My wife Danielle has fairly severe ADD, which has a lot more meaning to me today than it did even 10 to 20 years ago.
As she describes it, people with ADD have intense thoughts about seemingly anything and everything around them.
They have trouble focusing on a single lane because every object and stimulant requires their attention.
It's an extremely difficult condition to deal with, and makes academic pursuits uniquely challenging. However, the benefits of music education are well-documented, while some studies even show that things like rhythm and melody can help build focus.
Danielle has offered her help and experience for this article, which will highlight some guitar lesson programs and specific courses that we both recommend specifically for those suffering from ADD or ADHD.
To do this, we'll avoid programs with a lot of varied learning paths, in favor of websites that have fewer options but with stronger structure.
In other words, less opportunities to be distracted and more opportunities to follow a linear learning path.
Our Top Three Picks for Less Distraction
We partner with Guitar Tricks and recommend them based on thorough research. However, we do not have partner relationships with Guitargate or Yousician. However, we recommend them all for those who struggle with ADHD or similar problems with focus. Thank you for your support.
1. Guitar Tricks Lessons
Guitar Tricks has a lot of appeal to folks who are easily distracted because of its tightly structured learning systems.
Regardless of where you're starting in skill level, or what kind of music you're interested in, Guitar Tricks is an extremely well-organized program where each course can be followed in a straightforward, linear manner.
Of all the programs we've tested, it's definitely the least distracting and easiest to follow, giving you a set learning path without pulling your attention away to other elements.
Here's a look at their Core Learning System:
The Core Learning System gives you a starting point and some clear directives about where to go from lesson to lesson. Within each course, videos are divided into segments which are divided into numbered chapters so you always know where you're going.
I've even let my six year old son use these courses, and they're intuitive enough for him to navigate through the material on an iPad.
If you or a child wanting to learn guitar has ADHD, the Core Learning System from Guitar Tricks will give them a solid foundation and starting point.
Read the full review: Guitar Tricks
Why It's Great for AdHd
- Structure and topical organization is top of the line
- Core Learning System is easy to follow
- Lots of material, but presented in a way that doesn't feel cluttered or overwhelming
IDEAL FOR: Staying focused through a course, and smoothly transitioning from one lesson to another
2. Guitargate Membership
Michael Palmisano is the creator of the Guitargate program, and since the site is smaller than the big box options, he still provides an element of feedback and individualized attention to members.
Those with ADHD will appreciate the course setup, which packs a lot of thorough material into a lower number of videos.
While there's plenty of great material available, the paths you can take to get through it are mercifully limited.
Palmisano is also a really strong teacher who effectively communicates music theory as it relates to the fretboard. For years now we've been touting his content as ideal for those interested in learning music theory as they study the guitar, and his site's scope and setup make it a good choice for ADD or ADHD students all the more.
Read the full review: Guitargate
Why It's Great for ADHD
- Interface is easy to track with
- Only a few different paths to get through the material
- Feedback and theory-oriented system gives you more of a teacher-student element
IDEAL FOR: Online streaming with an element of instructor interaction.
3. Yousician Guitar App
I've made no secret of the fact that I'm not a huge fan of the Yousician platform. If you want to know why, I've linked to the full review below these paragraphs. However, in this case, I'm going to recommend Yousician for those who have ADHD, for one simple reason:
It holds your attention.
The video game-style interface is similar to Rocksmith, and actually listens to your guitar through an adapted input (via your computer or mobile device) or a simple microphone.
This functionality works extremely well and even seems to accurately pick out mistakes. When I tested Yousician (check the review link below), I would try to trick it on purpose - miss notes or play the wrong thing - but it always seemed to know when that was happening.
For those with ADD, the gameplay aspect is easy to focus on and makes the tediousness of practice far less of an issue.
Particularly for kids, we recommend it, at least as a starting point.
Read the full review: Yousician's Guitar Program
Why It's Great for ADHD
- Video game style interface holds your attention
- Learning paths are limited and straightforward
- Organizational systems don't distract
IDEAL FOR: Practice and younger kids who have trouble focusing
Staying Focused in Bursts
It can be hard to stay focused, even if you don't have ADHD.
Those that do are going to struggle, even with something they like and want to do, like learning guitar.
These courses can help you combat this struggle by giving you shorter videos and lessons that can be watched in less than 10 minutes. Again, my son was able to sit through these and spent about 15-30 minutes a night watching Guitar Tricks lessons and playing through the material.
It's kind of like playing Legos in short waves, step-by-step.
He also does a lot of that, resulting in this artistic photograph from our dining room table:
He was able to stay focused in short bursts, which is not normal for him.
These lessons can help you because the online guitar lesson format (overall) tends to present material in this manner.
- Shorter videos
- More video groups
- More structured organization
- Concepts grouped together
- Gradual progression (at the pace of the user)
In other words, you aren't likely to see a 20 minute video from these online guitar lessons (the three we've recommended).
Think five minutes or even less, in many cases.
It's just enough time for you to focus in short bursts and pick up concepts that you wouldn't have been able to process from a 30-minute lesson.
For ADHD am I better off with a teacher?
Having a guitar tutor in the same room can help with ADHD, though it can also create problems because then you have to pay attention for longer. It has also been my experience that classroom-based learning is a little harder when you have ADD because you know you must pay attention for a certain period of time.
With the online guitar courses, you can come and go at your own pace.
If you wear out and lose focus, just pause where you're at and come back later.
You should also consider how much you value the feedback and social interaction of guitar teachers. If that matters to you and helps you learn, it's a stronger argument for getting a teacher than simply for the benefit of your ADHD.
Can guitar help with ADD?
In particular, rhythm can be extremely helpful for kids with ADHD.
Other aspects of playing the guitar like following scale patterns, chord shapes, and melody lines can also help reinforce one's ability to concentrate.
It gives your brain a medium to exercise those muscles.
Music therapy is even used in more extreme mental health cases to treat things like dementia and cognitive decline. Since ADD and ADHD are milder forms of mental illness, learning the guitar and getting familiar with musical rhythm can be extremely beneficial, especially for kids.
That's where these lessons come in handy.
They can help you get over the initial hump of paying attention, since they deliver content is shorter bites, as opposed to full 30 minute or hour long lessons.
In addition to the guitar, instruments like the piano, drums, and bass can all have a similar cognitive benefit.
Whether you're training your brain to follow rhythm or melody, these instruments train your mind to focus within those contexts. In other words, it gives your brain a medium to exercise those muscles.
I found that even as a young child, after spending several years on the piano and guitar, I had a much easier time focusing and completing tasks that I had set out to do. It was easier to follow through and complete projects fully without wanting to deviate into something else.
Practices Tips for ADD
What are some basic guitar practice tips you can implement if you struggle with ADD or ADHD? Let's hit on some practical advice, applicable to adults and children alike.
Take Concepts in Smaller Chunks
As I've already cited, these programs tend to break lessons down into shorter videos where you cover one concept at a time. Be intentional about keeping the time you spend absorbing new information fairly short. Videos between five and 10 minutes are a good spot to land.
Leave Time for Unstructured Playing/Application
If you have 40 minutes, don't spend all 40 just watching lessons and trying to internalize concepts. Instead, spend 20 minutes watching videos and then the remaining 20 minutes applying or experimenting with what you've learned. In other words, spend some time playing instead of just memorizing.
Spend Time Learning Songs
Our lesson recommendations have been based partly on each program's ability to teach songs. Songs, particularly from artists we already know and listen to, are going to be easier to learn because it's music that we like to listen to.
For learning guitar, you can learn more in the context of songs than you can learn from brute force memorization by itself.
We'd recommend spending time with songs intentionally as you take lessons, especially if you're having trouble keeping your focus.
Considerations for Age
For younger kids, practice time could be cut a little shorter.
I mentioned earlier that my son can do one or two five to 10 minute videos, and then he spends some time just tinkering around with his guitar.
30 minutes total every other day isn't unusual.
You'll also want to be sensitive to the type of guitar and the size that you give a child. Here are a few more resources that go more in-depth into concerns relating to guitar lessons for younger kids:
Hopefully this is helpful to you.
Being sympathetic to my wife's struggle, I know how hard it can be to overcome your own mind when it won't focus on what you want to pay attention to.
As someone who reviews and critiques guitar lesson programs, I believe these three are your best options for succeeding with the guitar and learning without severely triggering your ADHD symptoms.
If you have questions, feel free to drop them in the comments section below, and I'll be happy to help as much as possible.