Encouraging Words for Adult Students

I have taught many adult students throughout my career as a musician, and no other group has been as diverse as this demographic. There have been many walks of life that have come into my studio and not one student has been the same. With all these different personalities and ambitions, there is a piece of advice I can offer that is universal: on whatever level you want it to be, 5 minutes or an hour a day, music should be part of your daily life.

Setting a specific time or day of week has been helpful in my practice. I find that after making dinner and watching a little bit of TV allows me to recharge my brain after a long day of teaching. For some people, Sunday afternoon might work better. How much time depends on your goals; do you want to strum chords and entertain yourself? 15 to 20 minutes per session should work. If you want to play rock riffs and jam with your friends, 30-45 minutes will be enough. The important thing is stay consistent.

When I first took up the guitar, I kept it on a stand in my room. I found myself picking it up when I had 5 minutes here and there, and what I discovered is that the time kept adding up. I was doing 45 minutes of extra practice without too much thought. It takes a lot more effort and motivation to get the guitar out of the closet than to just pick it up.

Have an obtainable short term goal. Do you have a nephew that’s learning the bass or guitar? Talk about common tunes you both have an interest in and make it a point to bring your instruments to the next family get together. Some of my more ambitious adult students like to do grown up summer camps. There are also plenty of meet up groups that cater to specific music styles for you to join. Denver has a friendly and active ukulele community with an orchestra geared towards the adult hobbyist.

When I was studying jazz, it was really helpful to make playlists with different versions of tunes that I was working on. Listen to them during your morning commute or the gym. I would compare Sonny Rollins’ version of There Will Never be Another You to Stan Getz’s recording. With rock music, I liked to have a few live versions of Radiohead songs to listen to. I was recently teaching a few students Julia by the Beatles, and it would be comforting for students to hear Paul McCartney struggle through the chord changes in the studio outtakes.

Another great way to incorporate music in your daily life is subscribing to podcasts and YouTube channels. There is a plethora of topics out there ranging from gear reviews, guitar technique, and rock history anecdotes. Listening to a podcast on pentatonic scales might inspire your curiosity and give you that extra motivation to pick up the guitar after work to experiment with what the blogger was talking about. I love it when an adult student comes into the lesson to pick my brain about something they read about in their 13 dollar a year Guitar World subscription.

I think this last piece of advice is the most important: music is your “me” time! It’s easy to get wrapped up in your job or worrying about providing for your family that you forget that you have to do something for yourself. There is more to life than going to work and coming home. A hobby such as music, no matter your commitment level, will compliment your life and allow you to have a creative outlet!

Practicing With Your Child

The other day, I was talking with a parent after their child’s lesson. He said his son loved coming to his lesson every week, but at home they were struggling with practice. This is not a unique problem, but something I’ve seen for many years across all age groups. Today I will focus on children ages 5 to 12 and things you can do to make practice more fun at home while building a stronger relationship with your child.

With children, the biggest roadblock to success is parent education. Every parent wants their kid to play beautifully, but not everyone has a background in music. This can be intimidating to parents and leads to sending your kid up to their room to practice. Are they working on the week’s assignment? Are they playing on their tablet? Each young student has an assignment notebook where their homework is written down. You can look at the current week, see their homework is a C chord, and say “for one move on the board, play three beautiful C’s.” The important thing is that you’re sitting down with them to work.

In my studio, I play lots of games with the young kids. This isn’t for passing the time, but for doing repetitions in a fun and enjoyable manner. I used to say “play it again” a thousand times a day, but after about 3 months of lessons the student would get frustrated and drop. After incorporating something as simple as a music themed tic tac toe game, all of a sudden the student wants to beat me (they almost always do!) and does dozens of reps. There have been many times I’ve looked up after a few games of dominoes to see that the lesson is over.

Another strategy I use is building a relationship with the child. You can’t do endless reps and games. Every time we finish a round of barrel of monkeys, I give them a couple of minutes to take a break. I ask them about what they are working on in school, who their friends are, how sports are going. I even know about that Disney trip that your family is planning for next year!

Learning to practice is challenging for both the child and the parent, and like anything else has a learning curve. Remember you’re teaching them to follow through and master a skill set, guitar just happens to be our medium!