“How do I choose an instrument for my child? What is the best instrument for beginners?”
These are common questions asked by parents who are thinking about music lessons for their children, but are not sure where to begin.
Apart from considering your child’s interests, you should also factor in your child’s age, as both size and strength can affect the ability to play an instrument properly.
Your family’s budget for music lessons is another important consideration, and you can consult resources such as MoneySmart to get an indication of how much music classes might cost — for instance, a trial class for preschoolers may be free of charge, or held at a fee of S$20 to S$40. Your preferences for group size as well as the calibre of the instructor will also have a significant impact on the cost.
For parents hoping to get some support and advice on the KiasuParents forum, here are some discussions threads that you may find useful:
Below, we talk to two local parents about how they are raising their children to grow up with a passion for music.
Letting A Child’s Interest Lead The Way
For local musician Patrick Chng, who studied piano from the age of seven to 12, and picked up the guitar at age 10, he was more than happy to support his son’s musical journey, when his son expressed interest in learning an instrument at age six.
“My son was still in K2 and it was the June holidays. He said he wanted to play the drums, and I knew a drum teacher, so we did a trial lesson,” he recalls. “He enjoyed it, so we continued.”
Unlike other parents who are concerned about opportunities for exposure and development — in the form of exams, competitions, and performances — he says none of these are priorities for him, although “it’s good if children get to perform.”
His son, now nine, took the RSL drum exams (accredited by the UK-based Rockschool, which focuses on contemporary arts) for Grade 2, as it was something that the instructor recommended.
“I’m not keen on exams, but I thought it’d be good to let my son experience it,” he says. “But I really just want him to have fun and enjoy playing.”
For now, the biggest hurdle is ensuring that his son is motivated enough to keep up with practising the drums — they have a drum kit at home.
“I only remind him to practise occasionally, and I try to encourage him even when he makes mistakes,” he says. “He lacks resilience and will sometimes cry when he can’t get a part right. I’ll tell him to listen to a recording of the part, in order to understand what he’s doing wrong. Then, he needs to keep practising the wrong part, and to play it slowly until he improves.”
“Of course, it’s more fun when he’s playing a song that he likes,” he adds. “To keep him motivated, I’ll play songs that he likes on Spotify, so that he can play along.”
Raising A Musical Family
“Everyone in my husband’s family, as well as mine, plays an instrument, and we all started with the piano,” says a mother of three. “It seemed like the natural thing to start my older kids on the piano too. Three months after my daughter started on the piano, she expressed an interest in learning the violin as well. And since she was such a fast learner, we decided to let her try it.”
Her eldest son, now 13, took his Grade 8 piano exam at age 10, while her 12-year-old daughter took her Grade 8 piano exam at age 9 and Grade 8 violin exam at age 10. After their Grade 8 exams, they proceeded to pursue their music performance diplomas. She also has a nine year old who started learning to play the cello two years ago.
In choosing music schools for her children, she says she “didn’t want the standard ‘one-grade-per-year’ type of school.”
“I believe if the child is able or willing, he or she should be accelerated,” she explains. “Performance opportunities are also important for us. After all, music is a performing art.”
Her older children were not required by their schools to take the ABRSM exams until Grade 8. The ABRSM is an examination board and registered charity based in London, which provides music examinations at centres around the world.
“My kids didn’t actually skip grades. They still learnt everything grade by grade, and learnt at least three pieces equivalent to the grade they were at, in order to take their music school’s internal exams,” says the mother. “But they didn’t take the official external exams. It definitely saved a lot of time — and money — and they were able to cover more repertoire.”
As for whether music interferes with academics, she has this to say about her son, who took the PSLE last year: “[He] practised the piano before doing his homework, even during the exam period. That’s how much I prioritise music learning. You get a three-digit score at the end of the PSLE, but you bring music with you throughout your life.”
It’s certainly a hefty investment, especially when you have more than one child, and if children are interested in learning multiple instruments. But the mother is confident that music lessons are worth every cent.
“I believe music teaches a child so many things. You learn to focus. You learn to be disciplined and practise even when you don’t feel like it. You build confidence when you start to play well. You gain an avenue to release stress when you play music. The list is endless,” she says. “Yes, my children may not become professional musicians, but that’s never the goal to begin with. And I haven’t even talked about the joys of chamber music — making music together with friends!”