For kids, learning how to play can be one of the most profound experiences of their lives. There is no ‘starting age’ for children, they can have a guitar in their hands and start to mess around as soon as they are strong enough to hold the weight of a ukulele.
Lessons will be necessary if the child is motivated to play, guitar playing is not something that many people can learn on their own without instruction.
It is definitely true that the sooner kids start, the sooner they will improve, and the easier it will be. Learning to play guitar is a physical, mental and musical process that has many benefits aside from just being able to play songs and perform at the school talent contest. Take it easy and help the child learn step by step. Learning should be fun and ´light’. Your child should never feel obligated to practice.
More important than quality is selecting the correct size of the guitar for the child wishing to play. The guitar should feel comfortable when resting on the knees and the player should be able to move up and down the neck whilst being able to put fingers on all of the strings and frets.
Young players should feel free to experiment and not just focus on getting the chords right, there is a technique called “percussive guitar” where kids can blow off some of the practice frustration and use the guitar more like a drum.
After every practice it should be routine to re-tune the guitar as this is an essential skill for all guitar players. If children get in the habit of doing this in every session it will become second nature to them. There are many excellent guitar tuning instruments available to buy to help them on their way.
Playing simple chords and then moving onto some classic riffs and licks should keep them entertained and motivated. In only a few weeks, kids can go from notes to chords to riffs and really start to feel the music. There are many famous songs that only have 3 chords but sound absolutely brilliant once you get the timing right and put the chords together. The Troggs “Wild Thing” has only 3 chords; A,D,E. Any kid will love to howl along to this Rock classic.
The next thing to work on is the speed and transition between the chords to get the musicality and rhythm of the song. Using a metronome and playing along to the real song will help this, and, of course; experience.
Every kid is different. They all have different favorite songs, body types, interests, attention spans and motivations. Whatever the kid wants to play or learn should be top of the list, not a set curriculum that you think they are obliged to learn.
If you have bought your child a classical guitar, then hopefully one day they will learn that this is a guitar suited to flamenco and classical guitar pieces. You never know, may be one day they will turn out to be the next Paco De Lucía!