How to Get the Most out of Music Lessons
These guidelines will help you to have a successful, rewarding experience learning an instrument. These are practical tips that we have discovered from years of studying and teaching music.
START AT THE RIGHT AGE (HOW YOUNG IS TOO YOUNG?)
Adults can start any instrument at any time. Their success is based on how willing the adult is to commit to practicing daily.
For children, starting at the right age is a key element to the success of their lessons. Some people will tell you "the sooner the better" but this attitude can actually have a negative effect. 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 to music just because they had one unpleasant experience which 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 at what age a child can start taking music lessons.
3-4 Years Old: Private lessons generally do not work for children of this age, as they have not yet experienced the formal learning environment of school. They learn more effectively through a game oriented environment, such as a group preschool music class, which will give them a good foundation in music basics.
Piano/Violin/Cello: 5 years old is recommended for students of these instruments. While some teachers will start children as young as 3, our experience has shown the most productive learning occurs when the student is 5 or older since they have begun to develop longer attention spans and can retain material with ease.
Guitar: 8 years old is the earliest we recommend for guitar lessons. Guitar playing requires a fair amount of pressure from the fingertips, and children under 8 may find playing uncomfortable. Bass guitar students generally are at least 10 years old.
Voice Lessons: 10 years old is recommended as the youngest age for private vocal 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 ready for the rigors of vocal technique. For children younger than 10, we have a children's chorus (ages 7-12) and a preschool music program (ages 4-6) that starts them singing in a fun, relaxed environment.
TAKE LESSONS IN A PROFESSIONAL TEACHING ENVIRONMENT
Learning music is not just a matter of having a qualified teacher, but also having an environment that is focused on music education. Lessons taken at a music school produce better results since there are none of the distractions of a home environment; the only focus is on learning music. Students in a school are also motivated by hearing peers who are at different levels and are 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 which is taken very seriously.
CHOOSE A SCHOOL WHICH OFFERS A CHOICE OF GROUP OR INDIVIDUAL LESSONS FOR BEGINNERS
Different students require 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 a private lesson. Once a student is more advanced it is necessary to take private lessons to master the advanced techniques of an instrument. You should have the option to select the learning style that is best suited for your child.
MAKE PRACTICING EASIER
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:
Time: Schedule a consistent daily time for practice so that it becomes a routine. This works particularly well for children.
Repetition: We use this method when setting practice schedules for beginners. Instead of setting an amount of time, we use repetition. For example, practice this piece 4 times each day, and this scale 5 times. The child does not pay attention to the amount of time they are practicing, but knows if they are on repetition number 4 they are almost finished.
Rewards: Praise tends to be the most coveted award - there is no substitute for recognition for a job well done. Parents should acknowledge improvement and offer compliments regularly. At our school, in addition to praise, we reward young children for successful preparation with stars and stickers on their music.
USE RECOGNIZED TEACHING MATERIALS
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. These materials have been researched and are continually upgraded and improved to make learning easier. These materials ensure that no important part of learning the instrument can inadvertently be left out. In addition, if you ever need to change teachers, the use of these standardized materials allow for a smooth transition.
Most Importantly... HAVE FUN!
Music should be something that you enjoy for a lifetime. 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 enjoy the journey.