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 students of all ages.
1. Starting at the right age
Adults of any age can start any instrument at any time. Their success is based on how willing they are to commit to practicing.
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 had one 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 earliest suggested 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.
Infants through 5 Years Old
Early Childhood Music programs are a wonderful introduction to music and usually feature singing, movement, rhythm activities, and playing instruments. These classes provide a great foundation for music studies in a fun, game- like environment. In addition to musical benefits, these programs also influence other areas of development, including speech and language, aural and listening skills, motor skills, creativity, and overall self-confidence. At our school, we offer Simply Music Rhapsody, which has classes for all ages ranging from birth through age 5. These classes, taught by a licensed Simply Music Rhapsody teacher, are attended by the child and a parent or caretaker. Each class is developmentally appropriate for each age group. This program has been uniquely designed to transition seamlessly into our Simply Music Piano method.
Piano / Simply Music Piano
At our school, 5 years old is the youngest age that we start children in piano lessons, although generally starting at 6 years old is often better. At this age they have begun to develop longer attention spans and can retain material with ease. In addition, they need to have already developed some fine motor skills which are necessary to physically play the instrument without too much frustration. The best starting age really varies from child to child, depending on both their innate interest level as well as where they are developmentally.
Guitar & Bass – Acoustic / Electric
8 years old is the earliest we recommend for guitar or bass lessons, as they require 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 10 years old and older, as the strings are thicker and harder to play.
10 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 10, we have a children’s choir (ages 6-9) and a preschool program that teaches them how to use their voices properly, in a fun, relaxed environment.
The average age of our youngest drum student is 8, although this varies greatly depending on the size of the child, as they 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 recommend that most woodwind beginners are 9 and older.
We accept violin students from the age of 5. Some teachers will start children as young as 3, but experience has shown us the most productive learning occurs when the beginner student is age 5 or older.
The trumpet requires physical exertion and lung power. Age 9 or older is a good time to start the trumpet.
2. Choose a school which offers a choice of group or individual lessons
Different students require different teaching approaches. Some students progress best with the peer interaction and class motivation of a group session. Other students prefer the focused concentration of an individual one on one lesson. Make sure that your student has the option to select the learning style that is best suited for them.
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, etc. With only 30-60 minutes 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 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, teaching music is not just a hobby or sideline for the teacher but a responsibility which is taken very seriously. All of our teachers are university trained and are passionately committed to providing the best musical education experience possible for each individual student.
4. Make practicing easier
As with anything, improving in music takes practice. Sometimes sitting down to practice is a bigger struggle than actually doing the practicing. Here are some tips to help incorporate practice into your life.
Creating a routine
Set the same time every day to practice so it becomes part of habit. Having a practice routine is really important to success, so that even on days when we “don’t feel like it,” it’s already automatic and engrained, like other daily activities that we don’t always “feel like” doing, but do anyway, such as brushing our teeth.
Time of day
Generally the earlier in the day that practicing can occur, the less chance there is for procrastination. When possible, practicing in the morning seems to work well, before going to school or work for the day, even if it’s just 5- 10 minutes of attentive practice. Sometimes practicing at night can be more difficult when you’re worn out and less motivated at the end of a long day, although understandably so, sometimes there is no other option, so again, having a regular time will help establish a routine.
Another great option for children is to practice before homework, right after school. Although school work is obviously of utmost importance, the amount of homework given each day by teachers usually varies, and oftentimes homework seems to expand to fill the time allotted to it, which can crowd out other important responsibilities. All of a sudden, after homework it’s dinner time, then it’s time to wind down and maybe watch TV before getting ready for bed. A whole week can very easily go by without practicing in these situations, which only leads to feelings of guilt and frustration. This situation can easily be remedied by creating a regular routine of practice, preferably in the morning or before homework, or at the very least, at the same time each day.
How long to practice
For young children, practicing just 10-15 minutes a day is usually plenty. Even older beginners shouldn’t need much more time than that in the beginning. Quality is always more important than quantity. 5 minutes of intensely focused practice can be more beneficial than 30 minutes of unfocused practice, which can actually have negative effects by ingraining mistakes and bad habits that take more time to undo. During shorter intervals of practice time, focus on just small sections of material that need work, rather than simply playing through each piece. (Playing is different than practicing). Even on an exceedingly busy time, squeezing in 5 minutes of effective practicing can still lead to progress or at least ensure that ground is not lost.
A note on progress
Making progress in your musical studies happens gradually over time, so it is important to be patient with the process. As with any endeavor or relationship in life, there are going to be plenty of ups and downs and plateaus along the way, all of which is very normal and even necessary. Riding these waves and not giving up is crucial to the process; over time, your sustained efforts will be realized and the rewards will be even greater as a result of your perseverance.
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, such as for very young beginners or adult students with no prior experience. 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 teachers and institutions will recognize the materials and be able to smoothly continue from where the previous teacher left off.
Most Importantly … HAVE FUN!
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.