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I’ve got a 13-year-old son who’s started a rock band. Some other kids he knows are also starting bands, but their parents are buying fog machines, stage lights, and pro-level instruments, as well as spending money on high-end equipment to make videos. He’s getting the message (I think) about focusing on craft and developing a playing style. But I can’t help but think he’s looking at the other kids with rig envy. Any advice for a parent who doesn’t want to spoil a budding musician? —Mark, San Diego

You’ve made it past the main hurdle with children and instruments: the first purchase. The common error is to spend $800 on a decent-quality instrument, only to find the interest level plummeting to zero within the first three months. I learned how to play guitar on a $79 Sears Gibson SG copy; it was not easy, as it played like crap. After a year, it was clear that I was going to continue, and $250 later, I had an Ibanez Rocket Roll Senior (Gibson Flying V copy)—a huge step up in playability.

You are spot-on in emphasizing craft and style, two components that can’t be purchased. “Smoke and mirrors” can be viewed as crutches, as can an over-reliance on effect pedals and unnecessary volume. Heart and soul are the things that carry a musician from the basement to the main stage. The focus should be on “getting to” the performance. Rehearse and be prepared. Consider what to do in case of equipment failure. Find a comfortable way to be expressive in front of strangers. There are lots of small details that, when totaled up, mean so much more than smoke machines and lighting rigs.

Perhaps you could sit together and watch documentaries on bands who relied on heart and soul. We Jam Econo and Instrument both offer strong lessons in focusing on the music. —Bob Mould

Bob Mould blogs at modulate.blogspot.com. Send questions to askbob@washingtoncitypaper.com.