The 7-year-old guitar pupil 2) Gear

Guitarists love gear! But what do 7-year-old beginners actually need? And are there some things that they totally don’t need?

A scaled down guitar?
Definitely, if you are serious about pupils learning a good, reliable, adaptable  technique. You would not try to learn any other instrument, or any other sport or hobby, using equipment that was the wrong size for the pupil. Why do parents persist in sending their 7-year-old children to lessons with full size guitars?

A footstool?
Yes. If you want to teach pupils a good, flexible, adaptable technique (see above) then you need the guitar tilted and the fingerboard up

where they can reach it properly (that means getting all four fingers on to all six strings). And the gold standard here is the classical guitar position, whether or not the pupil has any aspiration to play classical guitar eventually.

Some awareness is called for, however. Some young children may simply not be able to sit for any length of time with their knees wide enough apart to make the classical guitar position possible. Girls wearing school skirts or dresses may have well problems too. It is worth trying out knee-rests (you can buy some very good ones for very little nowadays) or knee cushions.

And of course, you may get some “customer resistance” on the whole footstool business. For perfectly understandable reasons – when do pupils ever see their role models sitting this way when they play guitar? You just have to keep calmly reminding yourself of why it is important (for now at least) – point them to some choice links on YouTube of guitarists actually sitting this way and looking cool – and be as much of a role model as you can yourself!

A strap?
No. Waste of time, and just flaps about and gets in the way with a pupil of this age. If they bring one to lessons, be diplomatic but get them to ditch it as soon you can you can without hurting feelings.

A music stand?
It sounds so obvious, but I am amazed at how many of my pupils do not think to get a proper music stand unless I really make an issue of it. Yes, you can improvise something just as good with a little thought, but if a pupil does not have a music stand then the chances are that he or she plays with the music on the floor( so they have to squint downwards), or flat on a tabletop (so they have to crane forwards to read it). These are really unhelpful positions! If you want to teach pupils to read, then you have to make sure they can do so comfortably.

A plectrum?
Young pupils often produce a plectrum from their guitar case in the first couple of lessons, and ask “Will I be needing this?” with a glint in the eye that says “I really hope the answer is yes!”

In my performing life I play a lot of jazz guitar, and I am actually very keen on the idea of teaching some plectrum guitar at this age. I must admit though, experience has taught me that it rarely works. At this level, anything which gets between the player and the string is just in the way. Thumbs (and fingers) are so much easier and more effective. And of course as the thumb and fingers get stronger and more supple by plucking the strings, they will also be able to hold a plectrum more skilfully later on …

A metal-string or electric guitar?
Don’t go there with a seven-year-old… Nylon good, everything else bad.

A progressive tutor book?
Definitely yes. (The right one, of course!) I know there has been a fashion in music teaching (and teaching in general) for getting away from textbooks, and being eclectic and all the rest of it. With older pupils and adults, this makes some sense and can be a fruitful approach. But with seven-year-olds, it makes no sense and never did. Young children love structure and security, they like to know what is coming next and go back over what old familiar pieces, and of course a good tutor book becomes part of their lives, goes into their memory boxes and so on – in a way that a sheaf of tatty pieces of paper never will.

OK, that’s enough about gear. Keep it simple and avoid the frippery.  The next instalment will be about playing a large instrument with small hands …