Beginning Music Lessons – A Parent’s Survival Guide

Has your child just started beginning music lessons? Let me guess – you were all excited for your child to start music lessons. Your child was excited, the instrument was great, the music books were captivating…and then your child came home to practice. And the sound is driving you crazy! This wasn’t what you signed up for! How can that lovely instrument produce these horrible sounds? Or maybe you are wondering how your child can play so many wrong notes! Perhaps the incorrect rhythm is grating on your nerves! Relax. Give them time. Your child will improve.

But in the meantime, here are a few ideas to help you handle the sounds of beginning music lessons.

        Positive Attitude/Smile

        Patience

        Perseverance

        And Perhaps, Ear Plugs

Have a positive attitude!

Smile! Your child will get better with practice, I promise! He will learn to produce a better sound. She will learn to play in tune with herself. He will start to count the rhythm correctly. She will play more right notes than wrong ones.

How you can help:

Encourage your child to keep practicing. Praise any progress he makes. Don’t complain about the awful sound, or the wrong notes. Don’t tell all the relatives about your child’s problems with his instrument. Smile and make them continue to practice. Take your child to concerts and recitals to inspire him. Let her talk to more advanced musicians who can encourage her to keep practicing. Smile!

Be patient! And realistic.

Most students will not be playing at an advanced level after their first few beginning music lessons. Give them time to learn! Just like any other skill set, music takes time and effort to learn and do well. Give them time! Some day they will be able to practice on their own. Sooner or later they will remember to take all their music with them to their lessons. But until that time they will need some help from you.

How you can help:

Smile! Encourage them to keep practicing. Make a recording of your child after the first couple weeks of practice, and then again after a few months. Play the recordings to them so they (and you) can see how they have improved. Make this a regular practice. Celebrate milestones – finishing a book, learning all the fingerings, getting a great sound, the first concert or recital, etc. Sit with them while they practice. Establish a practice routine. Help them keep all their music and supplies organized and together.

Persevere!

Don’t let quitting be an option! (Or at least not for the first year). Especially, don’t have them quit because you don’t want to listen to them practice! You will soon get beyond the sound of beginning music lessons. Things will get better! Practice will not always be their top priority. There will be times you will have to “force” your child to practice. But that’s ok. You “force” them to do their homework, to brush their teeth, just add music practice to the list.

How you can help: 

Smile! And insist that they practice. Don’t let them argue about it with you. Just make it part of the daily routine. Set reasonable goals and give rewards when those goals are met. (Work with your child’s teacher for some mutual goals.)

Perhaps Ear Plugs!

Let’s be real here – it is not always pleasant or enjoyable to listen to students practice, especially beginners! You may think the poor tone quality is going to drive you crazy. Or the mistakes. Or the intonation issues. So, put in some ear plugs to keep you from constantly commenting on (criticizing?) their playing. Or go for a walk! (providing your child is old enough to be home alone, or that someone else is home with him!) I have done that! When I couldn’t stand the mistakes, and couldn’t constantly correct my child about the same mistakes, I just walked out the door and around a couple blocks – figuring that by the time I got home my child would be finished practicing and I wouldn’t be tempted to say something I would later regret!

How you can help:

Realize that beginners will occasionally screech, squawk, blast, etc. They will play wrong notes. They are still learning! If it bothers you, take a break. Put in ear plugs, go for a walk. But don’t criticize and discourage them!

I remember trying not to listen to carefully to my beginning string players when they practiced because too often the intonation issues would be almost too much to handle. But they improved! Now I miss listening to them practice.

When one of my sons was first learning to play French horn his tone quality was awful! The sound was something like a sick elephant sneezing. I was afraid we had totally chosen the wrong instrument for him! And then he got it figured out. I am so glad we let him keep going with his horn. I loved listening to him play!

And then there were the times when my kids were practicing piano and continually making the same mistakes. I could only correct them so many times before we both went crazy. So, I shut my mouth, put on my shoes, and took a walk until they were finished practicing. They had to learn to recognize and correct their own mistakes!

Your child will improve; give him time! Don’t give up on them – give them time to figure this new instrument out! You will be happy you did.

Still trying to figure out what instrument your child should play? Read this post for some help – Which Musical Instrument Should my Child Play?

Which Musical Instrument Should my Child Play?

It’s the beginning of the school year, the band and orchestra teachers are pushing for students to join their groups, and your child comes home from school asking to join the band. Or the orchestra. Or maybe all your child’s friends are starting instruments and your child doesn’t want to be left out of the fun. So, which musical instrument should he play? Here are five things that will help you with that decision.

Which musical instrument does he/she want to play?

Always start there! If your child shows an interest in a particular instrument, there is a better chance of her sticking with it. Ask questions. Why that instrument? Who else is playing that instrument? What do you like about it? Get your child’s opinion! You can offer some guidance, or limits, but let your child have a say in the matter.

How old is your child?

What difference does that make? Does it really matter? For some instruments, yes. Band instruments require a certain amount of muscle development around the mouth in order to produce a good sound. (Did you know that there were muscles all around your lips?) Is your child old enough for the responsibilities that go with playing an instrument? Like putting it together? Cleaning it? Not dropping it or sitting on it? And doing all this without you watching over him like a hawk? (Just a suggestion – Check to see if your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance will cover damage and repairs to instruments!)

What physical limitations will affect your child’s ability to play his instrument of choice?

Does your child have the physical strength and stamina to hold the instrument properly? String instruments come in different sizes for younger children; band instruments do not! (for the most part) Will your child’s arms and fingers be able to reach the keys on his chosen instrument? Can your small child reach far enough to get the trombone slide to 6th or 7th position? Sometimes compromises work – Encourage your child to start on a similar instrument and then switch to the desired instrument when they are older/stronger/bigger.

Example: Your child wants to play trombone but can’t reach to the far positions. Start with a baritone (bass clef). Note reading will be the same as it will for trombone. Sound production is very similar. Then, when his arms are longer, a switch to trombone will not be difficult at all. Same idea with tuba (baritone), bass clarinet (clarinet), baritone saxophone (tenor sax), etc. Ask the music teacher at school for compromise suggestions.

Which musical instrument does the group need? (Or, does the school band really need 27 trumpets?)

If 20 kids sign up to learn violin, and only 2 want to play viola, which instrument has the potential for greater (faster) advancement? The competition is almost always less in the viola section! Same idea for flute and oboe. For every 15-20 kids who want to play the flute, there is probably only 1 or 2 asking to play the oboe. Again, talk to the music director at school for more suggestions. Maybe he/she has some incentive to offer for kids willing to play the less popular instruments!

What if your child really wants to play an instrument but isn’t ready for the traditional band or orchestra program at school?

In this case, you have a couple options. One would be to start your child on his instrument privately, with a teacher outside the school. Usually this is primarily an option for string instruments. If you (parent) are willing to invest the time (and it will take a lot of your time) and resources, children as young as 3 or 4 can successfully start on violin.

The other option is to have your child start with piano (keyboard) lessons. Again, children often start piano lessons at early ages with great success. Those children who do start music lessons on piano have a great advantage when it comes to starting other instruments later in school. They already know how to read notes and rhythms so they can concentrate more on learning good tone production, fingerings, etc.

You might also like to read our blog about whether or not your child should take music lessons. Check it out here.

So, what instrument will your child be learning this fall? Let me know in the comments!

And check back next week for our Beginner Music Lesson Survival Guide for Parents!

5 Questions to help your child decide which musical instrument to play.

What to Expect from the First Lesson with a New Music Teacher

Are you starting your child with a new music teacher? Have you had to leave your music teacher? Maybe you moved, or the teacher moved, or the teacher just wasn’t working out. But now you have found a new teacher and are ready to get started. What should you expect from that first lesson?

The New Teacher

I hope you have found a great music teacher to continue with your child. Does the teacher offer a trial lesson? Have you gotten any references from this teacher? Have you checked out the references? Does the teacher have a printed (or online) studio policy covering payments, recitals, missed lessons, and make-up lessons? Have you read through the studio policies?

Still looking for that perfect teacher? Check out these suggestions.

Or are you still thinking about changing music teachers? Consider these ideas.

Prepare Your Child for the First Lesson with a New Teacher

Be sure your child is aware of what is happening. Does he know he is getting a new teacher? Does she know she is not going back to a former teacher? For some kids, this could be a big deal. Some are very resistant to change, or apprehensive about meeting new people. (I have a couple girls like that!)

Tell your child what you know about the new teacher. What is the teacher’s name? What should they call the teacher? How far will you have to travel to get to the new studio? Does your child know anyone else who takes lessons from this teacher?

It’s a good idea for you to plan to stay in the lesson with your child for the first couple of lessons (especially if your child is younger, or very nervous/upset/apprehensive about the whole process). This will give your child some reassurance and will allow you to observe how the teacher teaches and interacts with your child.

Your child should be prepared to play some music she has worked on recently, something she has played in the past. The teacher may ask your child to play something she worked on several months ago, some scales or technical exercises, a favorite piece, and some sight reading. All this helps the teacher understand your child’s musical understanding and abilities.

What Should Your Child Bring to this First Lesson?

  •         Any music used in the last year or so
  •         All method books, theory books, and technique books
  •         Assignment notebook from the last teacher

Teacher Assesses the Student

                During this first lesson the new teacher will be trying to understand your child’s musical abilities. What has he learned so far? What does he do well? What does he need to work on? The teacher will also be looking for any technical problems your student may have, and posture problems that need to be corrected, any issues with form or technique that need to be addressed.

                Don’t be alarmed if the teacher suggests changing a bow hold, or changing a hand position, etc. This is part of the reason you sought a new teacher – you want your child to make more progress with his instrument. Changing certain things may be just what your child needs! This is not necessarily a criticism of the former teacher, but an improvement to help your child.

                The teacher may also suggest new music, or a new series of method books. Again, this is not a direct criticism of your former teacher. Different teachers have different approaches, and different lesson books are more effective with certain approaches than others.

You Need to Assess the Teacher

Observe

As the lesson progresses, you should be watching how the teacher interacts with your child. Is this someone your child will relate to? How professional is the teacher during the lesson? Is there a connection with your child?

I remember watching my son’s trial lesson with one of his cello teachers. He had my son play a piece, and then asked him why he played it the way he did. The teacher just wanted my son to think about what he was doing, and to have a reason for the way he played the piece. The teacher made a couple suggestions, then had my son play the piece again. It sounded so much better. I remember thinking that, yes, this was going to work. He studied with that teacher until he finished high school, and really enjoyed working with him.

While watching this first lesson, you should also check out the condition of the studio. Is it safe? Is it clean? Is there enough room for student, teacher, equipment, instruments, etc.?

Ask questions!

Do you understand all the studio policies regarding payment, missed lessons, make-up lessons, recitals, performances, etc.? If the teacher wants you to change method books, ask why. Why does he/she prefer this other set of books? What will your child gain from switching to a different set of books? How will this affect your child’s progress? Ask the teacher what he/she sees as issues that need correcting/changing. How will the changes benefit your child? The teacher should be able to give good answers to all your questions.

Final Evaluation

Think through this first lesson. Carefully consider what you observed.

  • Will your child adjust and enjoy working with this teacher?
  • Can you trust this teacher to do what is best for your child?
  • Will the teacher’s approach work with your child?
  • Do you feel that your child will make good musical progress with this teacher?
  • Will working with this teacher help your child enjoy playing her instrument more?
  • Can you work with the studio policies?
  • Are both you and your child comfortable with this teacher?

I hope you have found a great teacher that your student will feel comfortable with and learn from! Tell me about your favorite music teacher in the comments. (Or maybe, your least favorite teacher!)