5, 4 and 3-year-old students???

Hello all, at the music school where I teach I have just been assigned a bunch of new students, all but one children 10 and under. These include a 5-year-old, a 4-year-old and 3-year-old. Like WTF.


Obviously it is quite possible that they might be fantastically amazing, but I have less ideas about what I might do with them to than I would, say, someone ten times their age.


Any suggestions?? Please???

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  • Update: the five-year-old, after a trial lesson, decided she wants to have regular and signed a contract (???)

    Well, her mum did.

    Any suggestions whatsoever would be amazing!

  • A friend of mine in education often says that teaching in the primary grades is all about 'classroom management'. If you can keep the kids focused, you've more or less done your job. Of course, the abilities of children shouldn't be underestimated. Have you seen the (in)famous video of these young North Korean guitarists:




    I'd say guitar ensemble is probably the way to go. Sounds like a difficult task you have ahead of you, but I'm sure you'll manage it. Btw, don't forget how much kids enjoy humour!

    Like 1
    • David Hey David, thanks for the suggestions!
      Luckily it's a one-to-one class, so the amount of classroom management is at a bare minimum.

      I hadn't seen that video, it's pretty incredible and raises lots of questions, but it does demonstrate that they can physically do it and it's interesting to see their technique.


  • This is my nightmare 馃く


    Is it a group class or 1 on 1 lessons?

    I'm no Suzuki/music ed guru, but I'd suggest holding off on any real guitar playing for a while in the lessons, especially if it's a group class.  I did a few elementary school class sessions where the curriculum was provided, and it mostly focused on pitch relativity (low-high), recall (echoing little fragments) basic rhythms, and songs (A LOT of songs).

    I had little cartoon magnets that I would put on the whiteboard, putting some high and some low and having them 'read' 2 note patterns. Things like that. 

    Maybe after a few sessions they can strum open strings along with their songs or for their rhythm practice, but I've never had any luck trying to throw a 3-5 yr student right into plucking/fretting.

    Also if its a group class the #1 thing that helped me survive those classes is planning everything at 3 difficulty levels (which can all be played together). That way the 9-10 year olds aren't bored out of their minds during all that. 

    But the main thing is making sure the parents don't expect some rock stars after the end of the semester 馃槀

    Hope that helps in some way!

    Like 1
    • Sean Mulholland Thanks Sean!

      That's very helpful, I'm not really one to subscribe to any one rigorous method for anything, but I'm sure investigating some Suzuki would be a good idea. I didn't know until now that it was used beyond the violin.

      It is indeed, thank %*@#, a one-to-one class. I don't have a curriculum or anything, which makes it a little bit tricky to know what to do, but that does give us the freedom to do what we want and no pressure to get anything done by a certain day.

      I've done quite free primary school music classes as a substitute teacher for a couple of months and taught English to classes of kids 5 years old and above for a couple of years, so the age is familiar, but guitar is brand new territory. 

      The tricky thing right now is to know what to do so that it's near enough to what she wants to do, but not too hard. I was surprised that she happily managed to sit still with the guitar for the half-hour of the trial lesson and do what I suggested, mostly on the open strings - I had lots of games with movement planned, but the mood wasn't there for them.

      I like the 3-difficulty level idea, I think that will be really useful for reviewing music from different angles.

      As you say, managing the parents' expectations is a good idea, I'm planning to work more closely with them than I would with older students, which will hopefully give me some good ideas about what to do.

  • I misunderstood at first, I thought you were dealing with a class. I agree that a different approach is needed for an individual. It is curious that there is no introductory guitar method (as far as I know) that is aimed at children. There are plenty in the case of the piano: I remember using them as a kid myself! (I'm afraid I was the sort of child who felt rather put out by them!) You might have a look at some of these if you can get your hands on any. (You can find pretty much anything at the 'kupdf' website - not sure it's all legal, though!) Btw, I would regard this as an opportunity - there's clearly a need for age-appropriate pedagogical material, so why not produce something yourself? (You've got the requisite skills - you're a guitarist, you're a composer, and now you have your own 'laboratory'! to test ideas.) Anyhow, best of luck with your young student! Keep us posted on how things proceed.

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    • David Thanks for your suggestions David! Yes, just the thought of it not being a class is already a relief.馃槻

      It's a very nice idea to produce something myself, and you're right, I do feel it will be a kind of "laboratory" to gain experience and develop ideas. Something tells me she won't be the last 5-year-old I'll teach too...

      I'd be very happy to keep you posted ... and very happy for any advice and suggestions馃檮鈽猴笍

      • Nicki
      • Nicki
      • 10 mths ago
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      David Krupka 


      Mel Bay has a children鈥檚 guitar series that, although it isn鈥檛 laid out like most classical pedagogy, has a very similar format and feel to most children鈥檚 piano methods. It has large print and is easy for younger kids to follow (but gets very challenging in book 3 as they are suddenly thrown into the deep end of reading double stops and triads). It does focus on pick work and doesn鈥檛 include any instruction on fingerstyle, so that would need to be taught and reinforced in lessons if that is a priority. 



      Like 1
    • Nicki Thanks Nicki! I've started using a book I found for children 6 and over, but it's German (I live in Berlin).


      I think it's nice enough, and will certainly be enough for me. It starts with the thumb, playing open strings 3 then 2. I found that strange in contrast to playing on the 1st string and adding fretted notes, but I like the fact it allows the student to simply rest the fingers on the 1st string and play with the thumb, which the child seems to have more control with than the fingers, and it also puts the right hand in a good position.

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      • Nicki
      • Nicki
      • 10 mths ago
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      Roni Glaser this makes me wish I spoke German :)

  • My old guitar teacher (when I was in my teens) once told me that he always played Tarrega's 'Cajita de musica' for young children - apparently the sound of the harmonics fascinated them. That makes me wonder whether natural harmonics might be introduced at the very beginning of guitar study. They are actually easier to play than a fretted note (especially at the 7th and 12th frets) and it is not too difficult to produce a beautiful, resonant sound. Once the technique is understood, the learner has at least 18 notes at their disposal. (The six open strings and 12 'strong' harmonics - more of course are possible, but I'd begin with the easy ones.) You might also introduce little rhythmic patterns that can be easily imitated. (Remember, the guitar can also be a percussion instrument!) Obviously, you can't start with something that requires a knowledge of written music. (Although harmonics can be presented in graphical notation (say as pairs of numbers acting as coordinates - maybe too much for a five year old though). Perhaps you could encourage young students to make something up themselves - children are perfectly capable of being creative, if they are allowed/encouraged to be. (Picasso apparently said something like: 'when I was a child, I learned how to paint like an adult; I have spent my adulthood learning how to paint like a child!') Just to be clear, I'm not speaking from experience here! I have no idea if any of this will work. But your task seems a very interesting one. Best of luck! (And don't forget to be funny!)

    Like 1
    • David Yeah, I heard about starting with harmonics somewhere! I can't remember where though, and even if it was on the guitar, perhaps the violin. I can imagine on the violin it would solve some early problems with playing in tune.

      But it also means they don't have the difficulty of pressing down the strings, which requires a lot more strength than just touching them, and it might also encourage them to place the left fingers more precisely.

      And they really have that same sense of magic like when you run your finger around a wine glass to make it ring (which is, in a way, what all instruments are).

      I'll bear it mind and see if and how it might work. Thanks a lot for the suggestions!

      (And don't worry, I'm an incorrigible clown 馃槉)

    • Roni Glaser An incorrigible clown!? Gosh - I'd never have guessed. ;-馃檭

  • Good idea from david to keep you posted, so I'll note some thoughts and plans. 

    Here's a first post for how things have gone so far:@

    Trial lesson report:

    1. She was able to sit on the chair with the guitar for the whole lesson, which I didn't expected, perhaps because she was a little shy. She was only distracted from what I was saying by the guitar and trying to make more sounds on it, but not much more.
    2. I fumbled through trying to teach her from the book I had for 6-year-olds and up, with open B and G.
    3. I used Thomas Viloteau's suggestion in his Tonebase video on the right hand of placing the thumb on the string next to the finger, which she could do, but obviously wanted to do something a bit more interesting.
    4. It wasn't quite clear where the idea to learn the guitar came from, but she knew about guitars from the film "Coco".
    5. Mum was very understanding of my inexperience, which I was quite open about. I hope to cooperate with her to finding a good approach.


    Some plans that may or may not work to begin with:

    1. Find out what songs/music she knows and likes (e.g. from "Coco") and expand from there to choose further material.
    2. Open strings as accompaniment while singing a song, e.g. "Fr猫re Jacques", which could also be learnt later.
    3. Jam session: student plays an open string rhythm while I play an accompaniment in different styles, e.g. waltz, classical, blues, bossa nova, rock, percussion by tapping on the body of the guitar.
    4. As above with an open string and one or two fretted notes.
    5. I'm inclined to teach melodies on a single string, going into higher positions, rather than over several strings, maybe even using just one finger. I think "Twinkle, Twinkle..." slowly could eventually work well enough like this. I feel this is more intuitive when trying to develop a sense of what pitch on a string is, and perhaps in general. I'm thinking of starting with the 1st string, then doing the same with the 2nd. Then gradually introducing the relationship between the two strings - for example, "Fr猫re Jacques" in E major starting on the open 1st string would work to and an open B to  a melody.
    6. Use open bass notes with thumb for some accompaniments
    7. Use simplified, one-finger chords, e.g. G and C major or A minor or major on the first three strings only, or E minor or major (first inversion) too with possible the fourth string. D major/minor/7 might be possible at some point, but probably not so soon.
    8. Teach notation, but not limit knowledge and use of the guitar to the notes and rhythms learnt - use keys that are easy enough on the guitar, even though they might have a lot of sharps in the key signature. A 5 year old is only just learning to read language, so there's no rush for music.
    9. Do exercises like copying a rhythm or simple melody by clapping, singing or guitar
    10. Make some of use of improvisation and devising our own music, even very simple stuff with one or two notes
    11. See if any natural structure to the lesson emerges, which could be:
      1. Warm-up: some little exercises/games
      2. Some simple melody (e.g. on open strings as above) and accompaniment
      3. A little book work with notation
      4. A game, a jam session, whatever appears to be the most fun.


    Concerns and possible solutions:

    1. Possibility of teaching things that might cause problems in the future:
      1. keep a close eye on things and correct where possible, aiming for a natural and relaxed position
      2. accept this is likely to happen anyway because I've never taught such a young student
      3. there are more important issues with a higher priority, such as maintaining and nurturing the desire to learn and make music and have fun with it.
    2. Not having stuff to teach:
      1. keep regular contact with parents to find out what interest the child has
      2. be prepared for many things to arise on the fly and improvise, both pedagogically and musically
    3. Not being able to provide things to practise at home:
      1. keep regular contact with parents to see what works and doesn't, and what the child might want to do with the guitar at home
      2. see if the parents can do anything with the child
      3. provide some recordings of accompaniments for the child to play along with
    4. How to introduce notation?
      1. See if it arises naturally, for example, when trying to remember a melody we invent, or from me using it for something
      2. See how I can make use of the book I have for a few moments in each lesson.


    All right. That's probably enough for now and more than I planned to write! But this is a great place to think out loud. 

    Any suggestions would be very welcome!

  • Sounds like you have a lot of great ideas, Roni! I especially like your point about the importance of nurturing a love for learning music. (We've all heard of - maybe even experienced first hand - teachers who manage just the opposite!) Btw, I hadn't heard of the movie Coco until you mentioned it. (I just watched the trailer.) Nice to see the guitar featured in a Disney film. If that's what underlies your student's interest in music, I'd definitely introduce chords as soon as possible - she'll be wanting to strum and sing!

    Like 1
  • Update:

    The lesson went great today, I was quite surprised what she was capable of, and she was very excited about starting to learn. Big success all round, I'd say.馃槉


    • On a low chair (a sideways caj贸n), with a footstool - good natural posture
    • Thumb worked well, rather than fingers to start with, which could also be used to strum
    • Stickers are great for marking LH finger positions.

    What we did:

    • Copying rhythm game with open G and thumb
    • Sang "Fr猫re Jacques" with one note accompaniment (open G)
    • I stuck a piece of green tape (for lack of a small pretty sticker) where I wanted here to place are LH finger, which worked really well, and she played exactly behind the fret, rather than on or too far behind it, which seems to be really difficult to explain. I plan to use these stickers more, and for showing chord shapes.
    • Taught "chord" and a simplified 3-string G chord with open G, B and fretted high G.
    • Sang "Fr猫re Jacques" with simplified G chord accompaniment
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      • MartinTeam
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      • martin.3
      • 11 mths ago
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      Roni Glaser Awesome to hear! Sorry for pitching in so late, but I'm glad it went well!

      I experienced a lot that music schools often don't have suitable chairs for very young children, that's why I usually bring too foot stools for the first lesson in order to be able to adjust the position correctly even if the chair doesn't fit!

    • martin Thanks Martin! I'm guessing your side of Deutschland has also gone into lockdown? Hope it doesn't affect you too much! The other day they (a student intern at the music school) asked if I could do an online trial lesson for a 3 year old... er, no.

      I think I'll have to put the others kids on hold too. I don't reckon I can manage it online without having had lessons with them for a good few weeks first.

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      Roni Glaser Yes, from wednesday on we will be in full lockdown at least unitl 10th of January.


      Yeah, there are limits to what you can do with an online lesson. I probably would even hesitate to do a normal lesson with a 3 year old, better start with "musikalische Fr眉herziehung".


      I actually started in a new school during the last lockdown, so I've had the first lessons with about 6 students completely online. But it was a very good school with very disciplined and creative students, so it worked. Having a professional streaming setup where I can show multiple angles definitely helped, but working on posture was kind of tricky!

      Like 1
  • Glad to hear it went well, Roni! Sounds like you have a motivated learner!

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  • Thank you so much for bringing up this topic Roni! I typically turn away students who are younger than 7 and refer them to Suzuki (violin)  or Yamaha (piano), but for kids who are very motivated to play the guitar specifically, these are some great ideas to forge some new pathways and challenge myself as a teacher (once I am teaching in person again).

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    • Nicki Hey Nicki, it really is an interesting challenge.

      We've two lessons now and one more since the holidays finished - which was actually online! Luckily the child's mother was there and was very helpful, so I could say things like "can you help her put her thumb on that string and her fingers on the other one?" It was a bit strange for her that I was in two dimensions, as you'd expect, but it we did manage to have what you could call a reasonable lesson.

  • Three-four-five years is a good age to start guitar - just like many other instruments. It depends on the student's readiness for the lesson and on parent support.  Of course, I am talking about one-on-one lessons, not online.  (To teach any beginners online is extremely difficult). A very good book for this age is "New Dimensions in Classical Guitar for Children" (don't believe that it is for 8-12 years old) It is based on Suzuki and Koday methods of music education for young children and it has many excellent games and tips for the teachers.  Suzuki method is completely comfortable with kids starting at this age. A couple of my first Suzuki students (brother and sister) who started with me 9 years ago when they were 5 and 4 correspondingly are now featured in GFA tv on YouTube Foundation series (20, 22 and 23) and won the Latino Strings GUITAR FESTIVAL. This was our beginning: 

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Pf1nNsirwk and https://youtu.be/2BV9su6Mb7w Quite a few of the Suzuki students have been winning GFA. Actually, it is a great satisfaction to watch how they grow and mature as musicians. 

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    • Hey Galina!

      Thank you so much for your reply, so it took a while for me to get back to you.

      Thanks for your advice, I'm lucky to have pretty good parental support, they're always there in the lessons, which now have all be online. This obviously makes it pretty tricky. With two of my students they're progressing well with the book we're using, but the youngest and most eager student I have has been taking quite a while to locate the notes in relation to the two hands with open and fretted strings. She concentrates surprisingly well, but it's just a little difficult not being able to show her anything directly on her guitar, and then it's easy for her to lose some interest. The parents are always there to help, but aren't musicians and tend to be a little careful not to make mistakes. That said, she's composed three programmatic pieces using all kinds of sounds she's found on the guitar that we've written in pictorial notation together, and have been having great fun doing.

      And what lovely videos, and great that they're still playing and doing so well!

  • Thank you for this thread and topic. I am starting tomorrow with my first ever student. A 6 years old!! I suppose that living in Mozambique makes me a good teacher, as in not a lot to choose from.... I have a few books and I am reading all this thread that is very very helpful!

    Like 1
    • Emma Great! I'm glad the thread is helpful, I'd love to hear how you get on!

      Good luck!

  • Roni Glaser hi Roni, well the first class was a success, I kept the kid focused and only started  yawning after 45 min. I started with posture and  im apoyando exercises in the 1st string, even the 4 first notes of twinkle twinkle. The second class was a disaster in terms of yawning... lack of focus, I ended up singing along with her songs, all in all a bit of a disaster. Lets see how it goes the next class. One question, do you think I have to focus a lot on posture? do your little kids play on the left leg? Any more advise?

    Like 1
    • Emma Hey congratulations on your class! Sounds like you did great馃憤

      45 minutes?!? Blimey, that's a lot for a 6-year-old, Were they sitting with the guitar the whole time, or did you do some kind of moving around? I think it can be hard for a young child to sit for a relatively long time, and I find holding the guitar as well makes it a bit more tiring too. Most of the younger students I've had kind of start swaying about in their chairs or turning the guitar upside down and stuff after about 20 minutes or so. The 6-year-old I've got now does well compared to most kids I've seen, but still 30 minutes is enough for her. I have a 7-year-old as well who has the lesson late in the day after school and gets a bit tired, so 30 minutes is very much enough for her.

      I'd break it up with some musical/guitar games in the middle. I don't have any great suggestions, but I wouldn't necessarily worry too much about them not being on the guitar, you can play for them and they can react in a certain way, or vice versa. Like you play fast/slow, they run around fast/slow, you play high notes, they walk around on their toes, low notes, the crawl around... just playing around with the parameters of music.

      Regarding posture, if you take Eduardo Inestal's advice... I don't know if you saw the two live streams he did on teaching (I HIGHLY recommend them, they were essentially what pushed me over the edge to feel confident enough to teach), he basically punctuates his discourse of sage advice with telling you to always check POSITION馃ぃ. Personally I always do, but I also always do what I think they can manage. I also make sure that they understand why I telling them to sit in a way that is apparently uncomfortable is good, for example, I ask them how it feels to change how their hand is, is it more secure or unstable, does sitting up straight make them feel sleepy or more alert and ready to make music... stuff like that. Posture is basically a very complex thing that's made up of many smaller considerations and is different for everyone, so one thing at a time, and what they can manage without demotivating them at all.

      One thing for example is that often there is a tendency to turn the guitar up and turn the head and body to the left to look at the left hand, which is obviously bad posture, and if they play like that forever it would be far from ideal. But, I think it's reasonable for someone to want to look at what they are doing, where their fingers are etc., so I think as long as they understand what the "centre" is, it's OK.

      My youngest student (6) plays with the guitar on her right leg, on a low chair (where her feet reach the floor) and a low footstool under the right foot. She's more comfortable and I find her arms and hands are in a better position that way. That might change later though.

      Cripes, I think I've blathered on enough! Good luck for your next lessons and keep us posted!!

    • Roni Glaser thank you Roni for your answer, support, and good advice. I have watched the video of Eduardo, pity that only the second part is available, but it was full of good and useful information for young students. Thank you for the lead, it was great. And yes, I am copying your game for this afternoon's lesson :). I will let you know how it goes. BTW I have downloaded the book that Eduardo recommended, it is good because along with the first open string mi,mi,mi the teacher can play an accompaniment that is quite pretty and may encourage her. Also, I started teaching apoyando and Eduardo prefers to start with free strokes, so I will change today. Lets see how it goes. Thank you thank you so much

      Like 1
    • Emma Yes, I use that book Eduardo recommended too with one of my students (following his recommendation too, I assume you mean the Juan Antonio Muro "Basic Pieces" one?). I don't think there's anything in the book that prescribes apoyando over tirando, but it does start with i and m, and then a little later brings the thumb in. I really like it too because of the accompaniments, and there's loads you can discuss in there about how to play each piece, like how a hedgehog might dance, or what it's like in the morning, or to go on a picnic, and elicit musical ideas from them, as well as teach articulation, dynamics, tempo and the rest of it using their ideas.

      I use another one with younger students because it's got more German in it (I'm in Berlin) and some colour and pictures. It actually starts with the thumb on the g string, which I like too, because it means they can rest i, m and a on the treble strings and have a good RH position. I don't think the book Eduardo recommends 

      My advice about whether or not to start with free stroke, rest stroke, thumb stroke, back stroke... is teach whatever you understand best and are confident with, as well as what the student can manage happily. As with anything you teach, if you don't understand the rationale behind it, for example why you would choose one method over another, then you won't be able to guide them confidently, and confidence and trust in a teacher is important for you to be happy teaching and for your students to receive your teachings openly. I think it's fair to say all these methods have developed excellent players, so go with what you understand best, be open to solving issues as they arise, experiment, and be attentive to what happens and what works, as I'm sure you very much are.

      Keep us posted!


      Hey Mircea , aka Mr Head of Tonebase Live, can you sort out the first Eduardo Inestal video? It would be a shame for it not to be available. Plus it would be weird to have the first and not the second.

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