The Total Guitar
The Guitar Instruction Site
Brian Johns

Lessons & Practice

Who Takes Lessons?


Here’s a quick sampling:


A.   Children


Typically, I won’t start kids much younger than 6 years of age due to several factors.  One factor, notably, is the size and physicality issue.  We need to have the size of the guitar match the size of the child.  The strings have to be easy to press down otherwise all we’ve achieved is instant frustration.  Not all guitars are the same.  The fingers may get a little sore, especially in the beginning stages, but this tendency can be minimized.  This is an issue for everyone.  But with kids, in particular, they need to know that this is an activity to which they will be successful and results gleaned soon.  The “music making” aspect should happen quickly.  The ability to create musical sounds should be observed by the student sometime around the first or second lesson.  This is the focus of the first few lessons.  If a child is excited about playing they will be more than happy to demonstrate their new found skill to anyone that happens to be around and perhaps even practice without much prompting.  Another issue is attention span.  A half hour can be an eternity when your 6 and sometimes it just doesn’t work.  The ability to conduct practice at home somewhat unassisted and somewhat self - motivated is another factor.  Initially, practice sessions of 10 to 20 minutes 5 to 6 times during the week might be a general standard.  Ground will be gained if practice is regimented daily even if it’s a short session. (…See below for more ideas on practicing…)


B.   Older Kids


The simple truth is: If they like it they will practice it.  This is a concept that perhaps would pertain to all ages but generally carried to the extreme with this age group - 9 to 14.  The guitar and its players are multi - media events.  Thus, the music has to be hip, cool and happening.  Therefore, student requests are quite welcome and if a particular selection is reasonable and can performed with some measure of success, we’ll do it.   Success in this realm basically means: “Will my friends recognize this?”  In many cases, the ability to play tunes from one’s favorite artist was the initial motivation to start lessons.   Believe me, I spend expend a lot of time attempting to keep an ear tuned in to the latest and greatest.  This is not to say that that lesson plan is haphazard, random or unorganized.   To the contrary, technical enlightenment can easily be achieved if it is demonstrated that a particular technique is required to accurately perform a particular request.  So, the overall objective of musical fulfillment can be obtained by way of a combination of the teacher’s desire to instill the necessary skills and techniques and the student’s wish to have musical fun.


C.   The Adult Hobbyist


The issues entertained by this age group, in many cases, are not unlike those that may pertain to the “Older Kids.”   However, the goals and objectives of this age group tend to be more of an assortment.   “This is something I’ve always wanted to do…” is a remark I hear often from the adult beginner.  “Hey, this is really easy…” is an observation I might hear a few weeks later as the myth and lore formerly attached to a particular artist’s prowess or song is duly dispelled. 


Another question I hear often is, “How long will it take to sound good?”  The answer to that is purely reflective upon the difficulty of what and perhaps subjectively, defines “good.”  Practice time and basic skill of the student would be ingredients in that mixture as well.  Most people, regardless of age, are not necessarily gifted.  “Gifted” would describe a very small percent of the population anyway.  But that’s quite all right as “fun” seems to be universal and so, to enjoy the process of developing and obtaining a new skill perhaps is more purposeful. 


Also, there are many students who may have played for a while who perhaps wish to have a weekly “coach” or help in mastering a specific technical problem, style or piece.  Sometimes, the advice of friends who play or online tutelage just isn’t enough.  It is acknowledged that in many instances for the “Adult Hobbyist,” weekly practice can be more difficult.  This generally is not a problem for me as long frustration on the part of the student is kept at bay. 


What Will I Need To Begin? 


If you’re just beginning, you’ll find that there are numerous options for starter guitars. You’ll need to purchase, rent or borrow your own instrument because you’ll have to practice on your own instrument.  Reliable beginning guitar packages - whether acoustic or electric – can be found at around $150.00.  A quiet space all your own, set aside for practice should be sought out as well.  See more on this subject on the "My Guitar" page.


How Do I Get The Most Out Of Music Lessons?


A portion of what we do during the lesson time is how and/or what to practice.  Much of what the student does on their own is simply maintaining the gains already made.  “Gains” are made incrementally and should be respected.  Possibly the most constructive practice session is done immediately after your lesson.  The ideas conveyed or introduced are fresher and not as likely to be forgotten.  Of course, questions, specific tune or material ideas are always a fixture within the plan as well.


To The Higher Plain - A Practicing and Objective Overview:


  • Motivation and preparedness:  practice develops confidence and confidence will generate a musical performance elevated in quality.


  • Dedication is the source for the creation of music of a higher degree and is redefined every day.


  • The time spent within the practice regimen should be fully optimized and consistently, with energy concentrated and motion limited yet fluid.


  • Continuous improvement:  to be better today than yesterday and to strive for the next step.


  • Reliable technique always surpasses both style and performance.  Technique is the key or avenue for success: complete preparedness to which the musician may instantly call or rely upon in the generation of music of a finer quality or higher caliber.

Mostly for Kids - Ideas for Parental Support and the Home Practicing Regimen:


  • Instruction in proper practicing techniques from the onset of lessons is essential.  This is the easiest way to lessen the possibility of erratic practice habits.


  • Try to set aside a regular time to practice.


  • Instituting a reward system for diligent practice habits sometimes works well.


  • Attempt to make sure that expectations are known and pronounced.


  • Draft a parent/child contract and adhere to it.


  • Be patient, and try to focus on success rather than failure: positive reinforcement.


  • Establish with the teacher concrete weekly or monthly goals.  Short or long-term goals with the student sometimes formulating their own agenda can aid in keeping students (of all ages) on track, and will make their practice routine much more rewarding. 


  • Full communication between parents, students and instructor in a coordinated effort, is essential for not every given practicing method works for all.  Certainly, a setting in which a student struggles is to be avoided.  A child’s self-esteem and attitude towards musical activities in general can be negatively affected.


  • Contact the instructor with any concerns especially as regards practice.  Usually, this is best done privately, out of earshot of the child. 


  • Practice slumps will occur but generally pass quickly.


  • Music is a great thing.  More exposure to a variety of music or the arts in general can be enriching as well.


  • Practicing a musical instrument is not necessarily normal or natural in many cases.  This is a learned behavior and establishing strong practice habits is essential.   So, it is important to continue to attempt to discover the practicing recipe that works best.  Discussions with the principal parties will determine the best approach to take.
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