5 WAYS TO GET THE MOST OUT OF MUSIC LESSONS
The following guidelines will help you decide the correct music education program for you and your family. The goal is to ensure that you have a successful, rewarding experience learning music.
1. STARTING THE RIGHT PROGRAM AT THE RIGHT AGE
Piano and Keyboard Lessons: At our school 4 years old is the youngest age that we start children in piano or keyboard lessons. At this age they have begun to develop longer attention spans and can retain material with ease.
Guitar Lessons – Acoustic, Electric, and Bass: Our school starts guitar students at 6 years old. Guitar playing requires a fair amount of pressure on the fingertips for pressing on the strings. Young children generally have small hands and may find playing uncomfortable. Bass guitar students are usually 6 years old.
Voice Lessons: Our school recommends 8 years old as the youngest age for private voice lessons. Because of the physical nature of singing (proper breathing techniques, development of vocal chords and lung capacity) the younger body is generally not yet ready for the rigors of vocal technique.
Violin and Strings Lessons: Our school accepts violin and viola students at 4 years old. Some teachers will start children younger, but our experience has shown us the most productive learning occurs when the beginner is at least 4 years old. Because of the size of the cello, our school typically starts cello students at age 8 years old.
Drum Lessons: The average age of our youngest drum student is 5 years old. This can vary a bit depending on the size of the child. Being able to reach both the pedals and the cymbals is the main physical concern.
Woodwinds and Brass Lessons: Because of lung capacity demands and sometimes the size of the instrument, we recommend that most woodwind (flute, clarinet, saxophone, oboe, and bassoon) and brass players (trumpet, french horn, trombone, and tuba) be at least 8 years old. A younger child can learn note recognition and rhythms by starting on piano or guitar and pick up a woodwind or brass instrument when they are ready.
Private Lessons – Individual Instruction: For children, starting at the right age is key to the success of the beginner, regardless of the instrument. Some people will tell you “the sooner, the better,” but this attitude can backfire and have a negative effect on the child. If a parent puts a child into private lessons too soon, they may feel overwhelmed and frustrated and want to stop. The last thing you want to do is turn a child off to music just because they had one unpleasant experience which could have been prevented. Students can be successful at music whether they start at elementary, middle, or high school ages. Children who are older than the suggested earliest starting age will generally do well, though care in building practice habits is essential. Some families choose a special early age program-such as Suzuki violin or primer piano-starting as early as 3½ or 4 years old. Parent support at lessons and during the home practice sessions is required. At this age some children have begun to develop longer attention spans and can retain material with ease. Others will need to wait until the age of 5 or older, depending upon development. Continuing general music-making in a group setting is valuable and encouraged. Private lessons provide the best learning environment. Look for teachers who use creative artistic materials, and present musical ideas in a positive and motivating way. Quality teachers will provide many opportunities for performance (recitals, festivals, contests) throughout the year and will be active in their local music teacher associations’ activities.
Adults – It’s Never Too Late: Adults can start lessons at any time. The adult can base their success on how willing one commits to practicing and attending their weekly lessons. Building a skill takes time: Give yourself 9 to 12 months to see significant results. Look for a program that will not just encourage you to learn your favorite songs, but will also help you understand how music is put together. Understanding the basics goes a long way toward making music success easier.
2. TAKE LESSONS IN A PROFESSIONAL TEACHING ENVIRONMENT
Learning music is not just a matter of having a qualified teacher, but also having a productive environment in which music education can take place. In a professional school environment a student will not have the distractions of television, pets, ringing phones, siblings, or anything else. With only ½ hour to 1 hour of lesson time each week, a professional music school environment can produce better results since the only focus is learning music. The music school environment also motivates students since they are able to hear peers who are at different levels. In addition, music students also benefit from this environment since music schools introduce students to various musical instruments. In a music school, the lessons are not just a hobby or interest of the teacher but a responsibility which they take seriously.
3. MAKE PRACTICING EASIER
As with anything, improving in music takes practice. One of the main problems with music lessons is the so called “drudgery” of practicing and the struggle between parents and students to practice every day. Our school recommends the following ways to make practicing easier:
a) Time: Set the same time every day to practice so it becomes part of a routine or habit. This works well for children. Typically the earlier in the day the practicing can occur, the less the parent will have to remind the child to practice.
b) Repetition: Our school uses this method often when setting practice schedules for beginners. For a young child 20 or 30 minutes may seem like an eternity. Instead of setting a time frame we use repetition. For example, “practice this piece 4 times every day,” and “practice this scale 5 times a day.” The child then does not pay attention to the time they are practicing their instrument, but knows if they are on “”repetition number 3″ for example, they are completing their music practice for that day.
c) Rewards: This works well for both children and adult students. Some adults reward themselves with a new music book or a music accessory after a successful week of practicing. Parents can encourage children to practice by granting them occasional rewards for successful practicing. Our school rewards young children for a successful week of practicing with stars and stickers on their work. Praise usually is the most coveted award: There just is no substitute for a pat on the back for a job well done. Sometimes students may have a week with little practicing, in which case “there is always next week.”
4. USE RECOGNIZED TEACHING MATERIALS
There are some excellent materials developed by professional music educators for students of all musical levels. For example, in piano there are books for young beginners as well as books for adult students who have never played before. There are other books that can start students at their particular music level. Educators and Publishers have researched these materials and are continually upgrading and improving them to make learning easier. These materials ensure that educators will not unintentionally leave out the essentials of learning an instrument. If a music student ever has to move to a different part of the country, qualified teachers and institutions will recognize these materials and the student will be able smoothly to continue from where the previous teacher left off.
Most Importantly – Have Fun!
Music should be something that you enjoy for a lifetime. So, 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 musical experience!
5. CHOOSE A SCHOOL WHICH OFFERS A CHOICE OF GROUP OR INDIVIDUAL LESSONS FOR BEGINNERS
Different students need different teaching approaches. Some students progress best with the peer interaction and class motivation of a group session. Other students prefer the focused concentration of an individual one-on-one lesson. Once a student is more advanced it will be necessary to take private lessons to master the advanced techniques of an instrument or voice with individual attention. Make sure that your student has the choice to select the learning style that suits them best.