My first guitar student was 8 years old and I still remember those early lessons with her, when progress seemed slow, and I wasn't sure whether she was actually having fun. I'm happy to report now she's in college and plays 3 additional instruments, and music has remained a huge part of her life! Those early, slow-moving lessons worked and helped laid a strong foundation for music - because she was the one who wanted to take lessons to begin with.
How Young is Too Young?
Over the years I've had many parents of preschool-age children approach me for music lessons. At first, I was hesitant to take on such young students, but I also know many schools no longer offer music programs, and I feel it's important to ensure students have access to music education. Thankfully, I've found a variety of resources to help make learning music more accessible to younger students.
Piano - Age 3+
I will generally begin teaching piano lessons as young as age 3. That said, not every three-year-old is ready for private music lessons. Not even every eight-year-old is! Anyone younger than 3 can definitely learn music, but would be better served in a group music class. For private lessons to be effective at age three (or any age), here are some clues your child may be ready:
- Knows right hand from left hand
- Can count (ideally to 10)
- Knows the alphabet (or at least the first half)
- Has some experience in a classroom (preschool etc)
It's not necessary that a student know how to read before starting music lessons, but it is certainly helpful as so much of music involves reading. Parental involvement is ABSOLUTELY KEY at this age. Preschoolers need to have a parent sit with them to practice and help reinforce musical concepts throughout the week. Even if you have no musical background, early ideas are easy for parents to grasp and encourage ("Play two black keys with these two fingers" is an example). Practice should be short, but consistent - daily if possible. Including musical workbooks, coloring books, and games in practice time is also very beneficial as children will recall the words and concepts even if they are not playing. Progress will be very slow - the important takeaway here is that children truly grasp the musical concepts, no matter how long it takes. By the time they're 6 or so, they'll be well ahead of "typical" beginner age students.
Guitar - Age 6+
The youngest age I teach for guitar is age 6. It's definitely possible to start learning piano and then transition to guitar later, but trying to start a 3 or 4 year old out with the guitar is usually ineffective. Here are some basic requirements for guitar lessons:
- Knows right hand from left hand
- Can count at least to 12
- Knows the alphabet
- Can read
- Has finger/hand dexterity and strength (from using a pencil to write, for example, or tying own shoelaces)
- Physically large enough to hold a guitar (half size guitars are perfectly acceptable for smaller students)
- Has some experience in a classroom
Guitar is a more abstract instrument than the piano since the notes are not simply laid out in a pattern, but played on different frets and strings. Piano is very visual and helps music make sense, whereas guitar can seem way too difficult to find notes in the beginning. Guitar also requires individual finger strength and dexterity to press down on the strings in the correct position. Each hand is in a different place (one fretting notes, one strumming) which can also be challenging for very young students. Early progress on the guitar can be quite slow with young learners. I usually say it takes about 2 months of lessons for guitar to be fun, but with very young students, we could be looking at 4+ months, which is often simply too long and slow for children. It's important to be realistic about what each child is ready to learn, and it's okay to take a break or switch instruments in order for music to be enjoyable.
I Think We're Ready, But I'm Not Sure
If you're not sure if your child is ready, contact me to set up a time to meet. Most children are enthusiastic about music, and for the most part, we are able to start on piano when they begin showing interest. When we meet, I will definitely let you know if it seems your child is ready to begin lessons. I will also keep you in the loop as we continue. I would much rather have a student take a break and come back to music lessons when they are truly ready than get frustrated because we started lessons too soon and it was too much to learn.