A while back, I did a post about why single moms “rock.” I needed some pictures to go with the post, so I set up a super informal photo shoot at Guitar Center in West Des Moines to get a few shots. My boys and I had such a great time with everyone at the store and learned so much that both of my boys got the “guitar bug.”
For my oldest’s next birthday, his ninth, he got to go and pick one out. (Little brother was and still is jealous and can’t wait until he’s old enough for his.)
The next step was finding an instructor. A friend of mine had used Jay O’Neill, who teaches out of his home in West Des Moines, for her son’s lessons. Guitar Center also had a few names of instructors that they highly recommended. I ended up giving Jay a call, because he was close and my friend was really happy with him.
We went for a free introductory lesson, which Jay gives to all his potential students, so everyone can see if it’s a good fit. My son really loved it and couldn’t wait to practice the things Jay had given him for “homework” that week.
I asked Jay to share a few things with me about what he does and what parents might want to consider when thinking about music and/or guitar lessons. Our interview is below.
Me: How did you get into private guitar lessons and how long have you been doing this?
Jay: I started teaching guitar in about 2000. I was playing guitar regularly in a worship band at church. A few congregation members asked me if I was interested in teaching guitar to their children. I wasn’t sure if I was able to teach very well, but I said yes. I started with three students on Saturday mornings. Within a year I was teaching between 15 and 20 students a week and have been teaching regularly since then.
Me: At what age did you learn to play the guitar and how old do you think is an ideal age to begin lessons?
Jay: My first guitar lessons were part of a music program in 9th grade. I was 14 at the time. I also started private weekly lessons at 14. Depending on the child, I believe the ideal age to begin lessons is between 6 and 10 years of age.
Me: What qualities in children make them successful in learning an instrument? Are there any things to look for when your child asks to learn an instrument, particularly a guitar?
Jay: I believe there are three major factors to consider. Firstly, the development of fine motor skills and hand strength play a large part in how well someone adapts to the physical requirements of playing guitar. Secondly, the ability to focus and concentrate regularly, and for extended periods of time, will be required for any progress and success the student will experience while taking lessons. Lastly, and, in my opinion, most importantly, it is critical that the student enjoys practicing the guitar. As an instructor, I believe my primary responsibility is to find a way for each student to want to practice because they enjoy practicing. If the guitar lessons are enjoyable and the student wants to practice, I believe almost any of the physical or behavioral challenges can be overcome.
Me: What kind of time commitment do you recommend for your students to be successful?
Jay: Daily practice is important. It develops a habit. Organized and focused practice is important. It develops a good habit. How well a student practices is more important than how long a student practices. A student needs to be able to differentiate between “practicing guitar” and “playing guitar.” Practicing guitar requires the student to focus on specific skills. I recommend at least 15 minutes of focused practice time per day. Setting aside a regular practice time can be helpful in developing good practice habits.
Me: What advice would you give to parents considering guitar (or other instrument lessons) for their children?
Jay: Encourage and participate, but don’t force. I gauge my success as a music instructor by how much the student enjoys the guitar. I encourage parents to do the same. I have had parents take guitar lessons with their child. I had one child whose guitar lessons provided extracurricular credit for a homeschool program. I occasionally have contests or reward programs to encourage certain skill sets. Each student is a unique individual. Find something that motivates them and run with it!
Guitar lessons have turned out to be a perfect activity for my son. I am so glad we decided to do it, and so glad we found Jay. My son loves the lessons and is proud of his improvement over this past year. If you would like to contact Jay about guitar lessons for your child, his phone number is (515) 226-1330 or his email is [email protected].
Disclaimer: I was neither paid nor received any type of compensation in exchange for writing this post. All opinions expressed are my own.