Private Lessons

HOW TO KNOW IF SOMEONE IS READY FOR MUSIC LESSONS

These general 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 working with hundreds of students each year.

FOR THE YOUNGER STUDENT

Experiencing music is a joyful activity for a child. The best time to encourage a child’s musical development is when s/he begins to show an interest in instruments or in singing. For very young children, listening to quality, age-appropriate music is essential. Songs with repetitive choruses and recordings with identifiable instruments are a great way to stimulate rote learning and conversation. Care givers should sing along whenever possible, (no matter what they think of their own voice!). A young voice takes years to produce good pitch, so take care not to pass judgment on the quality of the child’s singing.

Most children will sing in proper rhythm quite naturally. Hand-clapping, tapping, and instruments like egg shakers, woodblocks, tambourines and drums are great fun and reinforce steady beat and rhythmic patterns. Children develop better learning skills by listening to, and creating music. Listening skills, patterning, memory, attention span, creativity, etc. are greatly increased by early musical exposure.

Group music classes are a great start for young children. Classes where the care-giver(s) is involved, and that provide materials to be reinforced at home are ideal. Taking children to age-appropriate concerts will stimulate their visual curiosity by seeing the instruments/people that create the sounds. Bring children to local school concerts: they are usually free, and it is a good way to teach proper audience etiquette, such as talking, entering, and exiting the room only during the applause.

SIGNS OF READINESS

The three most important signs of readiness for individual music instruction are interest, attention span and tonal memory.

  1. Interest/Willingness: The student should want to play the instrument and have unlimited access to it. Of course it can be the parents’ suggestion, but if the child has no desire to learn the instrument, s/he will not want to practice.

  2. Tonal Memory: Try teaching the child a simple song on the piano or keyboard if you have access to one, otherwise, by singing. (Much repetition is essential.) If the child is able to watch, listen and remember even part of the song, s/he is probably ready, especially if s/he can remember it the next day.

  3. Attention Span: See Tonal Memory. If the child is able (and willing) to focus on the process of learning a simple song for at least 15 to 20 minutes then s/he is likely to be ready for formal instruction.

STARTING THE RIGHT INSTRUMENT AT THE RIGHT AGE

Starting at the right age is a key element to the success of a child’s musical experience. If children are put into lessons too soon they may feel overwhelmed and frustrated and want to stop lessons. Sometimes by waiting to start lessons, the student will progress much faster. However, if the child shows readiness signs (see above) it’s best not to wait too long. The following are general guidelines we have found to be successful in determining how young a child should be to start taking music lessons.

Although research has shown a link between reading words and musical readiness, it is not essential that a child be reading well to be successful musically. Many people learn by hearing and then by reading the printed music. We have found the combination of hearing the song and reading the notes simultaneously works best.

Piano/Keyboard

5 years old is about the youngest age we start children in private lessons. At this age, they have begun to develop longer attention spans and can retain material with ease. (See Suzuki method)

Suzuki Method

(Piano and Violin) 4 years old is the youngest age we start children using this well known approach. There are many facets to the Suzuki method but one key element is the role of the parent as a mentor to the student. Parents sit in on lessons and assist the student at home during practice. No musical experience is required of the parent. The teacher will let you know how best to function in this role.

Guitar (Acoustic, Electric and Bass), Banjo and Ukulele

7 years old is generally a good age to start lessons. Guitar et al playing requires a fair amount of pressure on the fingertips from pressing on the strings. Children under 7 generally have small hands and may find playing uncomfortable. Bass guitar students generally are 10 years and older, although many start on regular guitar.

Voice

12 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. If children younger than 12 are already performing, however, it is a good idea to take lessons to ensure correct singing habits.

Voice/Piano Combo

6 to 7 years old is the youngest age we start children in this lesson format where non-strenuous, age appropriate singing is explored in combination with basic keyboard skills, note reading and other musical concepts.

Percussion (Drums)

5 is about the youngest recommended age. We have a full size drum set and a child sized set for the lessons, as well as practice pads and bells.

Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Saxophone, Trumpet, Trombone, Baritone, French Horn, and Tuba

Due to lung capacity (and in the case of the saxophone, trombone and tuba, the size of the instrument), we recommended that most woodwind and brass beginners be 9 and older.

Violin, Viola, Cello

Since these instruments are sized to fit, string students can begin around age 5 or 6 when the most productive learning occurs. (See also Suzuki Method)

FOR THE OLDER STUDENT / ADULT STUDENT

It is never too late to learn a musical instrument! School orchestra and band programs usually start in the fourth or fifth grade. Occasionally students move to a new school district that started their program earlier or they may want to switch to a different instrument. Private lessons are a great way to ‘catch up’ to peers. Motivated students can often make up a year of school lessons in 2-3 months of individual instruction.

Many adults find music lessons to be wonderfully creative ‘therapy’. The complexities and challenges learning an instrument takes brings a renewed sense of accomplishment that a child can’t always appreciate in the way an adult can.

Choosing an instrument for an older student takes consideration of possible physical limitations. Arthritic hands may have a difficult time with the guitar or violin, for example, but may find piano playing beneficial. Breathing difficulties may pose a problem for a wind or brass instrument or singer, however, many people, especially asthmatics, find these instruments helpful in learning to regulate and support the breathing mechanisms. The recorder takes minimal breath, yet can produce the most beautiful of sounds.

Often people want to start an instrument or resume their studies as an adult. Most commonly, they wonder if they are too old, etc. The answer is a resounding ‘NO’! Commonly, people think that children learn faster. The truth is that adults learn and progress faster as long as they have the time to put into the instrument. The biggest obstacle to the adult beginner is that they know how the song should go, for example, and get frustrated when it doesn’t sound that way. Children, on the other hand, will repeat a song or passage over and over until it is mastered without judging themselves or being self-conscious.

Adults often have a more discriminating ear when it comes to tone. Children often don’t master good tone for many years. Adults are able to play/sing artistically much sooner than children mostly because they have the life experiences that give music emotion.

The adult student will be successful if s/he makes a conscious effort to learn without judging him/herself and to find pride in his/her progress.