Parent article: Guitar Lessons 101
Recently updated on June 17, 2020
Added content, made minor changes to copy, and made minor changes to formatting.
The stages of childhood development are remarkable. From birth to about 14 years old, children are going through very distinct and identifiable stages of learning, which can vary between each child and family, but are broadly consistent.
How we learn and what we're capable of learning advances quickly, especially during our first five years of life. This has a lot of bearing on when we - as adults - introduce our children to musical instruments, whether that's guitar, piano, or something else.
As a mother of four, with a piano and a ton of guitars in the house (Bobby's fault), I've wanted to answer this question for myself: What is the best age to start guitar lessons for my kids?
What is the best age to start guitar lessons? The Quick Answer
Here's my quick answer:
I plan for my children to start taking guitar lessons - or some kind of music class - around age seven, if they're showing interest on their own. This is what we often recommend to people asking for their own kids.
Identifying Legitimate Interest
My two boys love Bobby's guitars. My oldest even has his own Ukulele, that he puts in the "big kid" guitar stand. But, how do you identify legitimate interest in music - or a particular instrument - when you're dealing with a young child?
Is their desire to strum and pick at real guitars a desire to actually learn music or are they just intrigued by something "daddy is doing?"
At the time of writing this, they're not yet six years old, which is - in my opinion - too early to know this for sure. Per the CDC article I linked to, they're still more interested in pleasing friends, identifying what is and what is not make believer, and even playing sports. However, it's at this age that we can start to look for signs of genuine interest.
- Interest in a particular instrument apart from outside influence
- Desire to listen to music
- Tinkering with an instrument for extended periods of time (displaying good attention span)
If you do start seeing these early signs, I would caution they don't automatically mean you should push your child into guitar lessons without regard to age. So what is the best age to start guitar lessons or to take up an instrument, assuming you have these signs already in place?
The Best Age to Start Guitar Lessons: The Detailed Answer
For the quick answer:
I plan for my children to start taking guitar (or other instrument) lessons at the age of seven, if they're showing interest on their own. This what we recommend to most people who are asking the same question.
For those who don't want to take my word for it, let's look at some supporting evidence.
Why start at age seven?
Let's start with this quote from the Department of Education in California (actually published way back in 2000):
Speaking as a Seven Year Old: By now I am conscious of my schoolwork and am beginning to compare my work and myself with others. I want my schoolwork to look “right.” If I make mistakes, I can easily become frustrated. - California Department of Education
What is rightly understood by a lot of complex psychology can be boiled down to a much simpler sentence: Kids start to care around seven years old. With whatever they're doing, they're beginning to take on characteristics that motivate them to do well and improve, not just academically, but in all of their pursuits.
Now, it's true that this can lead to a lot of frustration and negativity in a child's day-to-day life. However, when we're talking about playing an instrument or pursuing a "hobby," these thought processes are actually quite helpful.
Here are a few things your seven year old will do when it comes to taking guitar lessons or learning music in general:
- They will compete with themselves and with others
- They will care about doing things right
- They will understand what it means to work towards a goal
- They will be motivated by those goals
All of this, of course, depends on whether or not they are legitimately interested in the instrument they're playing. I'm not a proponent of forcing a "sports kid" to play the violin just so he'll be well-rounded. However, for those kids that do take an interest in music, seven is the age where it will start to be more noticeable and where you can start to nurture it.
How to Nurture a Child's Interest in Music
Children will usually approach a musical instrument in one of two ways:
- As homework
- As a hobby
For example, when Bobby was in grade school his mom gave him piano lessons. As you might expect, he treated this as homework and not as a hobby. It was a duty that he crossed off his list every day as part of his schooling. At nine years old, he picked up the guitar and started playing all the time, on his own.
In contrast to piano, he treated guitar as recreation.
How do they view the instrument?
When deciding how to administer guitar lessons or encourage the musical aspect of your child's learning, you need to figure out how they view the instrument. Usually, it's pretty easy to tell whether a child views something as academic or fun. And this is not to say that the two can't go hand in hand or that you shouldn't encourage an academic interest. Rather, the approach will be a little different.
The Academic Approach
Children need structure to help them focus and learn, so if you see that your child is taking an interest in an instrument you can use that opportunity to introduce structures to let them sort of "test the waters" then adjust if needed. Keep in mind, we're assuming an age range of seven to 10.
Here are a few academic structures you might try:
#1: Individual Tutoring or "In-Person" Lessons
This is a method that's more ideal for the outgoing, extroverted child who has trouble focusing on their own. Extroverts (like myself and my oldest son) are energized by being with other people. For them, the best way to learn something is in a social environment where they can bounce ideas off a teacher or peer. The same is true of a classroom environment.
#2: Classroom Model
The nice thing about the classroom model is that it's likely already worked into a child's schedule at school. Most schools have some form of a music education program or will at least work those topics into their curriculum at the grade school level. If not, there are often programs available at community centers or School of Rock, if you're lucky enough to live near one.
Again, the classroom model is more ideal for social children who like learning in groups, working with others, and are energized by being around people.
#3: The Online Model
In contrast to the social, extroverted learner, children who are more shy and introverted (like my husband and my oldest daughter) are more likely to stick to an academic pursuit that doesn't involved person-to-person interaction. If your goal is to help your child learn an instrument, don't fight them on the "outgoing" issue. Putting them in a situation where they're taking lessons from a teacher or in a classroom means they'll be spending energy fighting their own introversion, which will leave a lot less for actually learning their instrument.
Instead, take advantage of the wealth of online guitar lessons we have accessible to us thanks to the internet and the advancement of online learning.
These lessons are perfect for a self-motivated child who is energized by working alone, and can still deliver the same structure and academic-like rhythm that you might be looking for as a parent. Bobby has even covered some of the best guitar lesson programs for kids.
The Hobby Approach
Again, I don't want to make it sound like I think the "hobby" approach is more valid or more ideal than having your child pursue an instrument academically. Both are valuable and needed. However, it should be clear that seeing your child adopt an instrument on their own, as a hobby, could mean a lot less work for you. Even if they start at a young age, it's possible that they'll want to engage with the instrument on their own, without the scheduling or prodding of an external academic structure.
Here are a few ways you can foster and encourage the hobby approach:
#1: Provide (and Put Up With) A Practice Space
When Bobby started playing guitar, it got to a point where he played all the time. It was loud, noisy and a bit annoying at times for his parents, I'm sure. Yet, Bobby's mom and dad made sure he had a place to practice and were encouraging about the time he spent learning music, even if it wasn't music they much enjoyed.
#2: Provide Learning Resources (books, online lessons, etc.)
Kids who are self taught are more likely to take advantage of resources that they initiate and control. They're great candidates for books or online guitar lessons like the ones we mentioned in the above section. They're self-paced, which means they'll be more motivated to engage with material that they absorb on their own, without an actual teacher or classroom to worry about.
#3: Provide and Finance Instruments
Keep in mind, buying a guitar (or any instrument) is an investment and should take into consideration the genuine interest factors we discussed earlier. In other words, don't invest too much in an instrument for a child that might be fickle or decide to quit. However, if you're comfortable with the assumption that your child is genuinely interested in the guitar, or some other instrument, one of the best things you can do to encourage them is to buy them one.
And there are a ton of good resources out there on guitars for kids, so how much you spend and how you go about that process is up to you.
For my part, if your child shows a hobby-level interest and commitment, it's a great time to invest in that interest and buy them a decent instrument so they can enjoy the experience all the more.
When the Two Cross Paths
Obviously, hobbies and academics can and do cross paths. For example, investing in a nice instrument for a child who is motivated by classroom lessons is also a good idea. It's also true that kids who take up guitar as a hobby might still want some form of professional or organized lessons.
The delineation is meant to help you sort out ways in which you can accommodate and nurture a child's interest in music most effectively and to make them more likely to succeed.
Summary and Conclusion
To summarize, we've answered a specific question: What is best age to start guitar lessons or music lessons in general?
We've also looked at how to follow that up and help a child succeed in their study of music. Keep in mind that the seven-year-old rule is not really a rule. It's a judgement based on personal experience and some measure of scientific research. However, that doesn't change the fact that every child is different and unique. They don't all love music, which is okay.
For the ones that do, you're likely to start noticing around six or seven years old, which is the perfect time to buy them an instrument and get them involved in some kind of music education program.
Whether that's with a tutor, in a classroom, at home or online is wide open.
If you have questions about this concept, feel free to leave them in the comments section below. There are certainly a wide range of valid opinions, which can perhaps help add to my own answer and make this a better resource for future readers.
We'll see ya there.