By: Sue Anganes
Over the past twenty-one years, I have had my children involved in music lessons. Each kid has studied voice, violin, cello, or piano, and my son, Andrew, studied two instruments. Two of them started lessons at the age of six and the others started around eight. Because I had a background in cello and piano, I encouraged them to play string instruments, although I would have supported them studying any instrument they chose.
Early on, we found a string instructor who was very mild mannered and kind to the kids, so we stayed with him for over sixteen years. My four string players progressed well for their age levels, and three of them continued lessons until they went to college and were quite accomplished musicians. My three oldest string players were involved in various orchestras, ensembles, musicals (in the orchestra pit), and occasionally played for weddings. Someone always seemed to be practicing somewhere in the house, and it was lots of fun for me when I was able to play with them at various events. I volunteered for one of the orchestras that two kids played in early years, and I played my cello with students in quartets during my kids’ recitals.
None of my kids have gone on to study music as a career, although their musical education will be with them for their lifetime. My adult children do pull out their instruments (and voices), and often play or sing at church or an occasional wedding.
How do you know when your child is ready for music lessons?
Usually, if your child can be attentive and able to concentrate for a thirty miutes, he or she is ready to start lessons. My daughter, Tessa, started violin when she was six, but I think she did more talking than playing during her early lessons. By the time she was eight, I noticed she was able to pay better attention to her instructor and focus on the lesson. If a child is frightened or cries at a lesson, it is probably too early to start. Kids should enjoy their lessons and their instructor.
How do I choose an instrument?
What does the child like? Obviously most parents are not going to encourage drums, but why not? There are many great opportunities for percussionists in student orchestras. If you have had experience with a certain type of instruments, as I did with strings, maybe that is the path to take so that you can help a little in the learning process. I don’t think I would have been much help to my kids with woodwinds or brass instruments because I knew nothing about them. Many music stores rent instruments to students so if you find you haven’t made the right choice for your child, you can switch to another instrument and not waste money purchasing an unwanted instrument.
Who do I find to teach my child?
The best way to find an instructor is by word of mouth. Usually someone will have a good or bad opinion of an instructor. You can speak with other parents or contact a local music store and just ask to meet with their instructors and see what you think. Beginning students need to feel comfortable with their instructor. A bad teacher can discourage a child and cause them to never want to play an instrument again, ever! Local youth orchestras can often give you referrals to teachers who are both experienced and professional.
What if my child doesn’t want to practice?
Just as we parents sometimes leave a stack of dishes in the sink unwashed for an evening, there will be times that kids will not want to put in their effort either. If practice is like pulling teeth, set a timer for fifteen minutes and have the child focus for a short period of time. A tiny bit of practice every day is much better that an hour one day a week. As a child matures, their practice intensifies and they seem to pace themselves and their practice time. Kids will play for a long time if they truly enjoy their instrument. As with everything in life, some amount of discipline is required, but a small amount of discipline in a young child turns into a highly disciplined adult. Music lessons are very beneficial in that respect.