Yesterday Evie* walked out of the studio carrying her very own guitar for the first time. She is four years old.
It started when I began teaching her brother, who is nine; he transferred to one of my guitar classes from another teacher. Evie would sometimes come into my studio room along with her brother and mom to watch for a few minutes before heading out to the lobby to play with the toys and books we keep there for younger siblings of our students. One day she surprised me by saying, “Who plays that guitar?” as she pointed to a quarter-sized instrument resting on the top shelf of a bookcase in my room. “Oh, nobody plays it right now, because it belongs to the studio. I don’t have any students who need to play it currently,” I replied. “Then can I play it while my brother has his lesson?” Evie asked. Pleased at her interest, I agreed. The guitar was passed to Evie and she went out into the lobby, returning it when it was time for her family to leave.
This continued every week for several months. She would ask for the guitar at the beginning of her brother’s lesson and I would hand it over. She was always careful with it. Occasionally she would show me a “song” that she made up which mostly consisted of random notes plucked or strummed, but other than that I didn’t hear anything else she played. Her brother told me that he showed her how to “walk” her fingers on the strings and tried to teach her one of the songs he first learned to play, but his guitar at home was too big for her. I didn’t mind… as long as she was enjoying herself, she could use the little guitar at the studio for fun.
Then their mother told me that Evie was asking for a guitar of her own. She wanted to be able to play songs at home instead of just once a week for a few minutes on somebody else’s guitar. The mother asked me, “do you think it’s worth it to get her a guitar? What if she ends up not really wanting to play it after all as she gets older?”
Instantly my mind flashed back to my own childhood. At four years old, I told my own mom that I was going to play classical guitar for my whole life, and asked if I could have a guitar and guitar lessons. My mom, who really wanted to be the best parent she could possibly be, had heard that it was best for a child’s development to start music lessons at age seven or eight, so she said that if I still wanted to play guitar in a few years, I could start then. Also, who really ends up becoming what they say they want to be at age four? I wasn’t devastated, but I still wanted to play guitar. So I took a pan from the kitchen and put white duct tape on the underside of it, then drew lines that looked like strings on the tape and tried to play it like a guitar. I held onto that dream until my eighth birthday when my grandma bought me my first half-sized guitar and my mom signed me up for guitar lessons.
Looking back, I’m not upset that I didn’t start at age four. My mom sincerely provided what she thought was best for me at the time; I’ve written before about how grateful I am for her constant support of my musical endeavors. Yet I always wonder what would be different if I HAD started playing the guitar four years earlier than I did. Would I have chosen to be a full-time performer instead of a teacher? Would I have grown tired of playing an instrument after starting so young? Would it have changed my approach to musicality since I would have had more years of experience by this point? Who knows. But I am happy with who I am today.
Knowing my own history, I looked at Evie’s mom: “I think that if Evie is expressing interest in playing guitar right now, and because she has consistently shown that she likes it by playing the guitar here at the studio, then it would be well worth it to invest in a small guitar for her. If she’d like, I’d be happy to show her a few easy things to work on at home; then if she wants to learn more, we’ll talk about lessons. Maybe she’ll enjoy it for a year or so, then move on to a new interest as she gets older. But hopefully she’ll always love music no matter what she does in life.” Then I told her and Evie the story of me as a four year old who wanted to play the guitar too.
One of the other families I teach had a quarter-sized guitar that they did not need any longer since their child had just moved up to a larger guitar size, so Evie’s mother got in touch with them to facilitate a transaction. Finally, last evening as I was teaching a class, I saw Evie’s curly-haired head peek through the door at me. They had come to pick up the guitar. When I finished the class, I brought the instrument out to her as she waited with her mom. Or, rather, I should say she was dancing in anticipation as her mother waited.
The look of excitement on Evie’s face blossomed into bliss as I handed her the guitar. I will never forget her expression. She held the guitar close in a gentle hug. Then she plucked a few strings to hear its sound. She didn’t have any words to express what she felt, but I knew what her silence meant. As Evie walked out of the studio with her mother, she began humming a little tune, still smiling with joy.
One thing Evie’s mother told me before they left made me even more grateful for my childhood experience. She said, “Evie talked a lot about you telling your mom that you wanted to play the guitar when you were her age. We like the story about four year olds having dreams too.”
*Evie’s name has been changed.