The guidelines in this parent music report will help you to have a successful, rewarding experience in your musical study. These are practical tips that we have discovered from experiences with teaching hundreds of students over many years.
Adults can start any instrument at any time. Their success is based on how willing an adult is to commit to practicing. We have given many adults—even into their 80’s–the opportunity to develop their musical ability to a level allowing them the rewards of participation in community and church instrumental and vocal ensembles.
For children, starting the right program at the right age is a key element to the success of their lessons. Some people will tell you “the sooner the better” for private lessons but this attitude can actually backfire and be a negative. If a child is put into lessons too soon they may feel overwhelmed and frustrated and want to stop lessons. The last thing you want to do is turn a child off music just because they had one unpleasant experience that could have been prevented. Sometimes if the child waits a year to start lessons their progress can be much faster. Children who are older than the suggested earliest starting age usually do very well. The following are guidelines we have found to be successful in determining how young a child can start taking music lessons.
A group music class will give young children early exposure to the joys of music making and provide a good foundation in music basics which will be helpful in later private lessons. At this age, private lessons generally do not work as the child has not yet experienced the formal learning environment of kindergarten or school and learns more effectively through the game-oriented preschool environment. Our school offers internationally recognized, award-winning curriculum such as Music For Little Mozarts, and licensed programs for pre-schoolers, and teachers credentialed by the Suzuki Association of the Americas to maximize a child’s potential in musical development from birth to age 5. Our early childhood classes include the participation of a parent or caregiver in the class with the child, enjoying singing, movement, functioning in different rhythms, meters, keys, pitch, teamwork, audiation and other skills that contribute not only to musical development, but foster speech and cognitive skills as well. Pre-School Piano and Singing Level 1 furthers this development and adds basic keyboards and music theory concepts using manipulatives. by the time a child has had a half a year in Pre-School Piano and Singing Level 1, the family should have piano or keyboard at home for short, fun practice assignments at home with the parent.
Very young children learn differently than older children. Starting a very young child successfully on a musical instrument hinges on factors involving the readiness and learning style of the child, the amount of time the parent has available to receive training to effectively assist the child at home, teachers trained and qualified to work with the age and learning style of the child, and an educational environment that provides older children to serve as models for the child in group activities and school performances. Our school provides parent training, carefully selected faculty qualified to work with young children successfully, and options to enroll in private lessons either in addition to or instead of group classes by age 5. For parents who are interested in the Suzuki method for piano or violin, this involves the parent receiving training in order to be able to practice daily at home with the child and attends each child’s weekly private lesson and in some cases, parents elect to start the child earlier n the private lessons, at age 3 or 4.
At our school 4-5 years old is the youngest age that we start children in private lessons, supplemented with group experiences. At this age they have begun to develop longer attention spans and can retain material with ease. Some teachers will start children as young as 3, but experience has shown us for most children the most productive learning occurs when the beginner is 5 or older. A child may show a preference for the low tones of the cello or the treble (higher-pitched) tones of a violin. To avoid injury to the developing body of the child, string instruments come in small sizes. The child is measured at the first lesson by the teacher and parents are given a guide providing purchase and rental information to help you get the best sound for the price. At the first lessons students are given a number of exercises and equipment for home practice that will facilitate an easier time pulling a clear tone and quicker mastery of basic skills when their own instrument is obtained. Young pianists play on a full-sized piano, with an adjustable bench and foot stool.
8 years old is the earliest we recommend for electric guitar lessons. Guitar playing requires a fair amount of pressure on the fingertips from pressing on the strings. Children under 8 generally have small hands and may find playing uncomfortable, thus for 5-8 year olds, we recommend 1/4 sized Strunal accoustic guitars available online from Young Musicians, Inc. To avoid injury to the students hands and wrists, it is important to get guidance from the teacher as to the proper sized instrument and obtain one of sufficient quality that the student’s efforts are reinforced by actual tonal results and the instrument does not sound like a toy. Bass guitar students generally are 10 years old and older.
Depending on the specialty of the teacher, 6-10 years old is recommended as the youngest age for private vocal (singing) lessons. Due to the physical nature of voice lessons (proper breathing techniques, development of the vocal chords and lung capacity), the younger body is generally not yet ready for the rigors of vocal technique. For children younger than 10, we have a children’s choir (ages 6-9) that teaches them how to use their voices properly, in a fun, relaxed environment, and Pre-school music programs for infants and toddlers from birth to age 5.
To be able to reach both the pedals and the cymbals on a drum set, most children start around age 8.
Depending on the student’s lung capacity (and in the case of the saxophone the size of the instrument), we recommend that most beginners are 9 and older.
Do we bring our instruments to the lessons?
Each student carries their own instrument to each lesson or class, with the exception of piano and drums. The school provides piano’s, keyboards, and drumsets for lessons and classes, the student practices on their own instrument at home.
Look for a program that provides both. Group classes work well for preschool music programs, theory lessons, and as important supplement to private lessons where students learn to play as a group and enjoy the peer motivation and camaraderie of others pursuing similar goals. When actually learning how to play an instrument, private lessons are far superior to starting in a group only, since in private lessons it is hard to miss anything, and each student can learn at his/her own pace. This means the teacher does not have to teach a class at a middle-of-the-road level, but has the time and focus to work on the individual student’s strengths and weaknesses. For that lesson period, the student is the primary focus of the teacher. At our school students have the choice of 3 tracks, based on their goals and amount of home practice time: For fastest progress, students enroll in both weekly group and private lessons and should have at least 30 minutes per day in their schedule for home practice 5 to 6 days per week. For an average of 15 or more minutes per day of practice, the student can enroll in weekly private lessons, without group, and learn at a pace that is most enjoyable and effective for him or her based on the amount of daily practice engaged it. For students who want the gentlest introduction to the instrument, the option to take group lessons (without private) is available.
Learning music is not just a matter of having a qualified teacher, but also having an environment that is focused on music education. In a professional school environment, a student is not distracted by TV, pets, ringing phones, siblings or any other household activities. With only 1/2 to one hour of lesson time per week, a professional school environment can produce better results since the only focus at that time is learning music. Students in a school environment are also motivated by hearing peers who are at different levels and by being exposed to a variety of musical instruments. In a music school, the lessons are not just a hobby or sideline for the teacher but a responsibility that is taken very seriously.
As with anything, improving in music takes practice. One of the main problems with music lessons is the drudgery of practicing and the fight between parents and students to practice every day. Here are some ways to make practicing easier:
Set the same time every day to practice so it becomes part of a routine or habit. This works particularly well for children. Generally the earlier in the day the practicing can occur, the student is fresher and less reminding is required by parents to get the child to practice.
Games are especially effective with young beginners in taking the tedium out of the repetition. For a very young student 20 or 30 minutes seems like an eternity. Instead of setting a time frame, we use creative repetition. For example, practice certain small segments (“hard-work spots”) 4 times every day followed by the entire piece 2 times, and this scale 5 different ways: like a frog, like an elephant, etc. (according to whatever imagery speaks to the student.) Sometimes the number of reps can be determined for each day by picking a domino, a card, or rolling a dice. Rather than watching the clock, the students know if they are on repetition number 3 they are almost finished.
This works very well for both children and adult students. Some adults reward themselves with a cappuccino after a successful week of practicing. Parents can encourage children to practice by granting them occasional rewards for successful practicing. In our school we reward young children for a successful week of practicing with stars and stickers on their work as well as tokens that can be redeemed for prizes. Acknowledgment tends to be the most coveted award – there just is no substitute for a pat on the back for a job well done. School-wide Practice-thons are periodically held with medals to celebrate several weeks of consistent practice. Sometimes we all have a week with little practicing, in that case there is always next week.
Look for a variety of performance options to fit the needs of each student. We offer 3 low-keyed in-house solo/ensemble recitals per year, 1 or more group performance opportunities in the community, and periodic tour groups. We have helped our students receive top honors in festivals and competitions, receive placement on honor’s recitals, in masterclasses with visiting nationally recognized guest clinicians, and successfully audition for youth symphonies and All-Region and All-State orchestras. All performance opportunities are optional according to the desires of each student.
There are some excellent materials developed by professional music educators that are made for students in a variety of situations. For example in piano, there are books for very young beginners, and books for adult students that have never played before. There are books that can start you at a level you are comfortable with. These materials researched materials ensure that no important part of learning the instrument can inadvertently be left out. If you ever have to move to a different part of the country, qualified teachers and institutions will recognize the materials and be able to smoothly continue from where the previous teacher left off.
Most Importantly . . .
Music can be something that you enjoy for a lifetime. We’re sure by following the guidelines in this parent music report you enhance your child’s opportunity for success. try not to put unrealistic expectations on yourself or your children to learn too quickly. Everyone learns at a different pace and the key is to be able to enjoy the journey. For further tips, use the Contact Us button and receive periodic updates with our latest tips.