that I'm describing and a good teacher will understand how to use that information to push interested kids in the right direction.

  • What I agree with most is the chords on top 3 or 4 strings. A G chord can be played by fretting high e on third fret and strumming only the four skinniest strings. The challenge for a very young student is muting the bass strings. The most important thing in teaching a child is that they enjoy learning to play something that they like. Removing the bass strings might help if strumming only the top 3 or 4 proves too challenging in the beginning. After the child develops a passion for learning the guitar, they will be more receptive to learning the more difficult mechanics. – Rockin Cowboy Jul 9 at 16:06
  • I was surprised at how quickly young kids learned to aim for a string. I learned the following from another guitar teacher (I never learned it as a student), E-ddie A-te D-ynamite G-ood B-ye E-ddie. They like to pluck the string as many times as there are syllables in the word related to that string. I told them the phrase just to get them to recall the string names but they all wanted to "play" the phrase on the strings. After that getting them to play only the D string or only the top 3 strings was surprisingly easy (for many not all). – ggcg Jul 9 at 16:33
  • Perhaps kids learn that easier than adults. I am still perfecting my ability to hit the string I am aiming for LOL! Eat All Dead Good Bunnies on Easter! Now we only killed a rabbit.;-) Eddie Rabbitt survived (until 1998 anyway). – Rockin Cowboy Jul 9 at 20:16
  • Yeah, I thought that was a little violent. When I taught a group Every Good Boy Does Fine I have a group of 6-7 yo girls protest that Girls wasn't in the saying. They made up their own, Every Good Baby Deserves Fun. – ggcg Jul 9 at 21:40
  • @ggcg thanks for the insight. He listens to Satriani almost exclusively. Not quite KISS, but still some amazing guitar talent. – Will T. Jul 10 at 11:01
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What kind of music does he like? Show him things to play related to his taste.

I think at such a young age the point is about cultivating an interest and relationship with the instrument, to be excited about making music instead of listening passively.

I have a 10 year old son who started saxophone this school year just ended. When he was all crazy about the band Queen I showed in some Queen riffs. After watching the movie Rocky I showed him how to play the theme (well, just the beginning.) He taught himself a video game theme from YouTube videos. He was excited about those things, because that was where his interest was at those moments. When I made a play list of pop songs featuring saxophone his interest was pretty much zero! It wasn't where his head was. Too much of that might be coddling, but I don't worry about that, because he is in a very good music program at our school.

The point is try to reach a kid on their own terms.

Having said that you may not have time to be his teacher, and you mentioned weekend lessons aren't an option. No teacher seems like a big problem. If that really cannot be overcome, it seems like teaching him how to read tab might be the thing to do. If he is able to learn tab, he might be able to learn on his own from books and videos.

  • I totally agree with the idea of teaching a young aspiring musician to play songs that are interesting to them and will keep them motivated giving them a thirst to learn more. – Rockin Cowboy Jul 9 at 15:44
  • For me, as a kid, it would have been KISS, but maybe this kid like Bruno Mars, or who knows what? – Michael Curtis Jul 9 at 15:52
  • When my kids were that age (6-7) it would be the theme song from Sponge Bob or some Barney the Dinosaur song or maybe something from a Disney movie like The Lion King. Kiss seems a little advanced for a 6 YO ;-) I didn't want to rock and roll all night until I was a teenager. – Rockin Cowboy Jul 9 at 20:19
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    @MichaelCurtis - Satriani mostly. He can play "Wheels on the Bus" and "Old MacDonald" and a few other kids songs, but mostly walks around humming Crushing Day. So, he's got some terms but quite a high bar heh. – Will T. Jul 10 at 11:05

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