Guitar Legend or Piano Prodigy?

Bring ‘Music to your ears’ with our guide to choosing music lessons as an after school activity

From the ‘Wheels on the Bus’ to the latest chart topping hit - music plays a big part in children and young adults lives. It’s quite hard to ignore it as it is all around us. From dancing around the room to singing along in the car kids can’t get enough of music. No wonder they are also keen to make their own music and tunes themselves. In a recent survey Guitar and Piano lessons featured in the top after-school activities for children. In fact music instruction ranked as #2 most popular activities amongst primary and secondary school children alike (1).

What makes learning music so appealing to children and young adults? We explore the benefits of tinkling the ivories or getting to grips with the guitar. We will also share how to get your children into music instruction along with some top tips that you might want to consider.

But first ...

Did you know

  1. The Piano is technically a stringed instrument.

  2. Headstock, neck, nut, fingerboard, frets, truss rod, strings and inlays are all basic components of the guitar! (2)

  3. The record for the world’s largest piano is held by Adrian Mann of New Zealand. It took 4 years to make this giant piano and it weighs in at a whopping 1.4 tonnes and is 5.7 metres long! (3)

  4. The most expensive guitar ever sold was one owned by Eric Clapton. His “Blackie” Stratocaster sold for $959,500 in 2004. (2)

Music Instruction - An Overview:

The guitar as a modern instrument has evolved throughout history and is one of the oldest instruments around. Amazingly the guitar in some form can be traced back 4000 years! Through its evolution the guitar has been part of many cultures and civilisations. Originally favoured as more of a background instrument through the ages, it is now featured more in the forefront of modern music. In fact the guitar only started to become popular as an instrument in its own right in the early 1900s. Before then, classical instruments such as the violin, piano and flute had been more popular. The guitar manufacturer Gibson made its first Electric guitar in 1936 (2). The guitar’s popularity is reflected in how the instrument is used today in modern music. Famous guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapham and more recently Ed Sheeran continue to influence children into picking up the guitar and giving it a try.

The classical piano as we recognise it today was born in Padua, Italy in 1709. Like the guitar the piano has evolved over time and can be linked as far back as the 14th century with the introduction of the ‘dulcimer’ to Europe. Early stringed instruments with a keyboard such as the ‘dulcimer’ and ‘clavichord’ gave way to the famous harpsichord of the 15th Century (4). It was the harpsichord which inspired Bartolomeo di Francesco Cristofori to create the modern day piano we all know and love. Fast forward over 250 years and the introduction of the digital piano became a huge influence in the electro-music scene of the 1980s. Prior to this new age of electro-pop famous pianists such as Duke Ellington and Ray Charles had been influencers in the emergence of the electric piano (3). Today the piano whether acoustic or digital has a wide appeal in music across the genres from classical to rock and pop.

Many experts who teach music say that learning the piano is a great starting point for anyone who expresses an interest in music. This is because the piano can teach about tempo, musicality (reading music) and rhythm. It therefore forms a solid foundation for learning.

On the other hand the guitar is a great instrument for kids to learn as it is easy to get quick results. Children can get to grips with an easy song quite quickly and get creating and playing music faster. Let’s face it - you can take a guitar almost anywhere! It is a real sociable instrument which is perfect for playing along with a group.

Both the guitar and piano have a fascinating history and a wide appeal for children of all ages. They might even find it tricky to decide one instrument over the other! What are the other benefits of music lessons for children. We look at the skills your child can develop when learning to play an instrument, along with all the kit you will need and top tips for consideration for guitar lessons or piano tuition.

Music Instruction - The Benefits:

Music for Maths

Learning an instrument can help with other academic skills, particularly maths. According to ‘by understanding beat, rhythm and scales, children are learning to divide, create fractions, and recognise patterns (5).

Brain booster - for kids of ALL ages!

A recent study showed that learning and playing a musical instrument in children can boost brain power right into old age! Not only that but it has also been scientifically proven to improve memory. The study carried out by Rotman Research Institute in Canada found that “starting formal lessons on a musical instrument, before the age of 14 and then continuing intense training for up to a decade enhances key areas in the brain that supports speech recognition” (6). As musical activities are seen as an ‘engaging form of cognitive brain training’ this evidence in its brain boosting capabilities can also be seen in not only young musician’s brains but older ones too (6).

Time to get social!

Being part of an orchestra or musical group will teach your child a number of life and social skills to set them up for the future. Children who join an orchestra or music ensemble learn ‘how to relate to others, how to work as a team and appreciate the rewards that come from working together’ according to Maestro Eduardo Marturet of the Miami Symphony Orchestra (7). Even if your child is learning how to play an instrument solo, it can be a great confidence booster. As your child learns new pieces by themselves, practices and then performs them in front of an audience.

Learning an Instrument - The Kit:

All the gear …

For the guitar, your child will need to decide what type they would like to learn. There is a range of different guitars for every style of music imaginable! From Folk to Classical and even Electric. Get to know what sort of music they want to get into.

Folk Guitar:

Relies on basic chords and is relatively easy to play - usually on an acoustic guitar.

Great for: If your child is interested in either accompanying other people singing or for solo performances.

Classical Guitar/Spanish Guitar:

More complex to learn and harder to play in a group. As it’s more difficult to master your child’s progress may be slower.

Great for: Children who have already mastered the acoustic guitar and want something a little bit different. Both sound incredible. Ideal for solo artistes!

Electric Guitar:

Perfect for playing in a group, especially if your child is a big fan of Pop or Rock music. Can be LOUD especially when practising as you will also need an amplifier.

Great for: Budding little Rock Stars!

For those passionate about the piano..

It’s best to have either an acoustic or digital piano at home for your child to practice on. If space is an issue, you can invest in a smaller keyboard that is more practical and transportable.

For both instruments it would be a good idea to visit a local music shop to get an idea of kits and cost before you sign up for music lessons. It is always best to check with your music teacher in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surbiton, Richmond-upon-Thames or Twickenham for recommendations first. Don’t forget that after the purchase of an instrument, it will also need to be maintained. Acoustic guitars and pianos will need to be regularly serviced and tuned.

Are you sitting comfortably?

For the piano or keyboard, make sure you buy a seat which is height adjustable and will grow with your child. It is also important to sit correctly when learning and playing the guitar so find the right chair or stool that suits your child. An adjustable music stand for those learning to play the guitar would also be useful, especially in the early days of learning.

Learning an Instrument - How to get involved:

So you’ve established that your child is a budding Jimi Hendrix or keen Norah Jones. What next? Here are our top tips for getting started and what to consider.

Children as young as six years old can start playing the guitar. But if your child is older and wants to learn - good news too - as it’s definitely an instrument where it is “never too late to learn”.

With the piano, kids can start on the digital keyboard as young as three years of age. Many children should then be ready to progress onto professional piano lessons around the age of five or six years old. It is important that your child is confident in using their alphabet (A-G). Another point to consider is whether your child can be focused enough to concentrate for lessons of around 15 - 30 minutes at a time.

For both the guitar and piano - be supportive and patient in your child’s learning. If your child has shown an interest in learning an instrument but feels overwhelmed or disheartened, then stop and pause the lessons and go back at a later time when they feel ready. Pushing them at this stage might put them off completely.

Look for a music teacher who is fully trained, DBS checked and who is patient. Look for free trial or taster sessions locally so that you child can take part in a lesson and see if it’s the right instrument or activity for them. The cost for learning an instrument can soon amount up, so it’s best that your child shows a certain level of commitment before spending money on kit and lessons.

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