Getting Started in Music Lessons
5 Ways to Get the Most out of Music Lessons
Beginning the journey into the wonderful world of music is an exciting time. With the many different instruments, programs, and styles of music offered, it can be a difficult and even confusing at times getting all of the information you need to make the best choices. It is for this reason that we've taken the time to highlight the following points of interest.
1.) What is the Best Age to Start?
Adults can begin any instrumental or vocal program at any time. The success is based on how willing the adult is to commit to practicing. We teach many adult beginner students of all ages, even in their 60’s and 70’s.
For children, starting at the right age is a key element to the success of their lessons at LAAPA. Some people will tell you “the sooner the better,” but this is not always true. If a child is placed into private lessons too soon, they may feel overwhelmed and frustrated and want to stop lessons. It is never beneficial to continue an unpleasant experience which could cause the child negative feelings regarding music in general. Children who are older than the suggested earliest starting age usually do very well. The following are guidelines we have found to be successful in determining how young a child can start taking music lessons.
.:. Preschool Music Classes
Preschool music classes offer an excellent first formal introduction to music for toddlers and lap babies ages birth-4 years. Classes focus on the development of the whole child by listening to a variety of styles of music from around the world, singing, dancing, etc. Parents often attend all or part of these classes with their child. Preschool classes provide these young students with a basic foundation in key concepts that prepare them for private instruction.
.:. Piano Lessons
At our school age 5 is the youngest that we begin children in private piano lessons. At this age they have begun to develop longer attention spans and can retain material with ease.
.:. Guitar Lessons
Age 8 is typically the best time to begin guitar lessons. Some students display a talent and desire to learn guitar as early as age 6 and this is possible with the right teacher and school but is mostly dependent on the physical build of the student. Younger players may find playing a bit too strenous on their hands due to the amount of finger and hand strength needed to sound notes and chords. Bass guitar students may begin studying between ages 9-10. Bass guitars are usually larger/heavier instruments whose physical demands are most often best left to this age bracket.
.:. Voice Lessons
Age 5 is recommended as the youngest age for voice/singing lessons. Due to the physical nature of voice lessons (proper breathing techniques, development of the vocal chords, and lung capacity), special care must be taken to select repertoire that is appropriate to the developing voice especially between the ages of 5-11. At LAAPA, children ages 5-11 learn how to properly use their voices in a fun/relaxed environment. At age 12, our traditional voice lessons begin which include the study of additional repertoire including classical arias/etudes, popular, broadway, and jazz selections, and of course any particular pieces the student is interested in learning!
.:. Violin Lessons
Violin students are able to begin lessons as early as age 4. Some schools and private instructors will accept students as early as 2 or 3. The Suzuki method of instruction is typically the first introduced to violin students as it de-emphasizes the need to read notes to play. As many violin students can come away from years of violin lessons without being able to read music, we use a hybrid method that combines the ease of the Suzuki approach along with learning to read music.
.:. Drum Lessons
Students as young as age 4 have been successful in weekly drum lessons. This can vary from child to child and is highly dependent on the student's ability to concentrate and maintain focus on the topics at hand. A full drum set is not necessary to begin drum lessons as new students typically are first introduced to the snare drum. The additional drums and cymbals are introduced as the student progresses.
.:. Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone (Woodwind Lessons)
Instruction for instruments of the woodwind family usually begins between the ages of 8-9. Learning the correct embouchure (mouth position) for all woodwind instruments is notably the most challenging starting point. With proper instruction and patience, it quickly becomes second nature.
.:. Trumpet, Trombone, & Tuba (Brass Lessons)
Instruction for instruments of the brass family usually begins at the age of 9 for the trumpet and ages 10-11 for the trombone and tuba. All members of the brass family require a large amount of facial musle memory and control to produce the various pitches correctly with the limited number of key triggers native to the instruments.
2.) Private Lessons Almost Always Work Best
Group classes work well for preschool music programs and theory lessons. However, when actually learning how to play an instrument, private lessons are far superior. Each student is able to learn at his/her own pace. This means the instructor does not have to teach a class at a particular level, but has the time and focus to work on the individual student’s strengths and weaknesses. For that lesson period, the student is the primary focus. Instructors also enjoy this as they do not have to divide their attention between 2 - 6 students at a time and can help the student exclusively.
3.) Take Lessons in a Professional Teaching Environment
While lessons in the home or at a teacher's home are usually either more affordable or convenient, the loss of time due to distractions from the telephone ringing, familiy, or other personal interupptions must be considered. For the best possible learning experience, teaching studios should be free from the many distractions of life for the full thirty minutes - one hour each week.
Music lessons taught within a school environment also presents the student with an opportunity to meet, listen to, and/or perform with a variety of other musicians.
Lessons taught at most schools also ensures that the Instructor is qualified and capable of teaching. The practice of hobbyists trying to make a few extra dollars on the side by teaching beginning music lessons is not uncommon.
Don't be afraid to additionally request the qualifications of the Instructor. Does the Instructor hold a Degree in Music for example?
4.) Make Practicing Easier
As with anything, improving in music takes practice. One of the main problems with music lessons is the drudgery of practicing and the fight between parents and students to practice every day. Here are some ways to make practicing easier:
Time - Set the same time every day to practice so it becomes part of a routine or habit. This works particularly well for children. Generally the earlier in the day the practicing can occur, the less reminding is required by parents to get the child to practice.
Repetition - We use this method quite often when setting practice schedules for beginners. For a young child 20 or 30 minutes seems like an eternity. Instead of setting a time frame, we use repetition. For example, practice this piece 4 times every day, and this scale 5 times a day. The child then does not pay attention to the amount of time they are practicing their instrument, but knows if they are on repetition number 3, they are almost finished.
Rewards - This works very well for both children and adult students. Some adults reward themselves with a cappuccino after a successful week of practicing. Parents can encourage children to practice by granting them occasional rewards for successful practicing. In our school we reward young children with stars and stickers for their work, as well as placing their names on the flashing electronic board in our waiting areas for 3 superior ratings earned in a month’s time. Praise tends to be the most coveted award - there just is no substitute for a pat on the back for a job well done. Sometimes we all have a week with little practicing. In that case there is always next week!
5.) Use Recognized Teaching Materials
There are some excellent materials developed by professional music educators that are designed for students in a variety of situations. For example in piano, there are books for very young beginners and books for adult beginners. Teaching materials are available for all ages and levels in any situation. These materials have been researched and are continually upgraded and improved to make learning easier and ensure that no important part of learning the instrument can be inadvertently omitted. If the student should relocate to a different part of the country, qualified teachers and institutions will recognize the materials and be able to provide a smooth transition in your music instruction.
6.) Don't Forget to Have Fun!
At the end of the day, music needs to be fun and enjoyable. Realize, as the teacher should, that each student will learn at his/her own pace. Be sure to arrange for daily practice and set reasonable weekly goals. This will enable the student to develop a lifetime appreciation for the art of music.