These guidelines will help you to have a successful and rewarding experience learning an instrument. These are practical tips that we have discovered from years of teaching and our experiences with teaching hundreds of students each year.
1. Starting at the Right Age - How young is too young.
Adults can start any instrument at any time. Their success depends of their willingness and ability to practice. We teach many adult students and many retirees who have found that learning an instrument keeps them sharp and focused and gives them a skill that they otherwise didn't have. There is great satisfaction in playing a song that you have always loved or entertaining your family. Many adults return to learn an instrument that they started when they were younger or simply try an instrument that they have always liked.
For children, starting at the right age is a key element to the success of their lessons. Some people will tell you “the sooner the better” but this attitude can actually backfire and be a negative. If a child is put into lessons too soon they may feel overwhelmed and frustrated and want to stop lessons. The last thing you want to do is turn a child off music just because they started too early or had an unpleasant experience that 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 how young a child can start taking music lessons. Every child is different and, with all things there are exceptions.
We offer a free consultation for any student younger than the recommended age for an instrument to determine if they would do well in private music lessons.
3-4 Years Old
If a preschooler has a keen desire and wants to start music, a group preschool music class will give them a good foundation in music basics which will be helpful in later private lessons. The instruments that a child can learn at this age are limited. And the effectiveness of lessons is also dependent upon the child’s personal learning style, maturity, sometimes the body size and motor control and willingness to learn the instrument.
At our school 4 years old is the youngest age that we start children in private piano lessons although most students begin at 5 or 6 years old.
Guitar - Acoustic, Electric & Bass
8 years old is the earliest we recommend for guitar lessons. Guitar playing requires a fair amount of pressure on the fingertips from pressing on the strings. Children under 8 generally have small hands and may find playing uncomfortable. Bass guitar students generally are 9 years old and older.
9 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.
For children younger than 9, we recommend a more relaxed and informal sing-along or choir lesson.
The average age of our youngest drum student is around 8 years old. However, this varies greatly depending on the size of the child. They have to be able to reach both the pedals and the cymbals if they are learning to play an acoustic drum set. For hand drums a child can begin at 5.
Flute, Clarinet & Saxophone
Due to lung capacity (and in the case of the saxophone the size of the instrument) we recommend that most woodwind beginners are 9 and older.
Violin & Viola
We accept violin and viola students from the age of 4. Some teachers will start children as young as 3 years old but experience has shown us the most productive learning occurs when the beginner is nearer 5.
We recommend that students begin cello around 9 years old. The instrument tends to be larger and requires finger strength for the strings in much the same way as a guitar.
The trumpet requires physical exertion and lung power. 9 years and older is a good time to start the trumpet.
2. INSIST ON PRIVATE LESSONS WHEN LEARNING A SPECIFIC INSTRUMENT
Group classes work well for preschool music programs and theory lessons. However when actually learning how to play an instrument, private lessons are far superior since in private lessons it is hard to miss anything, and each student can learn at their own pace. This means the teacher does not have to teach a class at a-middle-of-the-road level, but has the time and focus to work on the individual student’s strengths and weaknesses. For that lesson period, the student is the primary focus of the teacher. The teachers also enjoy this as they do not have to divide their attention between 5-10 students at a time and can help the student be the best that they can be. Both the theory and the practical can be taught in the same private lessons with very good results.
3. 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 school environment a student cannot be distracted by TV, pets, ringing phones, siblings or anything else. With only ½ 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 the instrument. 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 that is taken very seriously. When the student is scheduled for a lesson the teacher devotes that entire period to that student.
4. 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 fight between parents and students to practice every day. Here are some ways to make practicing easier and more fun.
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. It’s also important that other children are not doing some “more fun” activity while the practice is occurring. Having the TV or other entertainment in the same room as where the instruments are practiced is usually not workable because there will be interruptions or competition.
We use this method quite often when setting practice schedules for beginners. For a young child 20-30 minutes seems like an eternity. Instead of setting a time frame, we use repetition, For example, practice this piece 4 times every day and this scale 5 times every 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 3 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 stickers on their work. Praise tends to be the most coveted award - there’s just 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.
Use Motivation Tactics
Family members often love to hear their relatives play a musical instrument. Recitals and shows are also great times for students to show off their skills. If a child likes to play for others they will often be motivated to practice for a special occasion such as a visiting grandparent or an upcoming recital. Other motivations are to learn to play songs for special occasions or celebrations such as Halloween, Christmas, New Year or someone‘s birthday. This is one of the best ways to get practice done because it is done toward a goal.
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. For example in piano, there are books for very young beginners and books for adult students that have never played before. These are books that can start you at a level you are comfortable with. These materials have been researched and are continually upgraded and improved to make learning easier. These materials ensure that no important part of learning the 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.
Most importantly ….
Music should be something that you enjoy 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.
USE WHAT IS LEARNED!!!!
Most students are excited to play for their piers or family. Some adult students even enjoy playing for old people’s homes and hospitals, and some have even created CDs to give their friends for special occasions. Whichever way a student finds to use his musical ability adds momentum to the lessons. Children should be encouraged to play for others and enter school competitions and audition for shows and other things that use their skills.