These guidelines will help you to have a successful, rewarding experience when learning an instrument. These are practical tips that we have learned from years of teaching, performing and from our experiences with teaching hundreds of students each year.

1. How young is too young?  How old is too old? - Starting at the right age…

Adults can start any instrument at any age.  Their success is based on how willing they are to commit to practicing.  Adults have busy lives and it is not always easy to find the time for practice.  One helpful thing to keep in mind is that most of what it takes to play an instrument comes from your mind, not your fingers.  So adults can study and think about what they are working on from their music lessons while they are driving, waiting at a stop light, having a meal or before going to sleep.  Any time that the student has "down-time", they can be studying music as well as memorizing and visualizing aspects of their instrumental studies.  Then when they do have time to pick up their instrument to practice, they have a lot already covered and already out of the way so they can concentrate more on the physical practice at that point.

For children, starting at the right age can be a key element to the success of their lessons.  Some people will tell you "the sooner the better"- but this isn't always the case.  If a child is not ready with the focus and the physical strength, guitar or bass lessons can be relatively unproductive.  If a child is put into lessons at too early of an age, he or she may feel overwhelmed and may become frustrated.  Sometimes if the child waits a year to start lessons, his or her progress can be much faster.  Children who are older than the suggested earliest starting age usually do very well.  It is true however that every child is different and develops at slightly different rates both mentally and physically.  The following are general guidelines for instruments currently taught at Linford School of Music which will help the parent to be successful in determining how young a child can start taking music lessons:

Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, and Bass Guitar (as well as the less popular Ukulele, Mandolin and Banjo): Although in rare cases, younger students have done well, 8 years old is generally the earliest we recommend for guitar lessons.  Guitar playing requires a fair amount of pressure on the fingertips from pressing on the strings.  The student must also coordinate between the left hand and right hand when plucking the strings and pluck only the strings that are required at any given time.  Although it can be difficult and frustrating at first, we all have started at the same place and it does get better and easier with practice and persistence.  Children under 8 years of age generally have small hands and may find playing uncomfortable as well.  We do understand that every child is different and that these present only general guidelines.  If the child is 6 or 7 years old, they may still do well with the guitar.  We will be glad to give it a try to see how it goes.  It is the exception rather than the rule however that a student this young is ready for the guitar.

2. Insist on private lessons when learning a specific instrument.

Group classes work fine for theory lessons.  However, when actually learning how to play an instrument, private lessons are far superior.  In private lessons, it is hard to miss anything, and each student can learn at his or her own pace.  This means the teacher does not have to teach a class at a middle of the road level, but has the time and focus to work on the individual student's strengths and weaknesses in order to help him/her become the best that they can be, and to have fun getting there.  During a private lesson, the student is the primary focus of the teacher.  The teachers also find this more beneficial, as they do not have to divide their attention between 5 - 10 students at a time.

3. Take lessons in a professional teaching environment.

Learning music is not just a matter of having a qualified teacher, but also having an environment that is focused on music education.  In a professional school environment, a student cannot be distracted by television, pets, ringing phones, siblings, or anything else.  With only 1/2 to one hour of lesson time per week, a professional school environment can produce better results since the only focus at that time is learning music.  Students in a school environment may also be motivated by hearing peers who are at different levels, and by being exposed to a variety of musical instruments.  In a music school, the lessons are not just a hobby or sideline for the teacher, but rather a responsibility which is taken very seriously.  The teachers at Linford School of Music are qualified to teach all aspects of the instrument and music theory to the student including:

* Note Reading and other Reading
* Music Theory, Guitar Theory, Piano Theory
* Playing Techniques
* Practice Techniques and Good Habits
* Fingerpicking and Flatpicking (for Guitar)
* We Teach All Styles
* Rhythm AND Lead Guitar
* Rhythmic Training
* Coordination Exercises and Techniques
* Positive Attitude and More!

4. Make practicing easier.

As with anything, improving on your instrument takes practice.  One of the main problems with music lessons is the drudgery of practicing and the challenge of making and keeping it fun.  At Linford School of Music we are committed to making music fun and keeping it fun for the student.  We take every student individually and tailor lessons to their particular wants and needs, which is another thing you cannot get in group lessons.  Occasionally, there can be friction between parents and students regarding practicing every day. Here are some ways to make practicing easier:

Time: Try setting the same time every day to practice so it becomes part of a routine or habit.  This works particularly well for children.  Generally the earlier in the day the practicing can occur, the less reminding is required by parents to get the child to practice.

Repetition: This method can quite often help when setting practice schedules for beginners.  For a young child, 20 or 30 minutes may seem like an eternity.  Instead of setting a time frame, you can use repetition.  For example, a student can be told, "Practice this piece 4 times every day, and this scale 5 times a day."  The child then does not pay attention to the amount of time her or she is practicing the instrument, but knows if he or she is on repetition number 3, the student is almost finished.

Rewards: This can work very well for both children and adult students.  Some adults reward themselves with a cappuccino or some other treat after a successful week of practicing.  Parents can encourage children to practice by granting them occasional rewards for successful practicing.  At Linford School of Music we constantly praise and encourage students and especially young children for a successful week of practicing and for even just trying hard.  Praise tends to be the most coveted award- there is just no substitute for a pat on the back for a job well done.  Sometimes we all have a week with little practicing; in that case, there is always next week.  And there is always learning to be accomplished at the music lesson even if it has been a hectic week with less than normal amounts of practice.

5. Use recognized and effective teaching materials and methods.

At Linford School of Music, we utilize the best materials developed by professional music educators.  We also have huge amounts of our own instruction materials.  We not only use paper materials and handouts but every teacher also utilizes the computer for more modern, advanced and FUN approaches to teaching music.  If the student were ever to have to move to a different part of the country, qualified teachers and institutions will recognize the materials and be able to smoothly continue from where the previous teacher left off.

6. Always remember to HAVE FUN!

Music should be something that you enjoy for a lifetime.  So try not to put unrealistic expectations on yourself or your children to learn too quickly.  Everyone learns at a different pace, and the key is to be able to enjoy the journey.

Best of Luck and Success,

                         Mark Linford, M.M.

© Linford School of Music
73704 Joshua Tree Street
Palm Desert, CA  92260
Phone: (760)346-7372
Fax: (760)862-1191
Email: linfordschool@gmail.com

© Linford School Of Music (A Division of Music Services, Inc.) 2009