Lessons & Instruments
Lessons & Instruments
Many parents have asked for instrument suggestions for their rockers. Below is a small list of ideas and a few suggestions with regards to instrument instruction in general. We hope this is helpful to you and please feel free to contact us if you have any other questions.
Lessons and Choosing the Right Instrument
Two of the most common questions we are asked from parents are:
-What instrument should I start my rocker on?
- When will they be ready for lessons?
There are a million schools of thought on this. In Rock Band Land we believe strongly that a young rocker's direction towards music should be led by their own interest, must be fun, and there must be a context and an outlet for what they are learning. If these criteria are met, we believe a rocker is more likely to stick with their instrument, and music in general. At the very least, they will have fond memories and a positive foundation set for them as they branch out into other forms of artistic expression throughout their childhood and adult lives.
Set your own interests and thoughts aside and let your rocker pick the instrument that they want to start with. They have to be excited about the instrument to play it, and eventually to put in hard work that will require them to be competent on it.
Drums and piano are initially the easiest for rockers to experience a sense of achievement and success at. Large gross motor movements allow them to work the instrument and create simple, clear rhythmic and melodic ideas. Guitars and other stringed instruments are significantly harder to succeed with at first as the fine motor skills and dexterity required to play them correctly is initially far greater than to play piano and drums. However once a child becomes serious about an instrument and begins taking lessons the learning curve on any instrument will be steep and the proper coordination and technique will have to be developed. This will be challenging and that is again why we believe the lessons and musical experience must be fun.
We will mostly be discussing the basic rock instruments here, but all instruments are a fine starting point for your rocker whether they are traditional instruments (horns, reed instruments, strings, percussion, etc.) or more experimental or electronic based instruments or tools (samplers, synths, mixers, effects, recording gear, etc.). And definitely don't forget that your rocker's voice is an instrument and choral groups, vocal lessons, home karaoke, and home recording are great ways to further encourage and explore that instrument.
There is no set age for when lessons will be right for your rocker. Things to be considered are the sincerity of their interest (does your rocker want lessons or do you want them to have lessons?), their willingness to practice on their own, and their ability to focus for forty five minutes to an hour on the lesson. In Brian's own lessons as a group and private drum teacher he finds that 7 seems to be the age when focus, attention, and desire come together and the drummers start to really grow and develop quickly as musicians. This is not a rule and Brian has several younger students who are doing really well, but he has to know that a younger drummer really wants to play before he will take them on as a student.
My rocker is showing interest in several instruments, which one should we start with?
If your rocker wants to play several instruments, that is great, and if you have instruments at home for them to play on, even better. But, when it comes time for lessons there will have to be a greater focus, for the time being anyway, on one of them. Ask your rocker which one they would like to take lessons on, then give it a month and ask them again. If their answer is consistent start thinking about looking into lessons. If their answer changes, give it some time and then try the exercise again in another month.
There is no hurry
I know in SF we are trying to cram as much art, cultural, and learning experiences into our kids and their schedules as possible, but there is no ticking clock or check list that is going to keep them from any given life experience if we don't provide the road map for that experience now. We all have the ability to start new, creative projects at any age, so if your rocker is not necessarily drawn to a particular instrument right now that's completely fine and please resist the temptation to push an instrument on them. We've seen several rockers stop playing because a parent has pushed to hard, but we've never seen it fail if we wait to give lessons until we are absolutely certain that the rocker's interest is there.
Generally with entry level and smaller scale guitars you get what you pay for, and a $150 dollar guitar will get you a lot more mileage than a $100 guitar, and a $200 could potentially last into adulthood. Guitar Center has a few 3/4 style guitars, but I wouldn't recommend shopping there because of the limited options. There is a whole world of kids' sized guitars online. Guitars are not always fine tuned perfectly when you get them. If in doubt of it working to its full potential, I would recommend taking them to a guitar shop to get it fully set up.
Rock and Roll High Volt Guitar
This is hands down the best guitar we've had for this age range. They are light, simply and solidly made, and set up with care. They are made right here in SF. These guitars sound just as good as my guitar and are a fraction as heavy.
RBL likes these so much, we became an authorized dealer. We have one 2015 model on the way, so if you are interested in picking this one up, let us know.
1/2 sized SX Strat Copy
For something a little heavier (may be too heavy for a 5 or 6 year old) The pricing on this guitar is a steal. It is solidly built and come in a left handed version as well. It comes with everything he'll need to practice at home. Some of the accessories are junk but the guitar is solid. You would have to order it online. Be careful not to mix up the 1/2 with the 3/4 sized and full sized. Get a better instrument cable if you order it (like this)
There are some higher end, but really nice and light guitars made by Taylor and Martin.
Ages 8 - 12
Older kids could probably handle a 3/4 size guitar, and 12 is a good age for their first full sized guitar, and a good age for them to have their own opinion about what they want.
A very solid guitar, with a lot of cool color choices available. Most recommended.
3/4 sized SX Strat Copy
This is a larger model of the 1/2 size SX. It also includes the junky accessories, but is still a really nice guitar for the price.
Ibanez Mikro Bass
The best kids' bass I know of. Just as good as the 6 string version.
Kona Acoustic Electric Guitar
This is a great option for 9 - 12 year olds that want to play by the campfire, but also have the option of amplification. It is full sized but is very light. At $120 it's hard to lose here.
Accessories for both electric and acoustic
Any strap will do, but this is a good opportunity to customize the look of your kids guitar.
Dunlops don't break. Most of the others do for some reason. The different colors mean different thicknesses, and I think the orange dunlops are a good medium.
Accessories for electric guitar only
We like the Fender Mustang as an entry level amp. It has effects, a built in tuner, and an aux input so you can play RBL songs through it.
Coiled cables are a nightmare. Get one with a right angle on one end to limit damage to the guitar's input.
Optional accessories for both electric and acoustic
Gig bag / case
Definitely recommended. Get one with the guitar if there is one. A simple flimsy case is better than nothing. Here's a good one for the Ibanez Mikro.
Strap Shoulder pad
For kids who like to stand up and play their guitar for long periods of time.
Don't invest in the heavy duty metal strap locks, they'll ruin the wood of the guitar. Get these simple rubber ones instead.
If you have the room, just get a free / cheap old piano. They're way more fun. If that's not an option, or would like something more portable, there are 3 different types of electronic keyboards I would recommend for our young rockers.
Portable Keyboard - Packs a whole lot of fun into an inexpensive device. A great introduction to all things with a keyboard - synths, organs, pianos, sequencers, samplers, there is something for every beginning musician here.
Digital Piano - Full size, weighted keys, very 'real' feeling instrument, but much smaller and less unruly than a real piano. Ideal for rockers that are serious about learning piano. Often has a limited number of options.
Synthesizer - Professional rock and roll instrument. Better for more advanced players who would like to play keyboard in a band.
Midi Controller - requires a computer and special software to function.
Do you know what you want? Here are my recommendations for each.
I am biased towards Casio rather than Yamaha in this case, since that's what I grew up with. Any Casio keyboard over $120 is worth getting, and the features grow exponentially as the price goes up.
Casio CTK Series
I like these better than the LK series (which feature light up keys) since they seem to be more about exploring music as a whole rather than learning simple piano songs.
Low-end but realistic feeling piano. You can find similar keyboards much less expensive used.
If you are seriously in the market for a synth, but are short on cash, there are many used and barely used deals on ebay. I would hesitate to buy a new synth since there is already so many used options that people are just dying to get rid of. With the advent of software that can do way more things than synths, they are becoming somewhat obsolete. However, synths are a great option for kids because everything is built in. It pays to do your research when shopping for a synth but I have a few suggestions.
This is my favorite synthesizer. It is really simple and only has 37 keys, but it is a great performance keyboard with a lot of great sounds on it.
It's worth checking out ebay for better deals on this. This synth has a lot of power and is really fun to dive into.
Unlike anything else on this list, but a really fun instrument.
For kids that are good with computers. Recommended for ages 10 and up.
Novation has a line of powerful controllers that come with really sophisticated software for those mad scientists out there.
Each style of keyboard needs a different kind of accessory.
Really all you need is an X stand, which you can adjust for standing or sitting easily. Some stands are sturdier than others, and you generally get what you pay for.
Make sure you have a good stand, bench, and sustain pedal with this keyboard, for your child to be prepared correctly to play on a real piano. The fold out stand is better than an X stand because you need to fit your feet underneath the keyboard. I do not recommend setting the stand up for standing.
You'll need an X stand. You also need to amplify these keyboards, since they don't have built in speakers. Good headphones are fine, or you can rig up a computer speaker with an adapter. There are amps for keyboards, like there are amps for guitars. Here is a basic one. You'll also need an instrument Cable.
Same as the others, but you'll need a computer and software.
There are several variables to consider when purchasing drum sets: volume, cost, size, style, components, and whether to get an acoustic or an electric set.
Set & Kit - These words are interchangeable when talking about drums. They both refer to all the components necessary to drum. I tend to flip flop between the two.
Volume - Drums are loud. There are ways to dampen drums - we put two layers of muslin beneath each drum head at RBL, but our Rock Out room is still super loud. You can purchase practice pads to cover the heads, but this also dampens the fun of playing and will most likely not encourage your rocker to practice. Before you buy drums decide if your home and neighbors can handle the sound. If so, continue reading. If not, you might want to skip ahead to the Electric Drums section.
Cost - Drum set and drum components can be expensive, but as with most things you pay for quality. The nice thing about buying drums is that if cared for they retain their value. If you invest in a decent set now and your rocker stays with it, then everybody wins. If they don't you could still resell the set and get most of what you paid for back.
For a basic starter set new or used you should expect to pay at least $300 - $600.
Size - The size of a set is crucial. Just because your Uncle Mickey has a killer set in his basement that hasn't been used since he mastered Shout At The Devil back in '84, and that he wants to give to your kid, that doesn't mean that the kit is match for your young rocker. The biggest mistake that I see parents make is that they buy drums that are way too big for their rocker. To develop good technique drums need to be sized right. You can't really go too small because you can always adjust the height of drums with the hardware but you can easily go too big.
Drums are sized by the kick drum They range from about 14 inches up to 30 or so. For our rockers I would encourage you to not go above an 18 inch kick. Fortunately small sets have become very fashionable as of late and there are many high quality, small options out there. See below.
Number of Drums - Technically to drum all your rocker needs is their hands and feet and a surface to play on, but if they are studying drum set they don't need a huge kit. More doesn't necessarily mean better. Ideally all drummers studying at RBL will have a set with a kick, snare, two toms (rack or hi tom and floor or low tom), a hi hat, and a cymbal. It's a basic set up and all they will need for many many years.
New Or Used - Because drums retain their value, buying used sets is a great option and you can usually get more for your money. The drawback is that you have to do a bit more work and often piece a kit together, but the cool thing about that is that when done you have built a truly unique set. I've built many sets from random mismatched parts that have sounded so good together.
New is fine. It's easy and your drums will be shiny, and you can get insurance (you don't need insurance for drums - they are designed to be beaten aggressively). The big drawback to new is that if buying an all-in-one set, the hardware, cymbals, and heads will most likely be cheap and will have to be replaced eventually.
Components of a Drum Set - The main parts to a set are:
Drums / Drum Shells -These are the cut cylinders that make the shape of the drum set (kick drum, toms, and snare). When heads are applied and hit with a stick, air is pushed through the cylinders and depending on the materials used and the tension in place make sounds that we recognize and drums. There are lengthy debates about the qualities of different materials and woods, and if you want to dig deep in that area, be my guest, but for younger rockers the materials are less important. Mostly you'll want to be sure that the drums aren't thin and cheap, but strong and resilient. Some "kids" kits are poorly made. Whatever you buy you'll want to last for many years.
Shells can run from a few hundred to a few thousands of dollars.
Hardware - The hardware on a drum set is all the metal parts that hold the set (drums and cymbals) in place. Most all-in-one kits have relatively cheap hardware. If you are not moving the drums much this isn't too much of an issue at first, but if you are adjusting it regularly for different sized drummers or moving the set often then cheap hardware tends to break. For younger, new drummers it's less of an issue but when gigging a drummer definitely wants to know that they can rely on their hardware to stay in place.
Hardware can easily cost several hundreds of dollars. Google "Drum Hardware Packs" and there will be some options for as low as $100 that include the kick pedal.
Cymbals - Cymbals are the metal discs that rest above a set and are used to accent and drive beats. Cymbals range in sizes for various applications and can range in price dramatically. Cymbals are a great investment and usually the first upgrade to a new drummer's kit. You can easily spend many hundreds of dollars on a single cymbal, and honestly it's worth it.
For new drummers though starter packs of cymbals are a great option. Just Google "Cymbal Packs". The prices will range from $100 - a few hundred dollars. There's generally not a huge difference in these and any will work for a young drummer.
When looking for cymbals for new drummer make sure that they are of decent thickness - some kids kits come with what are basically pie tins for cymbals - and that they are free of cracks.
Pedals - Pedals are the levered contraptions at a drummer's feet that make contact with the kick drum or that open an close the hi hat (two cymbals on a stand to the left of a drummer). Like cymbals you can pay a lot for a quality pedal and it's also almost always worth it. A good pedal should be well built, and the beater (the part that hits the drumhead) should swivel smoothly and fluidly with significant bounce back.
Pedals can run from about $75 to many hundreds of dollars.
Drumheads - Drumheads are the plastic sheet that cover the holes in the drum shells and that when tightened are struck by sticks and make the drum sounds. Drumheads come in a variety of thicknesses and designs and make a huge difference in how a drum sounds. You can completely change the sound of a given drum by switching out the heads.
Heads cost about $25 - $50 per head.
Thrones - A throne is a drummer's seat. It's an underrated component of a set but makes a big difference as your drummer will ideally be sitting for hours at a time practicing. It's important to have a comfortable seat that is positioned correctly to encourage good posture and technique.
Thones cost about $75 - $300.
Sticks - Sticks are the part of the instrument that hit the drums. There is a wide variety of sticks available but for new drummers it's crucial for them to be using sticks sized correctly for them. I encourage most young drummers to stay away from adult sized sticks and the added weight and length will effect their control negatively and tire their arms out sooner.
Sticks are about $10 per pair.
These are the two different sticks that we use for our rockers in RBL.
Kid Sticks -- Great for all beginning younger rockers (Ages 4-9)
SD1 Jr. -- For rockers a little older, stronger, or more experienced. (Ages 6 and up). I use these sticks when playing at RBL.
Where to Buy - San Francisco used to have an incredible drum shop that unfortunately closed a few years back. There are really no local, independent store options to buy drums. It's a bummer. If you are going the used route, then Craigslist is the way to go. There's a wide variety posted up there but if you are diligent in your search and don't mind driving a bit to pick up the kit, then you can find some really good gear on there.
To buy in store Guitar Center is really the only local option. The downside is that you'll have to endure a thousand aspiring rockers shredding and noodling non-stop while you search, and the staff tend to be equal parts Beavis and Butt-Head. The upside is that they usually have a decent selection of new gear, they can order anything you need, and they often have some really good used gear. Also, because they are a mega-corporation and deal in huge volume, you can haggle and usually get a deal on gear. Don't be afraid to push them on the price a bit.
If you know what set you want, especially if it's new, the internet obviously is always at your disposal. You might be able to get a better deal from an east coast store.
Please note whether the drums are being sold as just shells or with all hardware cymbals. Higher quality drums are generally sold as just the shells.
From the drums included on that list, at RBL we have the Ludwig Questlove Breakbeats Kit, The Pearl Rhythm Traveler (comes with hardware and cymbals), The Sonor Martini SE, and I gig with the Sonor Safari and Gretsch Catalina Club kits. Of all of them the Sonor Safari is my favorite as it's versatile for all different styles, really compact, and the toms sing and sound great both live and recorded.
All-In-One Starter Packs
These kits will have all that your drummer will need to get started. The are decent shells but the cymbals, head, and hardware will need replacing / upgrading before too long.
Ludwig Junior - We have two of these at RBL and with new heads they sound really good.
Electric Kits - There are some great electric kits on the market but the big issue with them is that they get really expensive really quick. You have to pay upwards of $1500 to even start getting into the quality gear. For intro / starter packages there are some decent models. I haven't noticed a huge difference between the kits but would encourage you to get one where the kick pedal hits perpendicular to the floor and not parallel. Also, please not that though "silent" when your rocker is playing through headphones, you will still hear them banging and the kick pedal will reverberate through the floor as iff they were hitting the floor with a soft mallet.
Table top electronic kits like this are just toys. Stay away from them.
We hope this list was helpful. Please feel free to reach out if you have any specific questions.
Brian & Marcus