Primeau Guitar Studio Elementary-Age Parent Guide 1/2020
From time to time a parent will ask me for advice on how their child should be approaching their lessons. To help with these questions, I’ve put together this guide for parents on how they can foster their child’s learning and enjoyment of the instrument. This will be an evolving document, updated as my research broadens and I receive feedback from parents.
First, let me acknowledge that the cardinal sin of non-parents is telling parents how to raise their kids. I’ll do my best not to do that. So long as you are feeding and clothing your children, your parenting style is your business. What I will do is provide you with some tips on how to make sure your child is learning and loving the guitar so your hard-earned tuition money will not go waste. I also understand that you know your kids and their capabilities better than I do, so if anything in this guide strikes you as something that will not work for your child, please feel free to amend or disregard it.
It is also likely that you are hoping that learning an instrument will have benefits beyond the artistic. Perhaps you’ve read studies or articles about the academic benefits of music instruction. While playing an instrument is certainly cognitively challenging and enriching, many of the benefits of instrumental instruction are a result of the habits and behaviors it engenders (time/task management, attention to detail, patience, etc.). This guide will aid you in developing those habits in your children.
Before even attending a lesson, it is a good idea to have your child’s guitar in a case and their music in a binder. Good organization and personal responsibility are essential skills for musicians. Moreover, a loose guitar is a threat to be dropped or dented. If your child is big enough to carry their own instrument, they should do so. Obviously, some children are too small to carry both a guitar and binder without collapsing, in which case they should carry at least their music binder or another item. Once they get in to the lesson, they should set up as much as they can other own. If they struggle with this, they can place their music on the stand and turn to the page we need while you set up their guitar.
Parents are welcome to sit in on the lesson and observe, hang out on the couch in the waiting room or drop their kids off and pick them up when the lesson is over. If you do drop your child off, please pick them up promptly at the end of their lesson. I may have another obligation after their lesson and if I have to wait for your child to be picked up, I will be late to my appointment. Finally, while I’m fairly patient when it comes to children’s attention lapses or general silliness, I draw the line at their being rude or disrespectful to me. If your child is repeatedly insulting to me, I will give them a single warning. After that I reserve the right to cut the lesson short and send them home with the understanding that they may return when they can behave respectfully.
The Practice Conundrum
This is always the greatest source of hand-wringing for parents. Developing a practice regimen is all about habit formation. Occasionally I will have parents tell me they do not want to “force” their child to practice. Rather than thinking of practice as something you are “forcing” your kid to do, think of it as something you are teaching them to do. Chances are your children were initially resistant to doing many of the things they now do on their own, such as bathing, brushing their teeth or cleaning their room. But as you showed them how to do each and helped them install each as a habit, they began to see the benefit of good hygiene or an organized room and began to do these things on their own. Many of the benefits of music instruction are not in the instrument itself, but in the time management and conscientiousness it develops. In order to get the full benefit go music instruction, a practice routine is essential.
Setting up a Practice Space
Before we even get to practicing, creating a spot in your home that is dedicated to the guitar will go a long way towards helping your child practice. It doesn’t need much, just a stiff chair (to prevent slouching), a music stand and a guitar stand. Each week when they return home from their lesson, have your child remove their guitar from its bag, place it in the guitar stand and place their music binder on the music stand. This way, when it is practice time, all hassles will be removed and they can jump right into practicing. Rather than hide their practice space away in their room or away from the rest of the home, I recommend placing it in a central location where parents can keep an eye on them as they practice.
When to practice – The Cue
Rather than scheduling practice time at clock time like 7pm (which means little to kids as few wear wristwatches), the best strategy is to pair it with another daily activity. It can be “when we get home from school,” “after dinner,” or “when mom/dad gets home.” This acts as a cue to the child of what to expect and what to do next. Moreover, it less likely to interrupt a fun activity and be regarded as a hassle. Simply decide what cue activity would be best for your family’s schedule and child and institute it. It is best if you are able to monitor and assist your child during their practice session, but if your child is self-regulating it may not be necessary.
What to practice- The Habit
As opposed to directing your child to simply practice for x minutes (where any amount of time over 5 minutes is an eternity for a child), the habit-oriented approach is to have them perform a certain amount of repetitions of a task. At the end of each lesson I will give them a task and how many times I want them to perform it. It could be “perform this chord change 10 times,” or “play this song 3 times” or “perform this section once without pausing.” The first benefit is that this will make children less likely to doddle during practice or act resistant toward it as they have control over how long it lasts. The second is it teaches them to be goal-oriented during their practice, an approach that numerous studies have shown to be the most effective.
After Practice- The Reward
The last element of good habit formation is the reward. If you can give your child a small reward child for their practice, they will be more likely to view it as a positive activity. The reward does not be anything major, just something they would enjoy. It could a certain amount of “screen time,” dessert, or something else they might enjoy. If your child is good at seeing the long game, you might tell them for every 50 or 100 practice sessions, they can get a new game. You know your child and family better than I do, so I will leave it up to you as a parent.
Why Do We Practice?- The Goal
Frequently lost in the kerfuffle over practice is the purpose of the activity. Every week, you and your child should be striving to return to the next lesson ready to learn the next step. We can only do this if your child has mastered the last step, what I had taught them the previous week. If they have not mastered this yet, we will have to learn it again and they will have to spend another week practicing it. That will be less fun than working on something new. While I understand the occasional week where other obligations precluded them from practicing or they found the task too difficult or confusing, if we are perpetually having to cover the same material each week because of inadequate practice, no one is going to be having any fun or be learning and you will be wasting your time and money. So if you want your kids to learn the guitar and have fun doing it, it is imperative that you help them set up a good practice routine.
One of the biggest things you can do to inspire your children towards the guitar is to expose them to guitar-based music. Many kids these days are not exposed to guitar music on a daily basis. When you are in the car or around the house, make sure to play some classic artists for them or guitar artists you like. A listening session can even take the place of a practice session once per week. Your opinion matters a great deal to them and this will allow you share your love of music with your child. If you can occasionally take them to a concert, even better.
Twice per year I host a youth recital at Kick Butt Coffee. Each child’s performance will be professionally filmed and sent to you afterwards so you can share it with friends and relatives. The aim of these concerts is to teach kids how to prepare for a public performance and overcome stage anxiety. Since the emphasis is on your child’s preparation, it is important you stay abreast of where we are in the process. About three months out we will pick their song(s) and begin working on it. At two months out, they need to have it learned in full and by one month, they need to have it memorized at performance tempo. The last month will be spent on performance and anxiety reduction techniques to adapt their music skills to the stage.
On recital day, please dress them in something that both looks good and feels comfortable. For boys, this means a shirt with at least one button. I know less than nothing about female fashion, but girls have proven reliable to figure this out themselves. Please show up 10-15 minutes before the scheduled start time so your child can tune up and get prepared. The recital will likely start a bit late as making sure the sound technology is functioning properly usually hits some snags, but this delay has shown to be preferable as its gives families a chance to settle in and order food and kids a chance to relax and acclimate to the space.
After their performance, be sure to accentuate the positive. Remember, this is about preparation and overcoming anxiety, so the actual performance is less important than how they prepared for it. Even my most gifted students usually make a mistake or two, so perfection is the enemy, not the aim. I want kids walking away confident and excited to perform again. Tell them how proud you are of them and how much you enjoyed watching them perform.
Policies and Other Stuff
I have a separate handout covering my studio policies that you should be sure to read. I’ll restate some of the most pertinent items for emphasis. At the start of your child’s lesson, do not let your child enter my home until they have knocked and I have let them inside. Please pick up your children promptly at the end of their lesson. Tuition is due at the last lesson of each month for the upcoming month. Those are all important, but again, be sure to read through the studio policies, as well as the new student guide.