How Not to Give a Kid an Instrument

For Christmas, we got three-year-old Johnny his first guitar, breaking all the rules of when and how to give your child an instrument. What not to do:

-hand them an instrument
-allow them to play it intuitively, i.e. grab a pick and start strumming open (untuned) strings
-vaguely yell at them about leaving their new guitar face down on the couch, while hazily noticing that your own guitar is lying face down on the couch.

Instead, the Suzuki method advocates this sequence:

-talk about instruments
-show kid instrument but do not let him touch
-play music a lot on the stereo or iPod Touch
-give formal lessons in which student learns to stand, sit, eventually hold (but not play) instrument
-practice standing, sitting, holding instrument for ten minutes daily for weeks
-eventually learn to play the first four note of “Twinkle”

The idea is to build up excitement about playing the instrument, seeing the instrument as special, as a big deal, as something not EVERYONE can just grab and play. This is how we handled violin with Lila. So far, it’s worked beautifully. She is five-and-a-half and just starting Book 2 of the Suzuki method.

Johnny is different. He is highly musical, singing along (on key) to everything from Twinkle to Liadev’s Kikimara (see this post), but he evinces little in the way of discipline or even much interest in making the instrument play actual notes. (If you ask him if he wants to “learn” how to play the guitar, he says with great indignation, “But I alweady pway guitar!” and then he strums ferociously with his blue plastic pick. To make the effect complete, he found a pair of non-working blue headphones which he puts on his head, the better to not hear his own intensely loud strumming.)

To make matters worse, we’d given each kid a $3 recorder. I’d had a book explaining how to play one, and I’d gone to a school where every kid by age 7 could play. My aunt had taught me at age 5 or 6, and I’d conveniently forgotten that, though easy, it is far from intuitive, and if you don’t take the time to teach the child how to play, the recording is no more sonorous than a life guard’s whistle. So for the week after Christmas, our house has sounded like a noisy beach in crisis with someone half insane thrashing a bad guitar.



Am I going to Bad Music Mom hell? Any readers out there who can testify to an excellent outcome once a kid has gone down the road paved with lawless musical behavior? Should I start Johnny on Suzuki guitar?


About nields

musician, writer, mom
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One Response to How Not to Give a Kid an Instrument

  1. mooreamalatt says:

    I don’t know much about suzuki, but I do know that the best parents are the ones who pay attention to the child’s personality in order to decide how best to fill the child’s needs. Some personalities need to just get in and TOUCH things. Those personalities also might not be the ones who can start formal string lessons at 3. But is there a commitment to starting classes- could you see how he does with one lesson?

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