5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Music Lessons
These guidelines will help the music student have a successful, rewarding experience learning an instrument. Below are practical tips that we have discovered from years of teaching.
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 the are to commit to practicing. We teach many beginner students in their 60’s and 70’s. For children, starting at the right age is a key element to their success in lessons. Some people say, “the sooner the better” but, this attitude can actually backfire. If a child is placed in lessons too soon they may feel overwhelmed and frustrated and want to stop taking 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 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 when to begin lessons.
We typically start private piano lessons at age five. At this age, they have begun to develop longer attention spans and can retain material with ease.
Guitar – Acoustic, Electric, Ukulele and Bass
Eight years old is the earliest we recommend for guitar lessons. Playing guitar requires a fair amount of pressure from the fingertips to press the strings. Children under eight generally have small hands and may find playing uncomfortable. Bass guitar students generally start at 10. Ukulele students are generally five years or older. Ukulele is a great way to begin for a young student who wants to learn guitar.
Private vocal lessons are generally most beneficial for children 10 years and older. 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 yet ready for the rigors of vocal technique.
The average age of our youngest drum student is eight. This varies greatly depending on the size of the child, as they need to be able to reach both the pedals and the cymbals.
Violin and Viola
We accept violin and viola students from the age of five and up. Some teachers will start children as young as three, but experience has shown us the most productive learning occurs when the beginner is five or older.
2. 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. In a professional music school environment a student is not distracted by TV, pets, ringing phones, siblings or anything else. With only half to one hour of lesson time per week, a professional school environment can produce better results, since the only focus at that time is learning music. Students in a school environment are also motivated by hearing peers who are at different levels and by being 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 they take very seriously. They are dedicated to helping your child have the best music learning experience possible.
3. 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:
Set the same time every day to practice so it becomes 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.
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 for practicing, we use repetition. For example, “practice this piece four times every day and this scale five 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 three, they are almost finished.
This works very well for both children and adult students. Some adults reward themselves with a cappuccino after a successful week of practicing. Parents can encourage children to practice by granting them occasional rewards for successful practicing. In our school, we reward young children for a successful week of practicing with stars and stickers on their work. 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.
4. 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 beginner and books for adult students who have never played before. There are books that can start you at a level with which you are comfortable. These materials have been researched and are continually upgraded and improved to make learning easier. These materials ensure that no important part of learning an instrument can inadvertently be left out. If you ever have to move to a different part of the country, qualified teachers and institutions will recognize the materials and be able to smoothly continue from where the previous teacher left off.
5. Most Importantly … HAVE FUN!
Music should be something that the learner enjoys 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.