Posts Tagged ‘beginning guitar’

What NOT to give for Christmas…

Posted by Brian on 6th December 2011 in Beginners, Guitar, Rant

Please, please, PLEASE, if you don’t know what to get your child for Christmas, do NOT get them a guitar.

Does it seem strange that a guitar teacher would try to dissuade you from giving a guitar for Christmas?

Here’s why:

While there are three exceptions, 95 percent of the time, giving a guitar at Christmas is a bad idea.

Unless you want an unplayed guitar sitting in your closet for the next couple of decades.

Many times when a parent gives a guitar for Christmas, its because the child already has an X-box, an iPod, an iPad, a DS, a TV, a computer, and maybe even a bicycle… so they see a guitar on the shelf at the local Stuff-Mart and think’ “Oh! Junior doesn’t have one of those! I bet (s)he would like one.”

And, yes, on Christmas morning, Junior might very well be ecstatic – with visions of musical stardom dancing in his or her head.

However…

The thing that Junior does not yet realize is that guitar is hard. Really hard. It takes a lot of work. And if learning guitar isn’t something that he or she is passionate about, it’s probably not going to happen on its own.

Here are the three exceptions:

One: Junior has been pestering for a guitar for months. Playing air guitar for hours on end and stringing rubber bands over empty tissue boxes to work on his or her chops. In this case, promise me that you will not buy the guitar from a big box store and that you will not spend less than $200 and go ahead.

Two: You have already bought Junior a guitar from a big box store and by some miracle, it is still getting played. In this case, it is probably time for an upgrade and, if you promise me that you will not buy another guitar from a big box store and that you will not spend less than $200, you have my blessing.

Three: You are prepared to take on the grueling task of being the taskmaster and forcing daily practice until sufficient skill is developed that Junior actually learns and appreciates the rewards of playing music and discovers a desire to learn independently. (This is not a bad thing, but most modern parents don’t have the time or energy for this.) Just promise me that you will not buy the guitar from a big box store and that you will not spend less than $200.

(If you have, decided that, yes, a guitar would, in fact, make a great gift, then you should probably include a tuner, a music stand, and a metronome as stocking stuffers.)

So when you see that guitar sitting on the shelf at the Stuff-Mart, just think, “Thanks, Brian,” and walk on by.

 

At What Age Can a Child Start to Play Guitar?

Posted by Brian on 19th October 2011 in Beginners, Guitar, Relatives of the Guitar, The Instrument

It is a question that I get a lot and, as with most things, the short answer is, “The younger, the better.” Having said that, there are challenges for the young beginner. The biggest one being finding a good quality instrument that fits.

Unlike the violin, it is hard to find a decent quality guitar in any size smaller than what is known as a “parlour-sized” guitar – about three quarters of the size of a typical guitar – usually suitable for a child who is eight to ten years old, depending on their height. Most guitars smaller than this are nothing more than toys, not really useful for learning anything meaningful. But there are exceptions.

How can you tell the difference between a toy and a proper instrument?

The first clue is where you are shopping. If you’re not in a store that sells musical instruments, and only musical instruments, then you are probably buying a toy. The second clue is price. There are bona fide music stores that sell toy instruments simply because there is a market for them, but if you ask, they will probably recommend something of better quality. Generally, for a new instrument, you need to be spending at least $200 to get something of decent quality.

An excellent option for the very young (or very small) beginner is a baritone ukelele. A baritone ukelele is slightly larger than a regular ukelele and it’s four strings are tuned to the same pitches as the four highest strings on a guitar. (For those who don’t know, the “highest” strings are the ones closest to the floor – the thinnest ones.) You can usually get a decent baritone ukelele starting at about $150. To truly mimic a guitar’s tuning, you would need to replace the “fourth” string – the one furthest from the floor –  with a thicker string that can be tuned an octave below the standard tuning of the baritone uke. (The distinctive tone of ukeleles comes from the fact that the fourth string is tuned to a pitch between that of the first two strings – an octave above what you might otherwise expect.) Replacing the fourth string can easily be done by the salesperson in the store.

Also, a regular ukelele would make a great starter instrument. The tuning is different, but the “intervals” between string pitches are consistent with the guitar and the skill of playing is fully transferable. Good quality ukeleles usually start at about $100 – though some ukelele courses are able to provide decent instruments for $60-75 as part of the course, because they buy in bulk and don’t necessarily have the overhead costs.

I have also seen instruments known as guitar-leles – basically a six-stringed ukelele. However, I have never laid hands on one that I would buy. Any that I have picked up have been terribly intonated (meaning that the notes don’t sound correctly as you move up the neck), despite having reputable brand names and being sold in reputable stores. I would avoid these instruments, unless you are knowledgeable enough to make a good judgement or someone you know can go with you to check the instrument first.

In fact, having a knowledgeable friend accompany you is always a good idea. Don’t be afraid to ask, because most musicians are quite happy to have an excuse to take a trip to the local music shop. And shopping with someone else’s money is always a treat.