Schooled #3 – What to expect as the parent of a guitar student?

After many years of air guitar your child wants to take it up to the next level and get their hands on a real instrument. The guitar isn’t easy, hence why people revere a great guitar player, so you opt for guitar lessons to give them the edge over online tuition and books. What should you expect from these lessons? I have been teaching professionally for the last 5 years and in that time I have talked to a lot of parents regarding their child’s progression. In this article I take a look at the most frequently asked questions by parents and offer up some advice.

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Communication

An open and regular communication between the tutors, parents and the student is vital. I run a tight teaching schedule so I can’t always talk for long so I encourage parents to e-mail myself with any concerns. Ever tutor is different so ask them what is the best way to set up a channel on communication.

Within the teaching experience there is a triangle of interests; the student, the tutor and the parent. In my experience, parents want to see three key things from the lessons; musical progression, enjoyment and value for money. Students are simply driven to learn material that inspires them and enjoy the process. Whist I cannot speak for all tutors, I am personally focused on delivering the material in a fun and engaging way with a clear sense of progression and targets (and the money, it is a business after all).

I often have strong communication between myself and parents but find students often aren’t aware of the parents concerns. For example, if you would like your child to take grades discuss that with them openly before asking your tutor to teach them. It has to be a three-way conversation to make sure everyone is on the same page.

The best rule of thumb is to discuss your concerns as soon as they arise. Don’t be afraid to ask a tutor why they have approached a topic, skill or technique in certain way. There is always method to the madness, and often the noisiest, silliest activity is stealthily teaching a very useful skill.

The ‘P’ Word

One of the most frequent concerns I hear is regarding the amount of practice a student undertakes. There are huge number of factors to be considered on this topic and every student will vary wildly depending on their goals and personal situation.

The amount of school work (and later employment) that a student has will greatly determine their practice habits. During times of heavy school work or standardized tests you should expect to see less practice as their energies and focus will be diverted. Comparatively I would expect to see a lot more in the holidays and it is reasonable to vocalize this to them so they know what you expect.

If the student is unsure of what they should be practicing then I highly advise asking the tutor at the end of the lesson and/or keep a note of the weekly targets.

If you would like to see more practice it is essential you avoid making it a chore. I’ve seen even the most well meaning parents slip up on this point. Your choice of words here is crucial. I’ve heard parent’s say things like “Why haven’t you been practicing?” when simply swapping tones to “Shall we practice the guitar a little more” helps to avoid any negativity and say essentially the same thing. It might seem trivial but I’ve seen the instrument become a punishment towards the end of my time with a student. Keep it light and fun, music is suppose to be an expressive, artistic experience.

There will be times when you need to put the pressure on. For example, on the run up to graded exams a reminder to practice the graded material is often needed. Graded exams require a lot of focus so definitely read Schooled #1 for an in depth look at the topic.

One way to create a practice incentive is to encourage your child to form a band with other friends that play and sing. It’s amazing how hard a student will work when they have a band practice or gig coming up. Even having a jam session with another guitarist will fuel the fire as guitarists are strangely competitive.

Some parents will be reading this section thinking I can’t keep them off the guitar. Many students will practice unprompted and most often when lessons are allowed to pursue their personal interests and goals. In these cases just be a cheerleader and resist banging the broom on the ceiling.

Progression

There are a lot of factors that will effect a students progression. Even the greatest guitar instructor is limited to demonstrating and explaining the best musical practice. It is then down to the student to take this information and employ it when practicing. Certain elements of playing are difficult and may take several weeks or months to become part of a students knowledge base, be patient.

Younger students tend to struggle with the physical size of instrument and the understanding of advanced musical concepts. Older students will be more sensitive to the way the instrument should sound and this makes an inability to perform a technique correctly very frustrating.

As a paying client, parents would like to see a steady upward progression. As an educator I can confidently say that every student plateaus regularly. Breaking out of these plateaus requires perseverance and self-discipline, both skills parents want to see develop as a person. In these periods be a cheerleader for your child, help them abolish any self-doubt by reminding them of the previous challenges they have overcome. Once they break out of a plateau you will often see huge progression in a short period of time.

There are no short cuts to excellent musicianship. I’ve taught every age group (6-70 years old) and I’ve seen every student progress at different rates. It often takes time, patience and a healthy dose of stubbornness.

Final Thoughts

 Learning a musical instrument has a wide range of benefits but it requires a lot of time, self discipline and a genuine want to learn. Whilst parents often shudder at the thought of their child becoming an artist, a good musical education is something they will enjoy for a lifetime. It’s a wonderful thing to see a student go from strength to strength and seeing a student form their own bands and study music at higher education is a genuine pleasure. And remember when they go multi-platinum  you will be the first person they buy a mansion as a thank you for all the years of patronage.

Thanks for reading, anything else you think I should have included? Leave a comment below and hit the like button. If you like to read some more articles I’ve written for parents check out the ones below.

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