Teaching very young children


#1

Hello!

Many of my students are very young, between the ages of 8-10. As a rule, I am strict about teaching DWPS very early on, and I’ve had some really good results. One thing that I have avoided, though, is alternate picking across odd or inconsistently note numbered scale shapes. I will have students play chromatic exercises and alternate pick Pentatonic scales, but when it comes to the standard CAGED major and minor scales, I currently just have them play those with all down strokes. I’ve tried teaching the economy approach with young kids and it is very overwhelming for most of them to do it across an entire scale shape. Normally when I introduce economy picking, it is with small 3note Pentatonic licks, like the Eric Johnson 3 note chunks.

I have avoided teaching alternate picking the CAGED shapes specifically because they are young beginners and I don’t want to “disturb” the DWPS mechanic or give them more to think about until they are ready to grasp finer details. In my young students who have progressed further, I’ve introduced small 2WPS movements (to play typical angus young style Pentatonic phrases) and they seem to figure this out from the DWPS position pretty easily.

My question is, since this has become a topic of conversation amongst my non-CTC familiar coworkers, should I break my approach and throw some of these younger kids strict 2WPS scale shapes so they can “learn” alternate picking, or should I stick to my very systematic approach? What do you guys do in similar scenarios?


#2

Great question!
I teach some very young kids (5 is the youngest!) And with that age if they actually manage to pluck a string with a fretted note, I’m happy with that! I think they’d be terrified if I got to pickslanting!
As for 8 and up, I’ve taught it, but in a very vague sense. Maybe because of the level they’re at, I haven’t use it as a concept for scale playing! I’ve used it when strumming chords though. The ‘road spikes’ analogy from one of the old episode applies there. Move the pickslant with the direction you’re strumming! But teach it in a basic sense, the phrase ‘pickslant’ is never said. I just show them the angle and say ‘do this on the way up, this one the way down!’ Don’t want to overload them with information in one go! I’ll let you know if I have any success with scale playing as their technique develops!


#3

Why not work with what they do naturally? If a kid comes to you with a great crosspicking or rough 2WPS mechanic, are you gonna make them do DWPS?

IMO, I would be wary of trying to push anything that frustrates or is an obstacle to their continued enthusiasm with the instrument. You can play 1000s of songs with string hopping, so maybe wait for the right time to strike! But if a kid says “I wanna play Malmsteen”, then dive right in!


#4

ISome good points. It depends on the level of the child in question I guess, if they’re quite advanced and, as you said, want to learn some flashy techniques though, then explain a way (though I’d simplify it as much as possible! Making a kid watch all of Antigravity would probably scare them off!!)
But if they’re begginers I try to stay away from too much out of context scale stuff because it’s not that exciting when you’re young, you want to play songs! Just my personal experience anyway. Whatever instrument or age I’m teaching, I think the strategy I’ve found most success with is ‘saying as little as I can and letting them play!’ Obviously I still have to talk and explain, but the more playing they do the better. But like I say, just my experience!x


#5

Well, 8-10 year olds haven’t been playing long enough to know anything other than what you are teaching them at that moment. I’m thinking about @Troy’s observation with gypsy players that the results when sticking to a particular set of technique parameters are typically higher than a wider “do what feels best” approach.

Basically 8-10 year old beginners aren’t doing anything naturally on the instrument yet, so why not start them off with firm technique choices? Drummers only have a certain few ways to hold a stick, violinists have certain schools of approach to bow grip, and those are taught very strictly at a very early age. Why is rock guitar different?

And yes, @TheCount my word phrasing is very basic. I usually start by having them practicing rest strokes on every string. You’d be surprised though, I have an 11 year old that I’ve been teaching since day 1 who naturally economy picks now, and I’ve never ever explained to him what economy picking was.

With my older teenage students who are advanced, I have shown them many approaches, DWPS, 2WPS, etc. and at a certain point, I know how they pick, and try to guide them in the direction they naturally lean towards, although I will point out areas of trouble for say, a primary UWPS student, trying to do a conventionally DWPS lick. Most of my students at this level do some combination of DWPS and 2WPS, depending on the lick.


#6

That’s interesting. I did as well! He didn’t economy pick scales (but I think just because he wasn’t the fluent with scales!) but he naturally did repeated down or up strokes in melodic lines, and it sounded pretty good! Sadly he decided to abandon guitar for football (lunacy!!) so I guess I’ll never find out if the economy stuff would have developed further!


#7

I teach a LOT of very young kids and have for years, and I don’t teach them about pick slanting directly. We focus on riffs or melodies that I think they will like, that are good for their development, and we problem solve individual passages, more so if they are having trouble. I don’t teach them about slanting mechanics but instead on trickier passages point out things about the pick (that do involve slanting) that can make it easier.

In my kids classes we do a lot of melodies and riffs, so there’s rarely really straight forward consistency with things like notes per string, especially when you throw rhythms into the mix.

When there ARE faster things that require some combination of down and upstrokes, I often teach economy picking because I’ve found it easier to talk about and instruct, especially with changing rhythms. it’s just ‘alternate when you’re on the same string, otherwise pick down when you go down, pick up when you go up’ but I also specify that there are other ways to do it too.

I’ve found when teaching ‘general guitar’ that there really are a variety of picking approaches that are optimal for different riffs or passages, so I’m usually thinking more about what songs/melodies I want to teach and then talking about the techniques to execute those, rather than teaching a certain right hand approach and training them on it.

I know that if I took that latter approach I’d probably end up with some technical all stars, but it’s just not the aim of my studio.


#8

As an ex-violinist (but by no means an authority on the matter), the bowing technique facilitates good tone rather than the ability to actually play notes. The biggest reason in my mind why it is critical for violinist to learn the grip is that poorly played violin is basically the worse sound you could hear if your are arching around as opposed to going straight Lol. The hardest bit about bowing is the getting the length of the stroke to be the right and dynamics, not much else. The major challenges on violin is intonation (there are no frets or markers) and vibrato. Rock guitar has more choice in the way you can execute things and ither concerns such as muting.

Anyway, I dont really disagree with what you have written and I totally agree that you take it on a case by case basis. Its all about what the kids are trying to acheive.


#9

To me the crux of CAGED really has nothing to do with the fingering per se, it’s the fact that you link a certain fingering shape with a chord shape that is nearby, so you can find the scale instantly when the chord changes. And even with three-note fingerings, you’re not obligated to play all those notes all the time. So I think the whole “CAGED fingering” thing is mostly a weird misunderstanding.

Anyway, that’s not what you’re asking! Mixing of odds and evens, aka “Volcano-style” phrases, is really pretty natural given the complexity of what is actually going on. Frank Gambale does this in both directions and I don’t think is really aware of what makes the alternate picking side of it work. Oz Noy does this and isn’t even aware that he’s using sweeping at all!

Given the number of great players who do this instinctively, and also the number of YouTube and forum commenter types who shout “economy” at even the slightest discussion of alternate picking, what that tells me is that for whatever reason, complicated mixtures of sweeping and alternate are “gettable” by the average person. They won’t get all the possibilities without instruction, especially for lines with greater quotient of alternate picking string changes. But my guess is they may get comparatively farther, especially if they’re being forced to figure things out on their own.

TLDR: I wouldn’t shy away from mixing odds and evens via sweeping since evidence suggests people seem to get it.


#10

Troy, I agree completely, and the young kids I’ve trained to adopt DWPS naturally learn to “push” the pick through following the rest stroke. Surprisingly, when asked later on to make small movements into UWPS (think the classic Johnny B Goode style bend 7th fret on the G, 5th fret on the B, 5th fret on the E - that last note is an upstroke) It doesn’t throw them to make that adjustment and they do it quite naturally.

I definitely think there is a method to what I’m trying to instill in a lot of these younger kids, but the difference is that I feel like introducing these building blocks that do ultimately amount to a really solid technical foundation IMO takes a long time… a lot longer than telling a kid to “just do strict alternate picking!” And I’m just questioning these days if there is validity in just saying “ok now alternate pick everything!” and seeing what their hand does as opposed to my current methodical “one ingredient at a time” approach (which looks something like this: 1) downpick everything and learn to feel rest strokes 2) with chromatic and pentatonic scales learn to create the upstroke that “comes out of the strings” 3) with small Eric Johnson/Schenker style 3 note fragments learn the down/down/up economy movement 4) apply it to ascending major and minor scales, simultaneously developing hammer on and pull of techniques 5) apply the down/up/pull method to descending major and minor scales).

That approach, depending on the student and how much they practice can take months and months to firmly develop. On the opposite hand, I’ve seen the results of saying “just alternate pick everything” and its a crap shoot… most of the time its a string hop extravaganza. But I wonder if there is some merit to getting their hands to coordinate in this way anyway.


#11

These are all awesome points! What you are asking here is a pretty big-picture question about human learning and we don’t know the answer. Teachers like you are closer to ‘citizen science’ on this than anyone else since you can actually try things and see what happens. There are lots of variables that aren’t being controlled but it’s something.

My impression is that kids are on average better at trail and error learning than adults, especially when the desired result is essentially unknown. I think this is why violinists and violin teachers aren’t super technical with the body movements even though their techniques are super complex. They know the minimum they need to know to elicit the result in the student but the student supplies the rest via intuition, particularly the prodigy types. This is why Andy Wood’s grandfather just told him ‘get them notes clean’ and Andy supplied the rest.

The problem is, the hit rate for pure trial and error even among kids is going to be low. That may not matter if all you want is one more Hilary Hahn out of ten thousand students. But when you want high average competence among geniuses and regular folk alike, that’s when we need teaching.

You’re on the frontier man!


#12

Thanks Troy!

From teaching both kids and adults, I’m not sure if its necessarily that they are better at trial and error learning, but most kids don’t have that “I sound bad” inner voice interfering with their development of learning natural movement on the instrument. I do feel there is a degree of not completely caring about the cleanliness of the performance while the proper motion mechanics are being developed. Its that process of “get the basic skill set down first, clean it up later” that I’ve heard players like Shawn Lane describe. Kids are waaaay better at that because they don’t know when their sound sucks :smile:

Interestingly enough, after teaching guitar for 10 years at the School of Rock and seeing probably hundreds of guitar players come through the school over that time, I have not encountered a single guitar “prodigy” and I’m really curious to know why, because we have definitely had at least two drum prodigies. We’ve certainly had some kids turn into scary shredders by the time they were 18, but none even close to Lisa-X style prodigy development (meanwhile, we currently have an 11 year old drummer who can play Metropolis Pt 1 by Dream Theater hit for hit).

Speaking of drummers, in general, I’ve noticed a faster development in our drum students than our guitar students, as a rule, and I’ve been trying to pinpoint why. I had two theories. The first being less variables in technical execution and the 2nd being less fine motor skills required to get basic techniques down. I’ve taken it upon myself to try to discover how I can bring early stage development guitar instruction to match that level of drum development, which is what lead me to applying the CTC methods so early on. I still think my “guinea pig” students are still not far along enough in development to see the full scope of if it makes a difference, but it’ll be interesting to see, for sure!

edit: I want to be clear, my goal is not to turn every guitar student into a raging shredaholic, but I have definitely seen plenty of kids struggle, both very young and preteen-teenagers, with things that I would think shouldn’t be issues for having played as long as they have, and the #1 culprit I’ve noticed time and again is that they have very poor right hand technique. There is merit to what has been uncovered with CTC that goes beyond chopsy playing and is just as beneficial towards basic rock playing.


#13

Drums is a good analogy because it’s a mish mash of different skills, like guitar. So you have to be specific about what you’re evaluating to see the variation.

If you ask how many drum students can keep steady time on a specific pattern that involves only single-stroke playing, you’ll probably get a pretty high average competence on something like that even at a very young age, even with weird time signatures. Indeed lots of kids seem to succeed at this. The plethora of Rush and Dream Theater covers by kids attests to this.

But once you start looking at specific fine motor stuff, you’ll find much higher variability, where certain players do certain things and completely avoid others. Rolls and all the ways they can be done using combinations of fingers, wrist and arm is a good example of this. It’s a lot more like picking technique, where even adult drummers are not great at describing or even being aware of what they’re doing. Here’s a great Glen Sobel clip:

Fantastic player, and very graceful. Look at all the finger, wrist, and arm involvement to get the doubles. Completely different movements than the single strokes. Simply saying “Moeller” isn’t enough. There needs to be some step-by-step explaining if the rest of us (read: dummies like me!) are going to be able to replicate those movements.

Anyway what I’m getting at is drums is a lot like guitar once you start digging below the surface. People used to think alternate picking was alternate picking, and that of course turned out to be anything but true. Likewise there is tremendous physical variation in the way drummers do things and not all players figure out all ways.