Young kids can be taught from about the age of 5 and my advice is if the child is wanting to learn, then allow them to learn while the interest is there or ‘strike while the iron is hot’! However, the biggest problems that young kids face when starting to learn to play the guitar is that they have poor fine motor skills and fledgling cognitive skills. In other words, coordinating their hands, pressing down on a string or even plucking an open string at a required time can be challenging for them. The act of holding down a chord and strumming it is a nearly impossible task. Similarly, young children have difficulty reading music. Traditionally, music is taught using crotchets, quavers and notes from A to G. The signs and symbols that make up written music is difficult for them to process. Asking them to process notes of different pitches and rhythms several times in the short space of a bar of music is extremely frustrating for them, their teachers and their parents. Often kids who attempt to learn guitar this way this early get discouraged and discontinue their lessons.
There are very small guitars available that cater for young guitar students. Some of my students use quarter size guitars and one small 6-year-old uses a guitar ukulele. It is important that a child learn on a suitably sized guitar. I recommend all beginners start on a guitar strung with nylon strings. They have nice wide necks allowing easier finger placement and the strings are of a thicker gauge and are strung at a lower tension meaning that playing the guitar won’t hurt their sensitive fingers. It has been my experience that retailers will often try to sell a young beginner a guitar with steel strings. These guitars are unsuitable for young children. They have narrow necks and their thin gauge strings are strung at a greater tension. They hurt the fingers of young children meaning that they are less likely to want to play the instrument. I’m not sure of the exact reason why some retailers do this. I’ve heard that some say steel strings sound better but more likely there may be a slightly higher profit margin on the sale of the steel stringed instrument.
So, the young child is keen to learn, there are instruments available for them to play but there is no getting away from the fact that young children have poor fine motor and cognitive skills. In dealing with poor cognitive skills, some teachers use a system of notation known as Tablature to help a child remember what was learnt during a lesson. Often a teacher will show a student a catchy riff or phrase which the student will soon forget unless it is written down somehow. In tablature notation, a series of lines represent the strings and a series of numbers represent the frets at which the string is to be pressed. This system is seen to be easier to understand but still requires the child to work out the string and the fret and then work out where all that is on the guitar.
The thing is, children can develop their fine motor skills and they can develop their cognitive skills though this process happens gradually. The problem with both the traditional and tablature system of reading notation is that teachers require instant cognition from their students. Young children learn differently, they are visual and kinaesthetic learners. They will learn best and most naturally by copying the actions of another and they will learn to read words by associating those words with an object or image…