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On Teaching Children

Music is a gift. A gift for all ages and all cultures. It’s not for adults only, but children as well.

You might ask, “Why should I bother teaching children classical guitar?” There are many reasons. One that comes to mind immediately is that children who study music and classical guitar are the future core audience for classical guitar concerts. In addition, a good music education broadens a young person’s interests. We have the opportunity to encourage a young person to grow in depth and sensitivity.

Besides children love playing the guitar the world over. Why not introduce classical guitar instruction in addition to folk and popular guitar to your teaching program for children?

From past experience I’ve found that initially many kids sign up with me thinking that we’re going to learn the latest pop song and just strum and yodel a few I IV and V chords . And that’s all right. Most children have no idea what classical guitar is let alone why learning about classical music is such a joy.

However, with lots of patience and a sincere interest in each child’s welfare, you, the teacher, can stimulate a child’s interest in playing classical guitar and discovering the beauty and magic in music.

Please note though that it is very important that the classical guitar teacher has an excellent musical background, fine technique and must develop a real love for teaching children. Then this teaching program can succeed.

Working with Parents

How on earth do you get a parent or both parents seriously involved with their child’s musical progress? How do you get a real commitment and interest in their child’s practicing at home? Answer: It takes imagination and enthusiasm.

Most parents these days are so fragmented and so busy with multi-tasking that they don’t have the time or patience to talk with you as their child’s teacher, let alone time to practice with their child. Of course they want their child to take guitar lessons. However, they don’t want to be involved during lesson time or at home with practicing or musical progress. In reality they just want to drop their child off at the lesson and then be off to the next errand or appointment

So what is the answer to this problem? A few practical suggestions:

  • First of all insist over the phone that the parent attend the first two lessons in order to see you teach. This gives the parent a definite idea of what it is you do during lesson time. This is especially important for parents who have never had music lessons themselves as children.
  • Suggest to the parents that they set a regular time at home for their child’s practice and mean it. That is, no baseball or soccer practice until he has practiced for his 30 minutes first!
  • In my own teaching practice I always hand out a Practice Sheet. Each of the seven days of the week is listed in a separate column. The student is required to fill in the amount of time he practices each day. If the child is still not old enough to tell time, I suggest that he mark the day’s practice with a check. He brings this sheet to each lesson.
  • Incidentally, I hand out this Practice Sheet in a folder to the parent at the first lesson, along with a flyer from my Michelson Studio stating my teaching goals, when payment is due (4 lessons in advance) a business card, and a friendly welcoming smile. Since the Practice Sheet is in a folder there are fewer chances for it to be lost! Be firm but fair. Both the student and their parents will get the idea that you do mean business, and that you are a serious teacher and that you expect responsible behavior and a positive attitude toward practice and payment.
  • Now back to practice time itself. For older students I expect a practice time of about 30 minutes for five days out of seven. For younger ones I start off with 15 minutes four days a week. It takes quite awhile for young students to learn to concentrate and to be regular in their practice time. Try to establish good practice habits right from the beginning of lessons. Be patient.
  • I always suggest to the parent, right at the very first lesson, that the family should have a “Home Concert” at least once a week. Treat this seriously. Suggest to the parents that they meet in the living room after dinner and ask their child to perform. Even though he may only be able to play the first two or three measures of a piece, it will show his family what is being done in lessons and practice. In this way the parents are involved in their child’s music making. The young student feels good about the support he is receiving from his family and what he is doing at practice time.
  • Another way to involve the parent is to make a friendly phone call a few weeks after the semester begins and Johnny has had a few lessons. Mention to the parent that their child will be in a Workshop in several weeks and that you expect the parent to attend giving time, date and place.
  • If giving a Workshop is too hard to fit into your busy schedule as a teacher then mention that the Annual Winter Recital or the upcoming Spring Recital will be held at such a time and place.
  • Parents do worry about how their own child will perform in a public place so they sit up and take notice. Parents usually show much more interest and involvement with their child’s practice and Home Concert after such a phone call. Naturally they want their child to be a success especially performing before family, friends and neighbors.
  • I usually print up an attractive flyer about the upcoming Recital or Workshop a month before the performance. The student takes this home and it usually appears on the family kitchen refrigerator for everyone to see and to remember!
  • Create a monthly Newsletter and give special mention to those students who have outstanding practice records. Also mention which students will appear in the next Workshop or Recital. Parents love to see their child’s name in print and will probably be more cooperative and involved in their child’s music lessons as a result of your Newsletter.
  • Ask the parent, with either a phone call or a note home to buy a CD of an outstanding classical guitarist playing either Spanish music or romantic music. Something that is easy listening! Easy to digest. Have your parent write down the name of the artist and the CD. Don’t forget we, as teachers are trying to educate our parents as well as our students about music and classical guitar. Have the student listen at home or in the car. Ask the student during his/her lesson time which piece he liked best. Be kind and interested.
  • Kids know when you like them and respect them. Just because the child may be only 5 or 7 years old he certainly has ideas and opinions. Listen to him carefully and thoughtfully.
  • In addition to a CD you might suggest watching an outstanding performer playing a beautiful classical guitar piece on youtube or another video service.
  • Teaching Materials: Recommended books and Websites

    The following Websites and books might interest you and will help keep your parents and students involved in their music and lessons.

    Please have understanding and patience with both your students and their parents. Show enthusiasm for the student and his parents and you’ll succeed. Good Luck!

2 Responses leave one →
  1. 2010 March 4

    Hi Sonia,

    Great post, I wanted to ask you a question. I am trying to learn to guitar, is it true when people say it is wise to learn in an acoustic as it makes you a versatile player and you will be able to play bass, electric and classical guitars with ease?

    Kind regards,

    Saurav

  2. 2010 March 6

    Hello Saurav,

    Glad to hear that you liked my post “On Teaching Children”
    I have a question or two for you: What kind of music to you want to play on guitar? Clasical, pop or both?
    Do you have a good teacher?
    My recommendation: start with a good classical or folk guitar with nylon strings. Develop a solid technique and musicianship and you can become a versatile player.

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