March 29, 2021 by Klaus Crow
The guitar is an attractive looking and beautiful sounding instrument. Also to young kids. And once the kids get excited about the guitar try stopping them.
I used to teach kids to play guitar from the age of 9, but my wife and I found a way to simplify things and start earlier for younger kids who can’t wait that long. We began teaching our own kids to play guitar from the age of 5. Along the way we discovered the best approach to teach these young students how to learn this challenging instrument and have fun at the same time.
Although our kids chose to learn the guitar without our meddling, we are aware of the influence we have as parents since we are both guitar teachers and the house is full of instruments. There is almost no escaping ;)
Melody and Riffs
We always start to teach easy and short melodies from familiar songs they love to hear. A big motivator! The practice of those simple melody lines, using only one string in the beginning, really contributes to the dexterity of their playing.
A nice touch to the experience is playing the electric guitar from time to time. We turn on the amp with a fat distortion and let them play the famous intro riff of Smoke on the water by Deep Purple. (Don’t worry, they also love to play it on an acoustic guitar). They can start off practicing that melody on just one string:
After a while they can learn the original riff which is played on two strings:
Another great follow up riff is Seven nation army by the White stripes. If they get it really slow in the beginning that is just fine. Speed comes with practice. Just teach them to memorise the notes of the riff. A good idea is to let them sing the fret numbers to the riff melody: 7 – 7 – 10 – 7 – 5 – 3 – 2.
We noticed right away that most guitar chords are too big of a challenge for the small fingers of 5 year olds, so we adjusted the chords so that they are easier to play and still provide the sound and experience of real guitar playing.
Along with simplified chords (see below) you need easy strumming patterns (at first just 4 quarter note down strums for each measure) and an easy song (see below). Let them hear the original song a couple of times so they get used to the tune. Once they get the hang of the chords and strumming pattern we let them play along with the song on Youtube (Adjusting and slowing down the tempo if necessary).
Eventually they learn to play the song by themselves and sing along while playing chords and strumming at the same time. All this is taught in small and easy manageable steps. Let them take the time they need to get it right.
Below you can see the simplified chords that we teach in the beginning to get them play easy songs.
Start with a G, Em, C and D chord. You can use a Dsus2 chord to replace the D chord in the beginning. It sounds fine for now.
There are about a million songs you can play with these four chords, from oldies to the hottest hits of today. Of course you can also alter and simplify other chords as well, but these 4 chords are a good place to start with. Use a capo if you want to play along with the original song.
Here are some easy four chord songs. Just start with some basic down strumming.
She will be loved – Maroon 5
Stand by me – Ben E King
I’m yours – Jason Mraz
Let it be – The Beatles
– Be patient with the kids and take small and easy steps. Just observe them and they will show you how fast they learn and what step they need to take next. Let them have fun with it.
– Inspire them by showing them fun and easy songs you play yourself.
– Put on music in your home on a regular basis. Let them get acquainted with different kinds of music. Play the music you love and the music they love. They need to explore and develop their own musical taste. Even if it’s not your thing.
– Put the guitar in sight, because children are busy creatures like you and I, and need to be reminded that they have a guitar that wants to be played. ;)
– Practice is important, but let them experiment and have fun. Fun is the biggest motivator.
~ Be kind :)
Paul Claessen says
I have a question: I am a right handed player and I want to teach my left-handed grandson to play the guitar. He’s 7 years old.
Do you have any experience with left-handed students?
Since he’s still young, can I still teach him to play the guitar ‘right handed’, or should he play left handed?
Klaus Crow says
I teach a right-handed and left-handed guitar players. I usually advice to start out right-handed, unless their urge to play left handed is really strong. Most guitar players who are left-handed and play right-handed are doing great and feel good about it. There are a few exceptions who really need to make the switch to left. Their strumming hand have trouble playing solid rhythm.
You can start out teaching right handed because he’s still young and if after a couple of weeks or months you feel he needs to make the switch to left handed because it doesn’t work or feel right, you can always do that. He will already have the chords and strumming patterns memorised, so the transition won’t be that big of a deal.
A little dis-advantage of playing left handed is that when he’ll visit a guitar shop or when he’s at somebody’s home, or at school he will likely to stumble upon right handed guitars.
Just try right handed first and see how it goes.
Paul Claessen says
Thanks Klaus … I’ll take you advice and start right handed.
Love your site!
Thanks for the simplified chords tips. I have two young boys and I’m waiting a bit (they are 2 and 4). They love music and honestly, I can’t wait to get them a small guitar. I might just let them fool around with it and try showing them those simplified chord shapes whenever they seem “ready”. I don’t want to push it on them but instruments are easy to find in the house.
Hi. I’m grown and I love the guitar. I’m so confused and don’t know where to start off. And I don’t have a coach. What do I do? Am I lazy?
I have a 5yo cousin who would love to learn the guitar,and wants me to teach him.
The problem is I learned by my own therefore learned the things I wanted to and don’t know where to start from, should I teach him chords ? Tabs?
Hey great tips and awesome tabs. Just what we needed. My 5yr daughter fell in love with queen and immediately asked for a guitar after watching the live aid concert. Thanks so much.
Nelson Riveros says
I just started teaching a 5 yr old who is very eager. He’s learned Twinkle Twinkle in first position and has memorized it. But I like to put together a small repertoire along along with 1- finger chords…Thank you
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What do you think about using a ukulele to introduce kids to a guitar-like instrument?
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David P. says
I dont know if anyone will read this but i will give it a shot. I am 30 and have been playing guitar for over 20 years and self taught. My 5 year old son is showing interest so we got him a cheap amazon 3/4 scale electric. Should I start off by showing him how to play simple nursery rhymes like Marry Had A Little Lamb, or should i start with explaining the strings and that stuff? Any input would be greatly appreciated!