All across the country busses are rolling out and kids are heading back to school.
The end of summer is also when many parents sign their children up for guitar lessons and classes. But just as the autumn leaves fall from the trees in October and November, many of the aspiring guitarists starting lessons in September will be begging their parents to let them quit before Thanksgiving.
While kids change activities about as all the time, music lessons seem to have a high quit-rate—just ask friends at your next dinner party how many started an instrument and quit within a year.
For families on the verge of quitting, the following will offer you some alternatives. And for those of you just starting out, it should give you some ideas for how to set you children up for long-term musical success.
The logistics of guitar lessons can be overwhelming:
Are you going to be able to get there on time?
Did you sign up and pay by the deadline?
Does your child have everything they need?
Guitar? Amplifier? Cable? Tuner? Music? Picks?
Is the teacher going to be on time?
Is the teacher going to be there at all?
A no to any of these questions can make it hard to make lessons work. While they seem like small things, missing cables or books can keep a teacher from doing their job and keep your child from learning. More critically, missed lessons, substitute or makeup lessons, or lessons shortened because of logistical issues slow progress and make it so frustrating that both you and your child end up wanting to quit.
Because of logistical hang-ups, it is not uncommon for students to only get 20 minutes or less of actual instruction in a 30-minute lesson. Between that lost time and the infrequency of lessons (due to holidays, illness, and schedule conflicts), it is no wonder most children don’t progress much when taking guitar lessons. And because of all of the hassle involved in getting to and from lessons, it is no surprise most parents feel like lessons aren’t worth the trouble.
Here are some ways to avoid these logistical problems:
- Schedule lessons at times that works for you. If getting to the lesson at the available time is hard, see if you can have in-home or online lessons.
- Schedule lessons on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays because lessons that happen on Mondays and Fridays tend to get canceled more often.
- Teach your child to leave all their materials in a guitar case with the guitar. Make it the child’s responsibility to have everything they needed in the case. When they mess up and forget something, take it seriously, and make them apologize to the teacher. Then help them figure out strategies for not having it happen again.
- Look into alternative options like Awesome Guitar for Kids and our online 15-minute Foundations program
Not all teachers are the same. While there are plenty of great guitar teachers out there, they can be hard to find.
Many teachers at music stores and guitar studios have little or no training or experience working with children and don’t really remember what it’s like to be a beginner. Most of them are contract workers who receive little guidance or oversight.
A bad teacher can frustrate your child or even make them feel bad about learning. They can also teach them techniques that make it very hard for them to succeed in the long run.
Here are some ways to protect yourself from bad teachers:
- Read our guide to spotting a bad teacher before you enroll in any sort of lessons.
- Communicate with your teacher. They should be able to give you clear instructions on what needs to be practiced.
- Ask the teacher what method they are using. Be aware: unlike with other instruments, there is no generally agreed-upon method of instruction or benchmarks that are being used by most guitar teachers.
- Stay informed. Read our blog, talk to friends about their children’s experiences, and get lots of feedback from your child.
- Sit in on lessons. Bring a book or your smartphone and be a fly on the wall for a lesson. Not only will this give you information on what is being taught, children tend to behave better when they know a parent is in the room.
Again, there are some really great teachers out there, so don’t settle for a bad one. And don’t assume that because you went to the most expensive place with the best-looking website that you have a good one.
The Frustration Avalanche
“I’m just not very good.” This is a common statement kids make after a few months taking lessons.
How can you know within a few months whether or not you’re very good at playing the guitar?
But that doesn’t stop young students from feeling defeated. After only a few months of lessons, they can find themselves at the bottom of an avalanche of negative experiences.
Here’s what happens:
The first few lessons the student thinks it’s fun—it’s new, it’s different.
Somewhere along the way a little technique is neglected or they learn something new but never really master it.
The teacher goes on.
Another new concept is introduced and not mastered.
The teacher goes on.
Pretty soon the student has two, three, maybe four things that they’re struggling with.
At the same time, feeling the pressure to keep moving forward, the teacher gives them new material without revisiting the old. (It’s a little like asking students who don’t know their multiplication tables to do long division. )
The student starts feeling overwhelmed.
The teacher is frustrated and says the student isn’t practicing enough.
Not only does the student not know how to do the new things in this week’s lesson, they can’t even do the things they were supposed to do a month ago.
The student feels like an imposter.
They watch other people play guitar effortlessly and decided they are just “not good at the guitar”.
They begin begging to quit and do something that they are “good at” instead.
How you can prevent the frustration avalanche:
- Keep track of the foundational skills that your child needs to be learning from the first lesson. One way to do this is to ask your child’s teacher a very simple question: what one thing can my child practice to be better next week? Make asking this question a habit so you can make ensure consistent growth.
- Help your child set small, specific, achievable goals for their practice. Have small celebrations when they hit their goals. In our house, it is usually an XboX party with root beer and take-out chicken wings.
- Share with your child the stories of other musicians who have struggled and how they had to learn.
The benefits of studying music are numerous, so we owe it to our kids to try to make music lessons succeed.
There are plenty of pitfalls along the way, but as parents, we can do a lot to help our children through the frustrating times. So that, years from now, they will still love playing guitar.