Whether it’s your one-year-old’s talent for pots and pans percussion or your older kid’s giddiness for the guitar that makes you decide to look into music lessons, it’s likely you’re going to have some questions. These tips will ensure that your child starts off her musical career on the right note.
- It’s never too early to start.
It’s not uncommon for schools to have parent-involved programs for children as young as 12-months-old, which focus on instilling a love of music through song and movement. Preschoolers are usually ready for more formal training on one instrument, but look for classes that incorporate games and play to keep your kid interested and excited about what he’s learning. Teachers say the best choices for this age are the violin, piano, or percussion. “By age eight, the majority of children have the coordination, focus, and, for wind instruments like flutes and clarinets, the breath control to start playing most instruments,” says Doris Harry, director of The Music School in Sunnydale, California.
- Music stores are your friend.
If your child is going back and forth between the trumpet and timpani, make a trip to your town’s music store. Many will let kids try out different instruments, which can help your mini-Mozart find her match. Once she’s decided, ask the store if they have a rent-to-buy plan—where you can rent for three to six months before buying, with the rental fee going towards the purchase. That’s a good option if you’re not convinced she isn’t going to change her mind tomorrow.
- Ask around for teachers.
It’s likely that you’ll find your favorite teacher by word of mouth. While a music degree is helpful, don’t feel like you need to find someone with performing experience. “Sometimes the most talented performers can be lousy teachers,” says Harry. And don’t give up if your child doesn’t click with his instructor after the first lesson; it can take a month to build a good rapport. But if your kid is still unhappy weeks later, consider asking him if he’d like to change teachers. For some children, more structured lessons are what they need to succeed, while others will thrive with less pressure.
- Give group lessons a go.
Playing with other kids, whether it’s in a class format, an ensemble, or youth orchestra, can make learning an instrument more rewarding for your child. “It’s social and expressive and kids really learn what it means to create music, which can be very satisfying for them,” says author Stephanie Stein Crease.
- But don’t skip private lessons.
For middle school and older students, a once-a week-private lesson is where they really hone their technique. However, if your child’s schedule is already packed with other activities, a lesson every other week is fine if she’s making progress, says Crease. Most importantly, parents should try not to overwhelm new musicians, especially young ones.
- Practice can be fun.
At-home practice shouldn’t be an option, but it doesn’t need to be a chore. With younger kids, be involved when they run through their music. If you’re trained on an instrument, play along with your child. You also could have her teach you the song (make mistakes on purpose to really get her giggling!) or round up an audience of siblings and stuffed animals to turn practice sessions into private recitals. If your older child complains that he dislikes practicing, have him split up the time. Try 15 minutes before school and 15 minutes when he gets home.
- Be ready for cries of “I want to quit!”
Don’t be surprised if your kid tells you he wants to give up music, especially during the middle school years. Musical skill sets can take years to master—something that can be frustrating for kids—but sometimes adjustments in the teaching style or instrument can make all the difference. Crease’s own son was ready to abandon music when he grew tired of the violin, until he discovered a passion for the guitar. If your child is beginning to drag her feet, suggest an instrument switch or whatever else you think could help keep her involved in music. One day she’ll thank you for not letting her quit.