5-year-old Plays "Folsom Prison Blues"

More footage from this Spring’s Coffee Shop Jam: Wesley, who just turned five, performed “Folsom Prison Blues” with a soulfulness that would have made Johnny Cash weep.

Many people, including my mom, are unsettled by a kid this young performing such grim material. But I don’t see it as a problem. For one thing, you can’t keep water from running downhill. Wesley LOVES Johnny Cash, and it would be pointless to try to change his tastes.

Also, I don’t think material like this hurts kids. On the contrary, engaging with adults in scary subjects like violence and death—which are on most kids’ minds anyway—is an opportunity for us to teach and support them.

Anyway, Wesley is a wonderful kid who has never been to Reno.

More videos of my students here.

Comments 16

  1. What a great post and a great story! I was totally impressed by this kids passion. I have a 5 year old myself and I can hardly get him to pick up a guitar, let alone play a song like that! Thank you so much for sharing!

    This kid should be great some day!

  2. Hey Rob,

    I came across this video on facebook today and just wanted to say how amazed I am by Wesley and this performance. I’ve watched this video probably a dozen times already (as well as the Blues jam and Hokey Pokey) and can get enough. He’s so talented! This goes way beyond just being “cute.” He has such an uncanny grasp of the song. His rhythm and phrasing are so beyond his years. And of course hearing a 5-year-old singing about shooting a man just to watch him die just takes the cake. Well done and congratulations! Keep up the great work.


  3. As a developmental specialist I agree with your assessment on the subject matter. There’s a big difference between children passively taking in “inappropriate” subject matter and, as Wesley is doing, actively engaging in it creatively.

    At the day care I worked at years ago, one kid brought in a guitar and allowed the other kids to play with it. Sara, age 4, picked it up and took it into a corner and started playing. She started singing (in her gravelly, Janis Joplin voice) a “Goin’ to School Blues” that just blew me away. The guitar was missing a string, horribly out of tune, she’d never touched a guitar before in her life and made up her own chords… and it was some of the best live rock-and-roll I’d ever seen. That music was coming straight from her heart. You can teach technical skills, but the part of the music that Sara (and your student Wesley) got can’t be taught.
    I recommended to her mom later that she get her signed up for some sort of music lessons.

    Thanks for sharing your students’ work.


  4. Hi there,

    Nice to see this. I wish my parents gave me the same opportunity. I love guitar and I love music, I could have been a good guitar player had I taken the time to invest in it. Now it is just too far away withi life as busy as it is. I just don’t have the focus, discipline and luxury of time to play 8 hours every day. I would however, like to give my kids the opportunity. I couold not imagine that my four year old boy could be ready for it yet. Now that I see this little kid Wesley, it reminds me of me at that age and makes me think maybe I should start thinking about it for my son. He has a toy electric guitar and loves it, but when is a good time to actually start teaching him music and guitar in particular? Do you have a lot of experience with kids at this age or is Wesley an anomally?

    1. Hi Richard,

      I started teaching Wesley when he was 3. A lot depends on the motivation of the child and the skill of the teacher. Wesley was always really excited about music, but even so, a lot of his first year of lessons involved just learning how to take a guitar lesson–how to focus on something for an hour! That’s a pretty new concept for a kid that age.

      The teacher needs to develop their own, inventive way of teaching a child that young. There’s no accepted method. Most people say it can’t be done. But I’ve developed ways of making the guitar easier to play (just playing bass lines on the 6th string, for example). It can be done!

      That’s awesome you want to get your son involved in music–good luck in your search.


  5. Rob- this is fantastic-
    What a sweet little kid, and he’s probably not thinking about the words as we do as adults- he’s just trying to remember the words, and change chords when he’s supposed to- which he does an amazing job of both!!!
    Congrats to you as his teacher, and him and a little guy getting an awesome head start!
    Thanks for sharing!

  6. Hey Rob,
    Thanks so much for sharing this and putting it online. Wesley was awesome, and an inspiration to all guitar players. You’re a credit to teachers and should be very proud of the work you’re doing. Don’t stop.

    Kids should learn whatever song they want to learn. I was singing Bohemian Rhapsody when I was 8, and my mother loved it. Oh yeah, I’ve never shot anyone. Or owned a gun.
    Thanks again for sharing.

  7. Hi, I’m Wesley’s mom. It’s been wonderful to read all your heartening and thoughtful comments. The fact that so many of you have a passion for music and/or play the guitar yourselves makes it doubly inspiring.

    Thanks for taking the time to post to Rob’s blog!

    Lisa (Mom of an Internet Meme)

    PS — Richard, one small correction to Rob’s reply: Wesley started guitar at age 4 (not 3). 🙂

  8. A friend sent me the link to your blog because he thought Wesley looked like I must have looked at his age. What a treasure! Love the blog. Really love Wesley. He’s a lucky kid to have such a dedicated teacher and a mom who helps him follow his passion. And OMG is he cute! Play on.

  9. hi, i can honestly say i think this is the best version of folsom prison blues i have ever heard.EVER. Wesley is a genius, he’s got deep down soul and real stage presence.
    you guys shoudl release this as a track.
    love from UK

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