Parents who’ve done their research would have read about how music makes us smarter—it’s not enough to consume music, because one only reaps the cognitive benefits by playing an instrument. It’s not all about intelligence either, as research has also shown that increased musical training is correlated to better anxiety management and emotional control.
These are compelling reasons to set kids on a musical trajectory, however, music lessons can lead to stress or conflict between parent and child if interest and motivation are lacking. Lawrence Sarabi, co-founder of music school Aureus Academy and a trained concert pianist, tells us how we can avoid practice-related squabbles and other pitfalls.
#1 Age matters.
“We wouldn’t, for example, recommend a five-year-old to start with the guitar, but instead might decide that it would be more suitable for him to take up the ukulele. The same goes for a brass instrument like the trumpet. A student would need to be physically able to play the instrument, as it requires a high amount of lung capacity as well as strength to work on their embouchure [the use of facial muscles and the shaping of the lips to the mouthpiece] in producing a good tone. We would recommend starting at ages nine and above for the trumpet, when most would have developed the strength to begin learning the instrument. Instruments such as the piano and the violin can be started as early as four years old.”
#2 Look for music schools that offer trials.
“Trial lessons with different teachers are a helpful means of gauging the chemistry in the student-teacher relationship. Trial lessons for different instruments are also great for helping the child and their parent make a decision. We stand firm by our belief that every child has potential, but it is paramount that the child enjoys the experience of creating music on a new instrument.”
#3 One-on-one lessons are a better option.
“Group lessons provide exposure to making music in a group, and it is an extremely good setting for children to meet their peers and learn to work together. But while group lessons have their advantages, we strongly feel that the personal attention received in an individual lesson allows for a more progressive and enjoyable learning experience. We believe that one-to-one classes are more effective in the long run and that individual lessons are fundamental in ensuring consistent learning and progress for the child.”
#4 Regard music as an essential part of life.
“We don’t think that music will ever not be ‘right’ for someone, or run out of favour. Music speaks deeply to our human nature, and it is a language that transcends boundaries. The process of learning and making music is vital for nurturing a well-rounded child, and its importance is akin to that of art or poetry.
At times, we overlook the moulding power of music, which encompasses so many disciplines. Even if a child does not pursue music as a career, surely the skills gained and the many values developed through practice, hard work, and patience will be beneficial.”
#5 Seek balance.
“A lack of parental support and being lax with practice, in most cases, will lead children to find music more difficult as they progress, and consequently, lose interest. On the other end of the spectrum, parents with good intentions may be overly strict with their children but not have the right focus towards their progress. This parental zeal may translate to resentment felt by the child towards music. Finding a balance is important to ensure that a child truly loves learning music.”
#6 Encourage children to create music.
“It is common for students to focus on learning repertoire and building their playing technique, especially if the main goal is taking graded exams. However, we believe it is important for children to be given the opportunity and encouragement to be spontaneous and to have freedom in making music. It’s something that we encourage all our students to do, and a great way to do this is to associate imagery with music to spark the child’s imagination. One activity we have used at the Aureus Academy Winter Camps is to play a short video and ask children to first describe the scene, and then try to produce a sound on their instrument to match it. We have seen incredible things happen and it’s a great way to explore musical creativity.”
#7 Take time to broaden a child’s perspective.
“Discussing the background to a piece of music helps in keeping children engaged. It is important for the child to understand that music is more than merely notations on a page—it contains an expressive power and it evokes feeling and emotion. Exposure to the cultural or historical elements behind a particular piece contributes to its enjoyment, and helps one understand and appreciate it as an art form.
Parents can also spur their children on to listen to different composers and be open to new musical genres, so as to widen their musical exposure.”
#8 Establish a practice routine from the start.
“Develop a regular routine and pay attention to good habits from the beginning, as children thrive on structure. It is critical that regular practice—even if only for five to 10 minutes—becomes a part of your child’s daily routine. People often get stressed out about practice as they reserve everything to the last minute, which results in a negative learning experience. If parents can make practice a part of the daily routine by using a creative reward system, it becomes a much more positive experience. After all, it is not merely practice, but good practice that makes perfect.”