5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Music Lessons:
Tips for the younger student
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 teaching and our experiences working with hundreds of students each year.
Music-making creates a joyful place in a child’s life. When a young person begins to show an interest in instruments or songs, that’s the time to encourage them, listen to them, and help them with music lessons. We know that children learn more and better when music is a part of their lives. It is almost essential for their development so it is important that they get the most from their lessons.
1. HOW YOUNG IS TOO YOUNG – STARTING AT THE RIGHT AGE
Starting at the right age is a key element to the success of a child’s lessons. If children are put into lessons too soon, they may feel overwhelmed and frustrated and want to stop lessons. Sometimes if they wait 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 how young a child can start taking music lessons.
Piano/Keyboard – At our school, 5 years old is the youngest age we start children in traditional private or group lessons. At this age, they have begun to develop longer attention spans and can retain material with ease. (See Suzuki Piano)
Suzuki Piano – 4 years old is the youngest age we start children using this well-known approach. There are many facets to the Suzuki method but one key element is the role of the parent as a mentor to the student. Parents sit in on lessons and assist the student at home during practice. No musical experience is required of the parent. The teacher will let you know how best to function in this role.
Guitar (Acoustic, Electric, and Bass) – 7 years old is generally the earliest age we recommend for guitar lessons. Guitar playing requires a fair amount of pressure on the fingertips from pressing on the strings. Children under 7 generally have small hands and may find playing uncomfortable. Bass guitar students generally are 11 years and older.
Voice – 12 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 yet ready for the rigors of vocal technique.
Voice/Piano Combo – 6 to 7 years old is the youngest age we start children in this lesson format where non-strenuous, age-appropriate singing is explored in combination with basic keyboard skills, note reading, and other musical concepts.
Drums – The average age of our youngest drum student is 8. This varies greatly depending on the size of the child. Children need to be able to reach both the pedals and the cymbals.
Flute, Clarinet, and Saxophone – Due to lung capacity (and in the case of the saxophone the size of the instrument), we recommended that most woodwind beginners are 9 and older.
Violin, Viola, Cello – We accept string students from the age of about 5 to 6 when the most productive learning occurs. Trumpet & Trombone – Brass instruments require physical exertion and lung power. 9 years and older is a good time to start the trumpet and most other brass instruments.
2. CHOOSING BETWEEN GROUP AND PRIVATE LESSONS
When enrolling a child in piano or guitar instruction, parents can choose between group and private lessons based on the learning style of their child. Some students work particularly well in small groups. The group format allows for activities not available during private lessons, such as musical games and ensemble playing. Some students develop stronger rhythmic skills in this format because of the group playing opportunities.
But if group lessons are not available at a convenient time for you, private lessons are always a great way to go. A child can change from group to private lessons at any time. In private lessons, each student can learn at his or her own pace and the teacher has the time and can completely focus on the individual student’s strengths and weaknesses.
If a parent has trouble deciding between group and private instruction, an experienced teacher or music school staff person can help by asking additional questions and providing further guidance.
3. TAKING LESSONS IN A PROFESSIONAL TEACHING ENVIRONMENT
A music school provides an environment focused on music education where students take lessons with professionally trained instructors. There should be more than one instructor for each instrument so parents can choose a teacher that fits their child’s personality and learning style. The instructor should teach the fundamentals and be sure that the child is introduced to many styles of music. A child’s experience should include special enrichment programs that build discipline and confidence. Students should be recognized when they obtain their goals by receiving certificates and awards.
Students in a school environment are motivated by hearing peers who are at different levels and by being exposed to a variety of musical instruments. An opportunity to learn in small bands or ensembles is also beneficial and fun. Performance in a group teaches kids to work together toward a goal. A music school should offer option, low-pressure recital programs so that students can demonstrate their growing talents to family and friends. An inviting, professionally designed, and the soundproof facility is important also. Finally, parents should be kept informed about their child’s progress through frequent communication with the teacher.
4. MAKING PRACTICING EASIER
Improving music takes practice. Parents sometimes have difficulty getting their children to practice every day. An experienced and talented teacher can encourage regular practice through a number of means that will prevent it from becoming tedious for the student. Here are some tips that a parent can use to help make practicing easier:
- Time – Set the same time every day to practice so that 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 will be needed by the parent.
- Repetition – This works well with younger children. Instead of setting a time frame for practicing, we recommend repetition. For example, a student practices a particular song 4 times every day or a scale 5 times every day. With guidance from the teacher, a parent can monitor the rate at which pieces are played in order to insure that the student is not rushing.
- Rewards – Parents can encourage children to practice by granting them occasional rewards for successful practicing. Praise tends to be the most coveted reward – there is no substitute for a pat on the back for a job well done.
5. USE RECOGNIZED TEACHING MATERIALS
There are some excellent materials developed by professional music educators that are made for students in a variety of situations. These materials have been researched and are continually upgraded and improved to make learning easier and ensure that no important part of learning an instrument is inadvertently left out.
Making the right choices with regard to the learning environment, teaching ability, and individual support will help ensure that children get the most out of their music lessons and have fun learning how to play an instrument.