A version of this post originally appeared on the Music Teacher’s Helper Blog, written by Leila Viss.
Is there ever a day that doesn't include music? Think of the moments that would not be the same without music--in the car, at the fitness club, during Sunday worship, at the movies, on the TV, at the big game and on your smart device. Admit it, imagining life without music would be…unimaginable.
Although not everyone is destined to be a concert artist, every human being can be a music maker and enthusiast. Once one explores creating music on an instrument and invests in lessons, an appreciation grows which then instills an admiration for a lifetime. Giving your child or yourself the gift of learning music on any instrument is something to treasure but finding the right teacher, the perfect fit to suit your interest level is not always easy. Below are answers to some of the most common questions posed by parents who want to know more about the process of learning music and finding the right teacher.
How can I tell when my child is ready for lessons?
You may be unaware of your child's innate readiness for making music but there are some signs that should help you make that assessment. Here are specific suggestions that will assist you prior to embarking on a music teacher hunt:
- Purchase a keyboard instrument (a portable digital keyboard may do the trick but plan to upgrade when lessons begin) and let your child explore sound before enrolling in lessons.
- Once this exploration begins, notice how your potential musician experiments at the keys.
- If the keyboard receives regular visitation, this is strong evidence that your child is ready to engage in lessons.
How do I know what instrument is right for my child?
Because it just takes a finger to lower a key to create a sound, the piano is the easiest instrument to begin exploring and eventually making music. Therefore enrolling your child in piano lessons may be a place to begin his/her music education. Once your budding musician is introduced to other instruments in school around 4th or 5th grade a shift in interest may occur. This may result in a change of preference for instruments. Don't ever regret your investment in piano lessons as this experience serves as an essential stepping stone to perfectly suit your music enthusiast.
How do I choose the right teacher?
1) Referrals from friends and acquaintances are your best bet for a good teacher. If they are happy with a teacher there's a good chance that you will be as well.
2) Ask to arrange an interview with several teachers and you'll discover that each owns a unique studio. It's important for you to determine what your priorities are for your child's music education. Here are some things to consider when shopping around:
- Some teachers may excel at preparing students to compete, while others may lean towards a more relaxed approach with fewer opportunities to compete or perform formally.
- While some may remain set in a traditional approach with standard repertoire others may emphasize lessons in creativity beyond the page and various styles other than Classical.
- Group lessons are a popular social setting which may best suit those who are still on the fence about studying an instrument. Private lessons usually accommodate schedules more easily and meet your intentions of one-on-one instruction. Many teachers now offer both to add variety and opportunities to meet music-making peers, reinforce concepts with games, refine performance skills and more.
- Music is meant to be shared so ask if the teacher offers encouragement and opportunities to perform, even casually. Although difficult, performing instills discipline, motivation, confidence and good experience for public speaking and so much more.
- Teachers usually use a method book or series to teach an instrument. Numerous parents have asked which one I use in the initial interview. Although it may be an appropriate question, I inform all my potential student families that I teach a human being and not a method. Perhaps a better question to ask during your chat with a teacher is: What methods and tools (books, styles of music, technological devices and more) will you use to help my child progress in his/her music skills?
How do I balance being a supportive parent without becoming a "tiger mom"?
Always a good question, here's a couple of tips to help you maintain a healthy attitude:
1) Some teachers may require you to be present at lessons to take notes so consider this as a free lesson yourself and learn right along with your child. You will realize that building musical skills is a long-term process with peaks, valleys and plateaus.
2) Regardless if you attend lessons or not, it is important for you to remember that this is your child's endeavor and not yours. Allow your budding musician to:
- Learn how to learn
- Read all assignments
- Take charge and ask the teacher questions themselves when they forget a concept
- Be responsible for collecting books prior to the lesson, etc.
3) Perhaps THE BEST support you can offer your child is providing and modeling structure:
- Make daily practicing a priority so it becomes a habit by setting up a schedule just like brushing teeth.
- Instead of setting the timer and demanding practice, ensure that the teacher's instructions are understood and completed during practice time by reviewing the assignment with your musician. The amount of daily time at the instrument may vary as consistent practice will make the assignment easier to play by the end of the week.
- Arrive promptly for each lesson and be on time for pick-up.
- Show teachers the respect they deserve by following all studio policies and submitting timely payments.