Teaching Kids

Q: How would you approach teaching children? Trying to keep it interesting while teaching technique, reading and material seems an impossible combination to me. Kids just don’t have the patience that adults do. Any advice?

A: My advice? Teach adults!

Seriously, this has perplexed me as well and I’ve had to become honest with myself and decided that I just don’t have the patience to teach beginners.

That said, teaching and mentoring children is one of the most important things one can do.

My sense is that, if you can just make playing fun for the kid, they’ll become enamored with the instrument and you can get to the technical stuff later.

On the flip side, my grandfather simply forced me to practice scales and reading for at least an hour every day. Thanks to that, I can read my butt off and know my fretboard like crazy, but I also hated the bass guitar and quit playing for 7 years once I was old enough to do my thing, and I switched to playing drums.

My first love was the drums. I was not forced to learn anything, so I learned on my own. It was a blast, but when I got to Berklee as a drum principle, I was way behind on some very basic stuff.

So I switched my major to Bass and relied on the technical chops I had developed earlier in life. I had to focus on the musical aspects of playing from there on out.

Forcing basics is going to likely yield the same results, but it is the basics which are important to a young player’s development and foundation. In other words, there needs to be a balance.

Encouraging kids to work on fundamentals is tough, but needs to be done. This includes technique, fretboard knowledge, reading and other basics. To mix in some fun, have them choose songs they want to play, invite friends over to jam, and write tunes. You can help them by recommending songs you know will help them with the basics. Learning is a combination of things: reading, experimentation and collaboration.

You have to let them lead the way with at least some of the work they do, otherwise it’ll be nothing but work and kids suck at work. Figure out how to make each thing as fun as you can, and you’ll likely go far.

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to askdamian@notreble.com. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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  1. Michael

    Ah, yes, the joys of teaching children. Finding a balance is definately the key. I remember when I was 8, I took up guitar. My first teacher seemed to me like more of a piano teacher, telling me the notes, then giving me simple, but boring songs to play. Like Ode to Joy and Row row row your boat.
    Being the kid who got inspired by punk rock and the likes of Green Day (Don’t criticise me), this bored the hell out of me, and I left for the other guy.
    He was the exact opposite and only taught tab, but taught the songs I liked. Needless to say, I didn’t learn any theory from him, and barely any proper technique. But I was having fun, right?
    So yeah, my thoughts are that you find out what they like, and go from there. If they should like, say, Linkin Park, then teach them some of the basics, then print off the notation to an easy Linkin Park song, watching their technique carefully as they play through it. As their liking for different music expands, start teaching them with more and more variety. If they want to learn something in particular, say, how to improvise, teach them that.