Guitar for Kids

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How to Teach Children to Play Guitar

Teaching a boy to play guitar

 Maria Taglienti / Getty Images

The following lesson is the first in a series designed for parents (or other adults) who wish to teach their children guitar, but who have little or no prior experience in playing guitar themselves.

The focus throughout this lesson series is fun - the goal is to get your kids interested in playing guitar. The lessons are written for the adult doing the teaching - your goal is to read ahead, internalize what the lesson teaches, then explain each lesson to the child. The lessons provide additional materials you can share directly with your kids.

For the purposes of these lessons, we will assume that:

  • The child you're planning on teaching is realistically old enough to learn to play guitar
  • An acoustic guitar is available for the child to play (if a guitar has not yet been purchased, here is a beginner guitar recommendation for a little girl)
  • The instrument is appropriately sized (children eight and under often do best with half-sized instruments. Three-quarter sized instruments are also available for bigger kids).
  • There is a guitar pick available.
  • The child has access to an armless, straight-back chair or (in a pinch) a bench on which to sit while playing guitar.
  • The adult has access to a printer, or in the absence of a printer, can reproduce some illustrations from the lesson via pen and paper.
  • The adult can commit to learning guitar - although you don't need to be Andrés Segovia to teach your kids guitar, you need to be one lesson ahead of them in the learning process.

If you've checked all of these boxes, and are ready to dive into teaching your child to play guitar, let's look at how to prepare for your first lesson.

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Preparing for the First Lesson

Preparing for the First Guitar Lesson
mixetto / Getty Images

Before we get down to the process of learning/teaching guitar, there are a few things you'll want to take care of...

  • Get the guitar in tune. Asking a child to learn to tune the instrument before they've even begun to learn to play isn't realistic. Instead, learn to tune the guitar yourself, and get in the habit of tuning it daily. Things will sound better, and they'll want to play more.
  • Learn to read chord charts. We'll be using basic chord charts to explain how to play different chords to songs. Take a moment to learn to read those charts.
  • Print some blank chord sheets. We're going to learn to play a couple chords right off the bat, and this will allow you to write them down in a way kids will understand.
  • Learn to read guitar tab. Guitar tab is the notation method we'll use to illustrate how to play single notes on the guitar in these lessons. Don't worry... it's easy.

After you've tackled these preliminary steps, we can get the lesson underway. As an adult, you'll want to read and practice the following lesson in its entirety before you teach it to children.

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How Kids Should Hold a Guitar

Teacher playing guitar with girl (4-5) in classroom, smiling
Jose Luis Pelaez / Getty Images

In order to teach a child to hold the guitar properly, you'll need to learn to do it yourself first. Do the following:

  • Find a straight-back, armless chair, and take a seat. Sit comfortably, keeping your back relatively straight, with your knees apart.
  • Pick up the guitar. Rest the guitar on your right thigh.
  • Pull the body of the guitar flat against your stomach.
  • Hold the guitar so that the neck runs roughly parallel to the floor.
  • Your upper right arm should rest against the top of the guitar, causing your right hand to naturally align over the sound hole of the instrument.
  • Grab the neck of the guitar with your left hand. You should position your thumb behind the neck, with your fingers positioned loosely over the fretboard.

Once you're comfortable holding the guitar yourself, you'll want to try and teach a child to hold the instrument properly. From experience, I can tell you this can feel like a losing proposition - within minutes they'll be holding the guitar flat in their lap. Remind them of proper posture occasionally, but not constantly... remember the initial goal here is to teach them to enjoy the guitar. Over time, as the music they try to play gets more challenging, most kids will naturally begin holding the guitar properly.

(note: the instructions above assume you are playing the guitar right-handed - using your left hand to hold down frets, and your right hand to strum. If you or the child you are teaching has a left-handed instrument, you'll need to reverse the instructions outlined here).