According to data collected by Gallup, over 50 percent of American households have at least one person over the age of four who plays a musical instrument. Of this group of musicians, over three-quarters of people began to play their chosen instrument before they reached age 11. Taking up an instrument in childhood can be a rewarding and developmentally beneficial experience, but in order to make the most out of it, parents should make sure that their kids know these important facts before beginning music lessons.
1. Let children know that they have a say in which instrument they get to practice
Depending on a child’s age, he or she may have already expressed some interest in learning to play a specific instrument. In these instances, parents should consider allowing their children to pursue chosen musical passions freely, no matter how untraditional the instrument may be. If children are forced to study music in a way that does not interest them, the experience may cause them to reject the study of music altogether.
If a child is younger or has never developed a particular interest in one type of instrument, it is important for parents to help the child choose an instrument based on the child’s age and personality. In these cases, it’s important that new music students understand that they are allowed to have input in the decision, and should be allowed to explore as many options as possible before settling on one instrument. Research shows that the students most likely to give up on music lessons are those who are paired with instruments that they don’t enjoy learning to play. Essentially, giving children some autonomy over music lesson choices may help them feel more invested in the activity.
2. Make it clear that learning to play well will not happen immediately
Young music students may become discouraged and disinterested in an instrument if they do not understand that learning to play proficiently requires practice, time, and patience. This is especially true of perfectionist children, who are often frustrated when they make mistakes. Parents must make sure to explain to young musicians that learning to play an instrument requires skills that must be built over time, and failure to master these skills right away is an expected part of the process. It can be useful for parents to stress that there is no reason to feel bad about errors, and pushing through the difficulties they experience makes them better learners in general—and better musicians in particular.
3. Establish that learning an instrument is a long-term commitment
New musicians should know before they take up an instrument that music lessons must be a long-term commitment. Research shows that the mindset young students have when beginning music lessons can have a significant effect on how accomplished they eventually become at playing the instrument. A new musician who agrees to take music for more than a single year can see up to a four-fold success rate in performance compared to students who commit to only one year of lessons. However, a long-term commitment to music lessons does not necessarily mean that they must continue to play an instrument that they are not enthusiastic about. Parents should be open to allowing their children to switch instruments if, after several months of practice, they have lost interest in playing the initial instrument; as long as they continue to take some form of music lessons over the long term, they should be allowed to explore new musical opportunities as desired.
4. Convey that working hard is more important than natural ability
Whether or not a child is inherently musically inclined, parents should make sure to focus on praising the child’s efforts rather than his or her natural abilities. Praising effort and hard work may motivate children to take more risks and learn from the mistakes that they make along the way, whereas focusing on talent alone may cause them to avoid risk in an effort to maintain their appearance as a “natural.” Stressing the importance of dedication and hard work can also drive a child to practice more often and with more focus than those who are told that they have natural talent. Ultimately, the hardworking child who engages in dedicated, thorough practice will become more proficient than a child with natural abilities who practice infrequently and without direction.
5. Share your own feelings on music with your child
In addition to providing children with a platform that allows them to develop a stronger capacity for self-expression, better social skills, and improved cognitive function, music also serves as an excellent way for parents and kids to bond. A parent’s influence on a young child is strong, and those who relay their own positive experiences with music to their children may strengthen the budding musician’s resolve to develop their own musical talents and tastes. Parents should look for opportunities to expose their children to favored songs and instruments before music lessons begin, and allow children to share their own thoughts and preferences on the subject as well.
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Photo used under Creative Commons from Marina K Caprara