As our British summer comes to a close for another year, the new school term starts. Children feel and look another year older. Their school may have changed; their attitude to school may have changed! What stays constant however is home music tuition. So it's this time of year that we like to give you some tips and tricks that will help your child have a successful, rewarding experience learning an instrument:
1. How Young is too Young – Starting at the Right Age
Adults can start any instrument at any time. Their success is based on how willing an adult is to commit to practicing. We’ve taught many beginner pupils in their 40’s, 50’s, even 60’s and 70’s!
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 be a negative and backfire. 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, which could have been prevented. Sometimes if a 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.
At our academy, 4 years old is the youngest age that we start children in piano lessons. At this age they have begun to develop longer attention spans and can retain material with ease.
Guitar – Acoustic, Electric and Bass
7 years old is the earliest we recommend for 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. Bass guitar pupils are usually 10 years or older.
8 years old is recommended as the youngest age for private vocal lessons. Due to the physical nature (proper breathing techniques, development of the vocal chords and lung capacity) the younger body is generally not yet ready for the rigours of vocal technique.
Violin, Viola and Cello
We accept violin, viola and cello pupils from the age of 4. Some teachers will start younger children, but our experience has shown us the most productive learning occurs when the beginner is at least 4.
Brass and Woodwinds
Due to lung capacity (and in the case of the saxophone the size of the instrument), we recommend that most brass and woodwind beginners are 9 years old.
2. Insist on Private Lessons when Learning a Specific Instrument
Group classes work well for preschool music programs and theory lessons. However, when actually learning how to play an instrument, private lessons are far superior since in private lessons it is hard to miss anything, and each pupil can learn at their 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 pupil's strengths and weaknesses. For that lesson period, the pupil is the primary focus of the teacher. The teachers also enjoy this as they do not have to divide their attention between several pupils at a time and can help the pupil be the best they can be.
3. Take Lessons from a trained teacher (or as we like to call them, Professors)
Learning music is not just a matter of having a great musician, but also having a great musician who is trained to teach. In the UK, there are no requirements for private music teachers to have qualifications or be trained. If you wanted to call yourself a music teacher you could! For this reason, it’s important to make sure your teacher is not only an outstanding musician; but is also trained in actually teaching your instrument. This requires a very different skill and is incredibly important to understand and remember.
4. 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 struggle between parents and pupils to practice every day. Here are some ways to make practicing easier:
5. Practicing time
Set the same time every day to practice so it becomes a part of a routine or habit. This works particularly well for children. Generally the earlier in the day the practicing can occur, the less reminding is required by parents to get the child to practice.
6. Practicing Repetition
We use this method quite often when setting practice schedules for beginners. For a young child 20 or 30 minutes seems like an eternity. Instead of setting a time frame, we use repetition. For example, practice this piece 4 times every day, and this scale 5 times a day. The child then does not pay attention to the amount of time they are practicing their instrument, but knows if they are on repetition number 3 they are almost finished.
7. Practice Rewards
Everyone likes a carrot and a stick - so this works very well for both children and adult pupils! Some adults reward themselves with a cappuccino or some other treat after a successful week of practicing. Parents can encourage children to practice by granting them occasional awards for successful practicing. Praise tends to be the most coveted award – there just is no substitute for a pat on the back for a job well done. Sometimes we all have a week with little practicing, in that case there is always next week.
8. Use Recognised Teaching Materials
There are some excellent materials developed by professional music educators that are made for pupils in a variety of situations. For example in piano, there are books for very young beginners, and books for adult pupils that have never played before. There are books that can start you at a level you are comfortable with. 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. If you ever have to move to a different part of the country, qualified teachers and institutions will recognise the materials and be able to smoothly continue from where the previous teacher left off.
9. There are HUGE advantages to learning music besides enjoyment…
The words beauty, serenity and excitement come to life with each musical experience. These feelings help every child appreciate all forms of the arts.
When your child learns to analyse a musical work from all perspectives or to improvise within a certain musical style, both inductive and deductive reasoning grows stronger.
Music offers the ability to cultivate our feelings and thoughts through nonverbal means and to respond to these nonverbal thoughts in others.
Your child learns to classify by learning to identify different types and styles of music and to recognise how cultures use music for personal expression.
Making Value Judgments:
Learning to comprehend, consider and evaluate in music can help your child make informed decisions and uphold value judgments in other aspects of life.
Learning to read, write and interpret musical notation strengthens the use of other symbol systems such as mathematics and language.
Being able to go from learning notes and rhythms to producing meaningful music instills in your child a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence.
Hand, eye, body posture and thought all working together are the ingredients of playing an instrument. These coordination skills transfer to many other aspects of life.
Every child wants to be part of a group. Theory and musicianship classes, in addition to group performances and recitals provide just such unique opportunities.
Learning to perceive and derive meaning from musical sounds sharpens your child's ability to comprehend abstractions.
Learning the basics of musical language and interpreting a work through performance teaches your child the ability to understand a problem and reach an appropriate solution.
Learning all of the basics of music and applying them correctly takes perception and discipline.
10. 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 journey.