What Age Can Kids Start Learning Guitar? Advice From a Guitar Teacher
If your child has taken an interest in music or guitar, you might be thinking about giving them some lessons. We’ve all seen prodigy children with jaw-dropping skills on YouTube, so you might be tempted to give your child a head-start and start as young as possible.
While every child is different, it’s generally a good idea to wait until your child is at least 6 years old before starting guitar lessons. While children younger than 6 can learn guitar, it takes an exceptional teacher to overcome the difficulty of teaching young children.
In this guide, I’ll answer common questions parents ask when considering getting guitar lessons for their children. I’ll explain why age matters when starting guitar lessons, how to give your child the best start possible, and how to find a good quality teacher.
Can You Learn Guitar At Any Age?
A great way to understand the answer to this question is to take a look at how children learn to draw. Can children learn to draw at any age?
The answer depends on what you count as ‘drawing’. Does random scribbles of crayons by a toddler count as learning to draw?
Take a look at the following ‘drawings’ and think about what the child is learning at each point in age:
There’s no doubt a toddler can ‘draw’ the first two pictures, but does it count as drawing? Is the toddler really learning to draw at that point?
Does a child need to randomly scribble on a page as a toddler to be able to learn to draw later in life? Of course not, a 6-year-old who has never picked up a crayon before can start to learn to draw without any problems. Early experience with a crayon isn’t required.
As a child grows, they develop control over their fine motor skills. As a child’s fine motor skills develop, they gain more control over the tools they use to draw and end up with better quality results.
It’s the same with learning guitar. If you try to teach a toddler to play guitar, you’re going to end up with the equivalent of random crayon scribbles on a page. A toddler doesn’t have the fine motor skills required to control the guitar and “lessons” at that age won’t speed up development.
Take a look at the hands below and think about how much harder it is for the small hand to reach around the guitar neck and stretch into chords:
Adults with fully grown hands often complain about how hard it is to play guitar chords, so young children have a massive obstacle to deal with. There’s a point where a young child’s hands just can’t do what is required.
While some guitar teachers do offer guitar lessons for toddlers, the real question is whether these lessons make an impact on the child’s development. Do they help the child get a head-start with their guitar skills? Or are the lessons an expensive form of babysitting?
It’s highly unlikely that guitar lessons for children 3 years old or younger have any impact on a child’s development in later years. A child who started “learning” guitar at age 3 won’t have any advantage over a child who started learning at age 6. Just like the child learning to draw, early experiences have close to zero impact on later learning.
What is the Minimum Age to Learn Guitar?
While it would be nice to put a minimum age on when children should start taking lessons, the real answer is fuzzy. I suggested a minimum age of 6 years old at the start of this guide, but let’s dig deeper into why younger children struggle in lessons.
The minimum age a child can start learning guitar depends on the teacher and the expectations for the lessons. The younger the child, the better the teacher needs to be to overcome the difficulties the student will face.
Teaching a 4-year-old is very different from teaching a 6-year-old. The differences in brain development and fine motor skills between a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old are night and day. Those extra two years gives children so much more control over a guitar. This extra control over the guitar leads to less frustration and more progress during lessons.
An average-quality guitar teacher might be able to teach a 6-year-old with decent results. A 6-year-old will be able to intuitively pick up on some things along the way and may have some form of self-motivation to practice.
An average-quality guitar teacher will utterly fail at teaching a 4-year-old (or younger). A 4-year-old will heavily rely on the teacher’s skills and knowledge.
I’m honest enough to say that I can barely teach a 6-year-old with decent results. But there’s no way that I’m capable of keeping a 4-year-old focused and motivated. Most teachers don’t recognize their limits or aren’t willing to admit them.
If you plan on getting guitar lessons for your young child, be aware that most teachers don’t have the skills and knowledge required to give adequate quality lessons. Guitar teachers often overestimate their teaching abilities, so even if you find a teacher who claims to be excellent with young children, don’t expect great results.
As I will explain later, there are things you can do to expose your child to music and help them develop their own musical curiosity. I don’t recommend paying for guitar lessons for very young children, but there are things you can do to nurture your child’s creativity and curiosity.
As an example, I’ve had many new students over the years who first built an interest in guitar by playing Guitar Hero as a young child. They started out playing songs on Guitar Hero, then when they grew older they decided to learn the real thing. In comparison, I’ve never heard of a child who had lessons as a 3-year-old continue to learn guitar later in life.
While you might see “prodigy” children with amazing skills on guitar, keep in mind that for every young “prodigy”, there are hundreds of children who have given up learning an instrument for life because they were pushed into lessons too early.
What is the Best Age to Start Guitar Lessons?
There is a difference between the minimum age to learn guitar and the ‘best’ age to start learning guitar. While I’ve suggested a minimum age of 6 years old, the ‘best’ age to start is likely to be higher.
The best age to start taking guitar lessons is when the student is enthusiastic about learning guitar. A student’s enthusiasm and motivation to practice is the best predictor of long-term success. For some students, the best age to start learning is 6. For others, it could be 9 or 14 or 28.
After a minimum age of about 6, a child will have enough fine motor skills to be able to effectively learn the instrument. The other important piece of the puzzle is motivation.
As a guitar teacher, I can confidently say that students who are motivated to practice are the students who succeed. If the student isn’t motivated to practice, they won’t progress. If a student doesn’t see progress, they end up quitting.
Important: the source of motivation matters. Does your child really want to learn guitar or do you want them to learn guitar?
This can be hard for some parents to hear, but pushing children into learning guitar doesn’t work in almost all situations. I’ve struggled through too many lessons with children who didn’t want to be there because they had zero interest in guitar.
If your child doesn’t seem enthusiastic about guitar, don’t push them into lessons. Not only will it be a frustrating experience, but it may also kill any chances of developing an interest in a music instrument in the future. Give your child time to discover their own interests.
If it takes another 5 years for your child to develop an interest in guitar, that’s fine. Wait until they develop some interest, then nurture that interest.
How To Give Toddlers Guitar Lessons
Let’s say you have a toddler who seems fascinated by guitar and you want to fuel that curiosity. I’ve mentioned several times that toddlers don’t have the fine motor skills required to adequately control a guitar. So what can you do?
At this age, exposing your child to music and giving them simple ways to express themselves is all that is needed. A toddler doesn’t yet have the abilities to properly control a guitar, so real guitar lessons can be frustrating for them. But there are things you can do to set them up for the future.
Here are some ideas on how to give “lessons” to a toddler:
- Get a ukulele and tune the strings to play an open chord. This means, when the strings are strummed it produces a pleasing sound. A standard tuned ukulele doesn’t produce a nice sound when the strings are strummed, so this change solves that problem. As your child grows, you can look at teaching them basic chords and strumming patterns
- Have jam sessions with your toddler. You don’t need to be able to properly play an instrument, just be able to get involved. Tambourines, shakers, toy pianos, and hand drums are all good choices
- Consider teaching them how to play Guitar Hero. I’ve had a lot of students over the years who started out playing Guitar Hero and eventually wanted to learn the real thing. This game teaches important skills and coordination that translate very well to real guitar playing
The goal at this age is to instill wonder and excitement around music. Keep experimenting with different things and find what grabs your child’s attention.
The below video is a perfect example of how to inspire your toddler to develop an interest in music:
You might notice the child imitate his dad by strumming the strings. At this age, you don’t need to try and teach the child any real techniques or timing skills. Simple jams like this can be all that’s needed to develop an interest in guitar.
Tips for Motivating Your Child
While I don’t recommend pushing your child into guitar lessons, there are things you can do to nurture a curiosity in music. Here are the two most important things you can do to set your child up for successful guitar lessons:
Get involved with your child
Most progress happens outside of lesson times. There’s a lot of time between weekly 30-minute lessons to fill. How you get involved with your child matters. If you push your child to practice like it’s a chore, it won’t feel like a fun thing to do and will start to feel like work.
There are many ways you can get involved with your child to help build their passion for music. Expose them to new music and try to figure out what genres interest them. It takes time for children to develop their own interests in music, so showing them different styles and artists can help them figure out what they like.
Whether you have any musical abilities or not, try having jam sessions with them. Anybody can hold a steady beat using a tambourine. One of the great benefits of learning to play guitar is that you can play with other people. By jamming with your child, you help them see that benefit.
As a guitar teacher, I can tell you that there is a massive difference in students based on whether their parents get involved or not. The students who come to each lesson filled with motivation have parents who get involved with them outside of lesson times.
Reward effort, not results
Do you play an instrument? If you don’t, is it because you believe that you don’t have any musical talent? Or have you tried and gave up because you’re “tone deaf”? If you answered yes, then you have what is called a “fixed mindset”.
A fixed mindset is the belief that our results are based on talent and innate abilities. Having a fixed mindset can be incredibly limiting as you don’t believe you have control over what you can learn. A person with a fixed mindset believes some people are good at math and some people are good at music.
A person with a “growth mindset” believes that our results are based on our efforts. There’s no such thing as being “tone deaf” – it’s merely an excuse for people who give up in the early stages of learning an instrument.
This isn’t my opinion, it’s based on the research findings from the incredibly important book Mindset by Carol Dweck.
Research has found that when children are rewarded for having a fixed mindset (eg: “wow, you’re so talented!”), their skills and abilities plateau. Rewarding results can be destructive to a child’s development. They eventually learn that if they’re not already talented in something, there’s no point trying to learn it.
When children are rewarded for having a growth mindset (eg: “well done, you worked so hard on that song!”), they learn that effort is the key to success. They learn that they can achieve anything if they put enough effort in and talent is a result of hard work.
The best thing you can do for your child when it comes to learning guitar (or learning anything else) is to encourage a growth mindset. I highly recommend reading Carol Dweck’s book to learn more about this topic.
Guitars for Kids
Learning guitar is a serious challenge for a young child. Being able to coordinate both hands and press down on the strings hard enough can be challenging for all beginners. I’ve even had an adult quit immediately after the first lesson because she couldn’t deal with the challenge.
The guitar is a hard instrument for a beginner to learn, so we need to make things as easy as possible for kids to pick up an instrument and get started.
The worst thing you could do is give your tiny child a full-sized acoustic guitar to learn on. Imagine if you tried to play a guitar that was bigger than you!
Fortunately, there are a lot of good quality guitars available for children.
You may have heard of 1/2 sized or 3/4 sized guitars. These guitars scale the size down into something far more comfortable for children. The below travel guitar is a good example of how a scaled-down guitar can be far more comfortable for a child compared to a full-sized guitar.
Having a half-sized guitar means that your child is able to play with the correct posture and technique. It reduces how much a child needs to stretch to be able to reach notes on the fretboard.
The best thing you can do if you’re looking at getting a guitar for your child is to go to your local guitar store and get your child to sit with a 1/2 or 3/4 sized guitar in their lap.
There are some good options for scaled-down guitars in my guide on Travel Guitars. Check it out for some suggestions on compact guitars.