Q. How do you choose an instrument for your child?
A.I recommend parents start bringing a child to concerts, especially concerts or recitals at a music school where they will see children their age. Often a child will develop an affinity for an instrument. They might say, “I just really love the cello!”
If a child doesn’t show an attachment, I’d recommend piano. It’s a great way to learn rhythm. It’s also a great way to learn to read music because it uses both hands, so you use both treble and bass clef.
If there is no piano at home, a children’s choir is another great way to go. It’s motivating because your child will be with other kids. At SJSM, we have something called Voice Class, which is more like a group sight-singing and voice lesson than a choir - and encourages reading of music. Blending of the voices is not a priority, as it would be in a choir.
Q. What is a good age for a child to start private music lessons?
A.It depends on which instrument and which method. There are two tracks for private lessons — the traditional methon and the Suzuki method.
The Suzuki philosophy is similar to language immersion and starts at a younger age. The child is immersed in the sounds of the instrument and technical aspects of the instrument, but does not immediately learn to read music.
With that method, children can learn certain instruments — violin, viola, cello, piano — as early as age 3 and 4. For guitar and flute, 5 or 6 years old is a good age. For certain woodwinds and brass, it’s better to wait a little longer because exhaling technique is a skill that doesn’t develop until a child is a bit older.
Q. What does Suzuki require?
A.It’s much more time consuming for parents. The centerpiece of the approach is the triangle that forms between parent, child and teacher. The parent attends all the lessons, takes notes and then becomes the child’s teacher at home.
At the same time, the child should be listening to the Suzuki repertoire on recordings, picking up a vocabulary, like a language. A group lesson is required in addition to a weekly private lesson.
I can speak only of our school, but I see a resurgence of interest in Suzuki.
Q. How often should a child practice?
A.For children ages 4 to 6, what works well is to break up practicing. So, you might have the child practice for 10 minutes two times a day. You might build it to 10 minutes three times a day.
Another thing that works well is to give a child a task to accomplish, say practice this scale four times, or practice this song five times. Setting up a routine time to practice every day is helpful, every day from 4 to 4:30, for example.
High school students will be practicing 45 minutes to an hour each day, sometimes more.
Q. Any tips on motivating a child to practice?
A.For older students, a great motivator is the deadline for a performance. It gives them a goal to work toward. It also works to give students a challenge. For example, challenge a child to practice for 25 days in a row. Keep a chart on the refrigerator. Kids take pride in what they can accomplish. Or you might offer a reward, like taking the child to a concert.
Q. How does a parent know it’s time to let a child quit an instrument?
A.That’s a great question. I’d say when the whole process has become a fight and it has been a fight for a certain amount — for months or even a year.
Q. What can you try before you allow a child to quit?
A.I’d say talk to the teacher. Create a system and routine for practicing if you haven’t done that already. Try a different way to motivate a child. And try to change it up. If the child is a string student, for example, and is tired of playing concertos, see if he wants to try fiddling for a bit. That can get some children over the hump. Ensembles, chamber music, and orchestras are also very motivating since the student will be having fun with peers.