The guitar and music in general, is absolutely a language. It’s no secret that when we are just little kids, even babies, we start to absorb literally everything as quickly as possible. This means for example, if a child is raised in a household where there happens to be 3 languages spoken, they’re pretty likely to actually learn those three languages all at the same time! This is also true of the language of music, and I believe we start to learn it way before we can even play it! If I think back to my childhood memories, I can clearly recall certain key moments when I remember some sonic revelations that really stayed with me to this day. Never a problem hearing things, loving music, and also understanding pitch relationships, which is perhaps the most important thing of all.
Even as we learn to speak, we start to immediately learn that things such as inflection, volume, tone and pitch are all critical to the art of putting language together. These tones we speak in are all musical as well, and in fact all tones in life are truly musical in nature! So, when we are growing up, and haven’t even touched a guitar string yet, odds are that we’re already using our innate ability to discern tones as a language. Trouble is, there really has to become a point at which we are physically “ready” to actually play the instrument, and that of course is when we can really put all this great knowledge to actual use.
It seems to vary a bit with the child, but usually I don’t recommend anyone starting before the age of 8 or 9 for the guitar. As the hands grow, so does the knowledge, and so does especially the ability to play correctly. It all seems to go hand in hand, and there’s no question that with some players, starting them too early can be a detriment. On the other hand, starting very young can be good in terms of musical knowledge, and training of the ear too, but often times, the child’s physical abilities just haven’t “caught up” to their ears yet! There is no question though, that starting younger is always better, and those first critical days, months and years of their development are essential to success in the future.
Today I saw a very gifted young blues player who is now 14. His ability was so great, yet I was able to “head him off at the pass” when it came t certain bad habits he had already obtained. Because of his very young age, it was easy to make these corrections stick, as he is still developing, and absorbing new knowledge like a sponge! This showed me so clearly how it’s much better to start truly young, and his dedication and enthusiasm was so real it made for a truly inspiring lesson for both student and teacher. It was also good that his father was here with just the right kind of encouragement to help him in the right direction, without him pressuring him or being too much of a disciplinarian. Instead, he just let us do our mutual musical thing, as he glowed with pride over him very talented and young son!