By Rebecca Parker
I spent the first five years of my working career as a guitar teacher to young children. Ironically, I think I learned so much more from those children than they ever learned from me — at least when it came to valuable life lessons. These are some of the gems I was fortunate to learn from people half my age.
It doesn’t matter how good you are at something if you just do it.
I used to hold monthly showcases, and it always amazed me how these kids, ages 6-12, would get on the stage and play in front of 100 people. The kids who amazed me the most were the ones who made mistakes. They realized that even if you make mistakes, you are still doing your best — doing what you love. And honestly, most people don’t even notice your mistakes.
Don’t be nervous.
A few years ago, one of my students was competing in a large talent contest. He was seven, and there were probably 500 people watching. His mother said she was going to throw up because she was so nervous. But when I asked my student how he felt, he said, “I wish there was a million people out there to watch me do great.” He had immense confidence in himself because he knew he had practiced and prepared for this. Don’t waste your energy being nervous; spend your energy practicing and preparing.
Play to your strengths.
Just like adults, children learn in different ways and at different speeds. Always learn and work the way that works best for you. I always prided myself on being able to tailor every lesson to each individual student. Some kids learned best by repeating the same things over and over, while others didn’t have patience and had to do several different activities within a half hour lessons. Some kids learned best by reading music off paper, while others learned better by hearing the song on the stereo, and others just copied every move I made. Whatever way works best for you when completing a task, that is the way you should work and learn. (And that is why I never wake up early to go to the gym!)
Nothing is too hard.
I am always amazed at how children could flat out argue with me that they think they could play a song. They would ask to learn something challenging and I would nicely say it would be too difficult, that we would learn it after they had been taking lessons for a while. Students would tell me no, that they would work hard and they could do it. Turns out, most of the time they would work hard and could do it. It just proves that if you want something bad enough, you can do it.
Sometimes you just need a day off.
Teaching little kids requires a lot of improvisation. Sometimes kids just don’t want to learn, and there is no point in forcing them and making them miserable. So we played games. I kept a stock of games like matching cards, Go Fish with music notes, or we made colorful posters of chord diagrams. Sometimes I think kids learned more on days when they never even picked up their guitar.
Love the little things.
At the start of every lesson, I’d ask my students how their week was. If you ask an adult this, you will probably get a vague answer like “good.” Little kids always tell stories about how they drew an awesome picture, or got to watch their favorite television show, or how sunny it was that day, or how good their lunch was, or the cute thing that their dog did. This was my favorite part of every lesson. Learn to love the little things and you can have a great day every day. In the end, it is the little things that make your life better anyway.
I am 22. I spent five years as a full-time self-employed guitar teacher but now work full-time in the corporate world while attending online college and teaching on weekends. I’m not where I ever thought I would end up, but I am so happy to be here.