Does your child love music? Ever wondered what to do about it? Chances are, you’ve already been doing the right thing – observing her with wonderment as she hip-hops to upbeat music, or sings soulfully about stars twinkling in the sky. You’ve filled her environment with music and opportunities for music-making. But is it time to take it to the next level, and if so, how?
The Benefits of Musical Education: From Making Music to Making Friends
The benefits of musical education extend well beyond acquiring musical skill. Musical training encourages a broad range of learning in many areas of life, from math to empathy. Studies have shown that preschoolers who were given private piano lessons showed significant improvement in spatial-temporal reasoning tasks. Spatial-temporal reasoning is crucial for math, engineering, and science. Of course, this doesn’t mean that music lessons will make your child a math whiz, but music study can be one way to bolster early math and science skills.
Researchers have also discovered that a child’s early exposure to music lessons for a period of 10 years or more helps a child perceive the emotions of others with agility and acuity, as cited by John Medina in Brain Rules for Baby. Emotional perception supports a child’s ability to make and keep friends, which is one of the best predictors of a child’s future happiness.
Music-making is a social and empathic activity. It helps forge friendships and builds community. Many people fondly recall singing in a school choir, or rocking it out in the garage with friends. Music is an integral part of our daily experience; music expresses who we are and what we feel. We make and share music with others so they get sense of our inner playlist.. In return, they share a part of themselves with us, too.
Are We Ready for Private Music Lessons?
You may have already decided that you want your child to study music, but are overwhelmed by a plethora of questions: Is my child ready? When is the best age to start? How do I find a good teacher?
Cognitive, Physical, and Emotional Readiness
Your child should be able to label and identify letters, at least from A to G, which constitutes the musical alphabet and are the building blocks of music reading. He should be able to count and read numbers from 1 to 10 for rhythm learning.. If she can sit still and focus for at least 20-30 minutes at a time, follow verbal and demonstrated instructions, and imitate sounds well, then your child is cognitively ready for private lessons.
Different instruments require varying levels of physical readiness. Some instruments lend themselves well to private study by young beginners because they come in variety of sizes, such as violin and guitar. The piano is a popular beginning instrument because children can sit on a bench and immediately make music – there is no tuning, the keys are easy to press, and many pieces follow the natural sequence of their fingers.
For instruments that involve fine motor movements, your child’s hand must be agile enough to manipulate the instrument’s mechanisms. Can your child use scissors independently, and color well within the lines? For instruments that use facial movements, such as winds(flute, clarinet) and brass (trumpet, French horn), teachers recommend that children wait until the 4th grade, when their mouth muscles are developed enough to ensure against strain or damage. They also need to reach a certain physical maturity to coordinate blowing, breathing, and fingering at the same time.
A child must be emotionally ready for private music lessons. Does your child show consistent interest in a particular musical instrument, or ask for lessons?. A child should also be prepared to separate from parents at lessons. Many private teachers expect parents to drop off their children, and do not have a studio waiting area. Some children find it difficult to focus if a parent is at the lesson. . If your child needs you to stay, find a teacher who permits parents to attend, or consider waiting until the child is older and emotionally ready for separation.
Musical learning is like learning to speak, read, and write a language. Music study requires commitment – and patience – from all family members. If your child is a young beginner, you should expect to practice with your child for about 20 minutes per day, ideally 4-6 times per week. You might also need to help with weekly written assignments. Practice time will increase as the child progresses. . The entire family must cooperate to set aside time and space for focused practice, and be supportive. Nothing kills motivation more than a parent or sibling cracking jokes that a child’s violin sounds like nails on a chalkboard!
Private lessons require an on-going financial investment. Reaching a proficient level can take an average of 6-10 years of weekly private lessons. Many families rent an instrument for several months until they are sure their child is interested enough to merit a major purchase. As a child advances, they may become more involved in extra activities such as concerts, workshops, and competitions, which may require participation fees.
Four Traits of Top Teachers, and How to Find Them
1. Expertise in Musicianship and Teaching
Great teachers are skilled in two areas of expertise: musicianship and teaching.They must command demonstrable mastery of their instrument and know how to transmit their knowledge, skill, and artistry to students. Professional credentials, educational training, and years of experience can help parents determine whether a teacher is masterful in both playing and teaching their instrument. Master teachers should have at least a Bachelor’s degree in Music in the instrument that they are teaching, 5-10 years of teaching experience, 5-10 years of performance experience, and affiliation or membership in a professional association.
2. Responsive but Demanding
Perhaps more importantly than paper qualifications, however, is finding a teacher who is responsive but demanding. Effective teachers use a vast array of tools to ignite and motivate your child to learn and progress through years of weekly lessons, entailing hundreds of hours of study and practice. When interviewing teachers, be aware that you are courting a long-term relationship.
Great teachers are great learners. Their goal is to inspire a life-long love of music and guide a child to learn independently, so that ultimately, the child grows up to become his or her own greatest teacher. They attend to each student as assiduously as they would a Mozart manuscript. These teachers are like expert physicians who make an accurate diagnosis and have the tools to design an effective treatment plan. But they are also compassionate in understanding that music study is only one aspect of a child’s life, and adjust accordingly: “I noticed you didn’t have much time to practice this week due to school finals; let’s work on two pieces this week instead of four.”
But how do you find a talent whisperer? You must observe them personally. Many parents sign up for lessons without ever interviewing the teacher. They trust solely in a recommendation, or think if it doesn’t work out, they’ll quit and find another teacher. However, hopping around from teacher to teacher can make a child feel insecure and frustrated, and this can snuff out, rather than ignite, musical sparks.
3. Tuition & Studio Policies
The personal nature of the relationship can obfuscate the fact that the teacher is also operating a business. Request a copy of the teacher’s tuition and studio policy, and make sure you understand it. How much is charged for lesson? How long is each lesson and how often do they occur? Typically, young beginners take one thirty-minute lesson per week, but lessonlength will gradually increase as the student advances. What happens when lessons are missed due to vacation or illness? Does the teacher provide make-up lessons? When is the studio closed for holidays? Discuss termination policies in the event you decide to end lessons, switch teachers, or move to another city.
4. Professional Studio Environment
The majority of private studio teachers teach in their own homes, but many also teach in independent music schools, community centers, or commercial spaces. Take note of whether the studio is organized, well-equipped, well-lit, and conducive to learning. Is the piano clean and well-maintained? Is the space child-safe and comfortable? Are there any pets or smoking odors? Is there a restroom nearby? My daughter once had a nose-bleed while seated at her teacher’s concert grand Steinway. I was grateful the teacher had Kleenex on hand, and a restroom steps away!
Regardless of where they teach, private teachers should conduct their studio business professionally and ethically. You do not want to deal with a disorganized teacher who misplaces your tuition check every monthor frequently double-books lesson times. As a teen, I once studied with a Grammy-nominated jazz musician who taught in a commercial space. I quit the minute he moved the studio into his apartment, where his bed was placed next to the grand piano. Not appropriate; not professional. Make sure you know where you’re sending your child every week.
Do Your Research
A personal referral is one of the best ways to find a great private music teacher. Ask among your family, friends, neighbors, school teachers, and parent groups for recommendations. Armed with the traits to look for, you can conduct informed interviews based on these recommendations. Music teachers’ association websites such as www.mtac.org and online referral services like Privatelessons.com host directories that list private music teachers by instrument and zip code. You can also contact area schools and colleges, such as the Community School of Arts and Music in Mountain View and Stanford University, which provide referrals to faculty members who teach privately. If you attend a music concert featuring a local performing musician whose instrument or style of playing you enjoy, ask whether the performer teaches . We are fortunate to live in the Bay Area, one of the richest arts and cultural regions in the world. Make the most if it; your child will be glad you did.
Elaine Dai, JD, MMusEd, serves as general counsel for the Music Teachers’ Association of California, and as a solo attorney, advises California non-profit organizations. She previously worked as a private piano teacher for 20 years, and continues to perform as a musician in the community. She lives in Palo Alto with her husband and two children.