5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Music Lessons
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
with teaching many students every year.
1. How Young Is Too Young - Starting at the Right Age
Adults can start any instrument at any time. Their success is based on how willing an adult is to
commit to practicing. We have taught beginning students in their 60's and 70's.
For children, starting at the right age is a key element to the success of their lesons 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
had one unpleasant experience which 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 average child is not ready to start private musical instruction before the age of 8 years.
Exceptions occur, of course. If a younger child is highly motivated to learn violin or piano we will
consider them on an individual basis. Other instruments, such as guitar or any wind instrument are
simply too large, require too much lung power or finger power than a younger child can produce.
Lesson books for younger children must be chosen very carefully so the child does learn to read
music, not to play by memory or ear.
Playing an instrument is a multi-layered task, requiring music reading, eye/hand coordination, and
transference of written music to a particular fingering or key. Younger children may compensate by
skipping music reading and learning to play by ear. Once they learn to play by ear it is a handicap
and music reading becomes much more difficult than needs be. While ear training is an important
part of our curriculum, our goal for each student is to do that and read music.
7 or 8 years of age is also recommended as the youngest age to begin private singing 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.
If a younger child has a keen desire and wants to start music we highly recommend trying them first
in one of our Kindermusik classes or our K - 2 Drama & Singing class. These classes are low key,
interactive and a fun introduction to music. The curricula are written by teams of child develop-
mental specialists with musicians. The classes are taught by trained instructors. They sing, dance,
bounce, kick and work on many motor skills. They practice focused listening as opposed to passive
hearing. There are literature components, finger plays, playing of many instruments such as shakers,
bells, triangles and sandblocks. Serious work on language occurs when we label every motion and
every way to do something.
Everything done in class is designed to teach a particular skill or stimulate a particular area of the
brain. There are various age levels, with each curriculum being written just for that age. By the
time a child finishes the Kindermusik curriculum at age 7 they are comfortable reading the treble
clef - but they thought they were just playing games the whole time!
2. Insist on Private Lessons When Learning a Specific Instrument
Group classes work well for music programs with younger children, and for 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 they can be.
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 1/2 hour of lesson time per week,
a professional school environment can produce better results since the only focus at that time is
learning music. Students in a school environment area 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 side-line for the teacher but a responsibility which is taken very
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 the fight between parents and students to practice every day. Here
are some ways to make practicing easier:
a) Time - 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.
b) Repetition - We use this method quite often when setting practice schedules for beginners. 20 or
30 minutes can seem like an eternity to a young child. Instead of setting a time frame, we use
repetition. For example, practice this piece 4 times, 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.
c) Rewards - This works well for both children and adult students. Some adults reward themselves
with a capuccino 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 lesson with points that can be redeemed for prizes. Praise tends to be the most
coveted award - there just is no substitute for a pat on the back. Sometimes we all have a week with
little practicing; in that case there is always next week.
5. Use Recognized Teaching Materials
Here are some excellent materials develped by professional music educators that are made for students
in a variety of situations. For example, in piano there are books for young beginners, and books for
adult students who have never played before. There 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
teacers and institutions will recognize the materials and be able to smoothly continue from where the
previous teacher left off.
Music should be something 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.