From Doom Metal to “Let it Go”: Why I Love Teaching Kids with Different Musical Tastes

Last week, I went from teaching a 13-year-old guy with a short attention span how to play two songs from a band called Candlemass to teaching a nine-year-old boy “Let it Go.” Yeah, you’ve heard it (the latter one, that is). It’s that song from the movie “Frozen” and is probably stuck in your head. 

But the experience, while mildly stressful, reminded me of why I love teaching rock guitar. Sometimes, I actually gain more than my student, enhancing not only my repertoire, but my vocabulary of rock techniques. 

Let’s start with Candlemass. Chances are, you haven’t heard of them unless you’re sincerely into super-hard stuff. I hadn’t. But upon further Wikipedia research, I learned they’re one of the main bands in a delightful category of music called “doom metal,” which is pretty much guitars on distortion, tri-tones, and Black Sabbath-inspired riffs. To play this stuff, alternate tuning is usually required. (Side note: I actually like Black Sabbath.)

I spent probably an hour and a half stretching my fingers into new chords, memorizing riffs, and just jamming out to a couple of their songs. Since I hardly have time to practice, playing Candlemass kept my calluses fresh. 

Post lesson, it was nice to transition to “Let it Go.” This song, while more palatable to the general population, isn’t just four chords and super easy to play. But it’s easier to modify so a kid won’t go bonkers trying to get it down. And … there’s that catchy chorus: “Let it go, Let it go, etc.” 

See, were I left to my own devices, I’d be in busy-working-mom-of-two mode all day. Just teaching, but not learning. Writing, too, because that’s one of the ways I make a living. But when kids choose songs I wouldn’t play on my own, it makes me a better musician. And for that, I’m grateful.

Practicing Guitar During Maternity Leave: 6 Tips

Maternity leave is a time to heal and bond with your baby. But for first-time moms it can be just as hectic as it is blissful, with baby crying at unpredictable times (like 3 a.m.) or waking up in the middle of the night several times. Still, that’s no reason you have to let your guitar playing go!

Like working out or investing time in anything you love, keeping “in shape” with your music skills is essential for guitar-playing moms.

Here are some tips on how to make time for music — or how to not let life as a mom of young ones to get in the way of playing guitar.

1. Set easy goals. When you have a child, time — the amount you have, how you use it, and how you value it — changes. Before my first son, Nathan, was born, I used to play guitar in the mornings, from 9 to 10 a.m., when I was most relaxed. In addition to teaching guitar, I played several hours every week — often times with a band in tow. Now, with two under two, I barely have time in the morning for myself other than make coffee! So I set a simple goal: play 1.5 hours a week for myself (not including time spent working on lesson plans). Sometimes a wailing (and hungry!) infant interrupts a song, but for the most part, having the goal has kept me motivated to stay in shape.

2. Keep Your guitar out of its case: When you become a mom, life is hectic even if you have help. And sometimes, even the thought of taking your guitar out of its case can be overwhelming. Do yourself a favor and keep it out in full display. If you have a toddler, like I do, install guitar hooks on your wall (we just bought several and intend to put them up any day now with my husband’s new drill).

3. Practice in chunks of time. I totally get it — you’re not going to play for two hours straight, only getting up for bathroom breaks. I’m not, either, save for the two times I had a gig last year and I lined up a babysitter so I could rehearse for two hours straight. Unless you’re a professional musician, you don’t have that kind of time anymore. What I recommend instead is practicing for 15- to 30-minute increments throughout the day. You can either time yourself or just play a few songs until baby wakes up for his or her nap.

4. Play five minutes every day. Some people wake up and meditate. Others stretch into gorgeous yoga poses. Most days, I wake up and reach for my acoustic — or at least I try to. The advice “play at least five minutes a day”— which I heard from another guitarist when I first started playing — has served me since college. And for moms, it’s especially important: Playing for just five minutes is better than not playing at all.

5. Play even when you don’t feel like playing. Do you always feel like working out at the gym? I certainly don’t! But I love the benefit of having a great figure, and feeling mentally and physically fantastic. The same goes for playing guitar: You need to practice regularly to stay in shape, or else your fingers will get sore and you will slowly forget how much you loved playing.

6. Play to your baby (even when he/she cries). This is, perhaps, the most important tip of all! Music is magic. I played guitar several times a week when both kids were in utero, and as a result, they love listening to me play. Nathan actually dances now when I play “Old McDonald Had a Farm” (although I just play E major over and over again!). Music is linked with all kinds of health benefits, such as improving mood and brain function. And when music comes from mommy, it’s even better!