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How to encourage young children with music
From the desk of Bobbe Seymour: I have been asked, as have many players, what got me started being a musician. Well, I have the answer. It’s not just an answer, but also a recommendation. It is to find a very simple instrument to play, like ukulele or a four string guitar, better known as a tenor guitar.
Show your four year old son or daughter three or four chords on it and teach them a simple song using these chords and then keeping this instrument within arm’s reach of the kids at all times.
There are many songs that three to five year old kids can memorize. Songs like Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Farmer In The Dell and so on. Probably the best strategy here is to watch the kiddie shows that they watch on TV and let them pick their favorite songs to learn.
What actually got me started playing as a three year old was a ukulele my father sent me at three years old when he was in the Hawaiian Islands fighting to keep the USA safe.
I remember when this instrument came in to my life. My Uncle immediately showed me four chords and several songs which I had heard him play on regular guitar. Within a week I was playing I’m My Own Grandpa, When My New Moon Turns To Blue Again, Little Lisa Jane, Mary Had A Little Lamb and some other very simple songs.
It wasn’t but a couple weeks before I could play or at least put chords to most songs that I could sing or hum.
The reason I’m boring you with all these personal facts is if you should see fit to ruin some little kids life by letting them make a musician out of themselves, this is a wonderful way to do it, because not too long into my great ukulele career, I was learning how to play Merle Travis and Chet Atkins style rhythm.
All it took was the ukulele itself and my Uncle leaving some Travis and Atkins records laying around and a little bit of encouragement in the right direction. Possibly it was discouragement because at that age, I was determined to do just the opposite of what anybody told me to do musically.
I kept finding opportunities to slip over onto my Uncle’s Multi-Kord and learn the latest Bud Isaacs licks. Pretty soon I was playing everything that Bud Isaacs had recorded as an instrumental or with Webb Pierce.
So when people ask me how I learned to play steel guitar and what do I recommend for them, I always tell them in good faith to get an instrument that you love and get some songs that you love and play them over and over and over until they are deeply embedded in your subconscious.
When you get it in your subconscious, look for it on your instrument and make it sound just the same as what you have embedded in your mind. This is called playing by ear. This is very important if you’re going to be playing professionally. Any great teacher would tell you that this is great ear training. Ear training is very important.
Actually for many instruments for a professional player, ear training may be the most important thing you can do. I know at this stage of the game on steel guitar, there are many things that I can play by ear that I couldn’t even think of playing by reading notes or trying to learn with tablature.
Tablature is a good way to learn a song, teaching you to play the right notes and you will tend to memorize them as you play them. Tablature, like notes, are like training wheels on a bike. They are great for learning, but eventually you will learn to ride without them. This is why I make tablature available for most of my albums.
What I have done in this letter so far is tell you how I myself and many players that are playing for a living today, started learning the craft of guitar, both steel and standard. I hope you find some encouragement in my story.
What’s really interesting here is when you go into a recording session in Nashville, almost all methods of teaching you the new song that you’re going to be recording is the same way I learned songs as a little kid on my ukulele.
They either hand me a CD or MP3 for me to listen to and learn or for me to listen to and write the chords down using the Nashville number system. Usually the producer or session leader will play the song just one time.
When he plays this for us, we’ll just write down the chords using the number system, then we’ll all look at each other and make decisions like what instrument will fill where, who will take the intro and any predominant fills, work on an ending and so on.
Usually it takes less than ten minutes to have a song ready to record. Remember, this is like I learned to play the instrument when I was three to four years old.
With any inborn talent at all, you should be able to learn your instrument parts, licks, fills etc by just hearing a song. Expose yourself to anything enough times and you’re going to be able to duplicate it. This is the same way we learn to speak English at two to five years of age. This is also the way they teach you to speak foreign languages when you get older like you see advertised on television.
Even today, if I want to copy somebody’s lick on a certain song, I’ll get a copy of the song with them on it and play it over and over until I know it. This has been the way I’ve done it my entire life and I’m still standing behind this technique.
So get that little kid in your family a ukulele. It’s a wonderful instrument to start on. Make sure it’s a good one and teach him or her how to respect it and treat it with love. It could be feeding him or her someday not too far away.
Tim’s Notes – here is how to contact Bobbe:
Steel Guitar Nashville
123 Mid Town Court
Hendersonville, TN. 37075
Open 9AM – 4PM Monday – Friday
Closed Saturday and Sunday