My experience has taught me that its best to wait until the child has the mechanical dexterity to manage the instrument. If you would like to start your child in music as early as possible, I recommend starting on the piano or electronic keyboard. A child of 4 or 5 can push down piano keys, but they have a pretty rocky time getting a good sound out of a guitar string.
That being said, I start teaching kids on the piano after they turn 5. I don’t find that they retain much from lesson to lesson otherwise. There are exceptions, of course, but this is my guideline. As far as starting on the guitar goes, I prefer to wait until they are 8 years old. Also, they would require a student-size guitar until they are 10 or so. Again, there are exceptions and of course, the child’s size plays a role, but these are my guidelines.
What if my child really prefers guitar to piano, or it turns out that they really want to play drums? Do we have to start music all over?
When I teach a student any instrument, I pull in other instruments as well. I will often demonstrate music theory on the piano to a guitar student, or show a piano student how to break down rhythms on the drum set. And if their eyes light up, we can spend more time discovering that instrument.
I love the fact that 4th graders in Loudoun County are all learning to play the recorder! I will often take their recorder music and show them how to play it on the piano, or the guitar, or how they can play the recorder, and I’ll back them up on guitar. I want my students to be able to take what they learn from me and apply it in any musical endeavor they pursue.
Music concepts readily move from instrument to instrument, from style to style, and I particularly enjoy showing the students how all instruments can work together to create music. In sum, any time a student spends with me, or any other teacher worth their salt, is learning in the bank!
We’re all eager for our kids to be exposed to early learning that might fire a life-long passion. I’ve always tried to lure my sons into my studio with books covered in cheery animals and guitar tones that Slash might envy, but to no avail. The important fact is that they are exposed to music, and they’ll pick it up when they are ready. So start by exposing your child to music lessons. Sign up for 2 month’s worth, and see where it goes. If a student is not ready to pursue music at the end of a month, do not despair. They’ve been exposed, and they might well pick it up again later.