Thursday, November 06, 2008

a new tack

I really want to get away from politics for a while... as important as it is, it is not my primary interest in putting this blog up.

I have a few guitar students and it is always thrilling to get one who really loves the instrument and seems to have a connection. I have gotten a new student who will be a very interesting experience. Of all of the students I have had, he is most captivated by the instrument. If desire alone was all it took, he would play like (insert your favorite guitar virtuoso here) already.

So here's the issue... Ethan is 4. That presents a number of problems. First is the size of the instrument. A normal guitar is bigger than he is. Fortunately there are some very good travel guitars available these days at a variety of price points. A reasonable instrument is critical for a beginner and the "musical instrument shaped objects" that are widely available are an almost sure way to discourage any student. His parents got him a Baby Taylor which should work well and will be a great travel guitar for him years from now.

The second issue is a more difficult one. Playing a musical instrument is a muscular thing and requires lots of fine muscle control - something 4 year olds do not have. Plus it requires a degree of strength to press down strings. I don't know whether 4 year olds have that. I'll probably string his guitar with silk and steel to lower the tension and make this easier... we'll see. Also, I've been wondering whether I should start him with some open tunings to make some fingering easier... not sure yet.

And the other problem that I'm anticipating is how I make this fun for him. He listens to a lot of bubblegum pop like the Jonas Brothers... how do I find material that he'll both be able to play and enjoy? Should I use a Suzuki style method or one of the other children's methods that are available or should I cobble something together? I'm just not sure how to approach this yet.

There are some amazing players out there who happen to be children. My friend Thomas Leeb, who certainly is one of the possibilities to put in the fill in the blank for virtuosos above, ran across a kid at a workshop he was giving in Korea. The boy's name is Sungha Jung and I believe he was about 9 when Thomas first met him. He's all of 12 now. So here's a video of him playing at Thomas' workshop. And there are lots more videos of him at his Myspace page and on youtube. If Ethan learns as fast a Sungha did, he'll leave me in the dust pretty quickly.


Michael Mahoney said...

Two challenges you are going to run into: 1) A four-year-old has the attention span of a gnat, and 2) A four year old has the attention span of a gnat.

I'd advise something that will breed early success, like a three chord song in G. He doesn't even have to really understand it at first, but if you teach him how to play an easy song, he will be much more interested. You can even teach him a G - C2 - Dsus4 deal and he only has to move two fingers.

Patience is a virtue with kids - I'm sure you know that. Be ready for a half hour lesson that lasts ten minutes because his mind has moved onto othe things. When I work with the children's group, especially the younger group, I have to be ready to end at anytime.

Other than that - wow, a baby Taylor for a four year old.

fernando said...

I started at five, on a half size classical. Carmen had a go at four and is now back trying again at 7 (and playing recorder and reading basic stave).

There's a very interesting question as to whether kids "get" harmony at four. You'll have to make a decision about that. My feeling is that the place to start is with melodies.

Don't forget to teach music, not just guitar. Clapping/stomping rythmns, singing, reading kid-oriented rythmn charts will all help develop a musical sensibility.

Toni Ertl said...

I wouldn't worry too much about the bubblegum pop. At that age (up to around 10) kids can tell if a tune is good and fun. I'd suggest picking songs that feel good and have a reasonably obvious rhythm. As long as you avoid music that is an 'acquired taste' you should be OK.