As parents in today’s world, we want our kids to take part in meaningful extracurricular activities that add value to their lives. But with so many to choose from, the decision can be quite daunting. Here’s why you might want to look twice at piano or guitar lessons. Getting your child involved in music can be a smart investment that offers lifetime benefits beyond “do-re-mi” and “Chopsticks.”
In her e-book Dance and Sing with Me, local musician and instructor, Suann Strickland explains that participation in music offers enormous opportunities for cognitive, emotional, kinesthetic, social, psychological and creative development for children, from earliest beginnings through high school. “Music listening, involvement and education teach concentration skills, pattern recognition skills, and the ability to focus on details that contribute to reading and language skills. It teaches problem-solving skills that aid in math and logic abilities; perseverance and the ability to work toward goals that can only be reached by continued efforts over time. This is the basis for a strong sense of commitment and pride in one’s work.” explains Strickland, who is obviously quite passionate about the topic.
Jayelyn Almand, mother of Ali Almand, a Macon ten-year-old pianist claims that music lessons have helped her daughter become more disciplined, committed to success, and make better use of her time. “Having daily practices (alternating between 30 and 45 minutes each afternoon) has enabled Ali to prioritize more effectively and create balance in her schedule. She knows how long she has to practice each day. She knows that it’s expected of her and that she needs to do it in order to be successful.”
Macon dad, Jeff Psyk says that his daughters Amy and Hannah have become much more self confident through their musical accomplishments. “Playing guitar and piano gives them opportunities to challenge themselves and see how well they can do. It’s a noticeable boost to their self esteem when they master difficult pieces and perform them in recitals.”
Long Lasting Pay Off’s
James Koerts, director of Mikado Academy of Music points out that although athletics are vital to the growth and well-roundedness of individuals, music is an area that, with diligence and dedication, can be used well past the years of participating in sports. In other words, when the days of high school soccer and cross country are long gone, a young adult who’s had a few years of music training can make extra income playing in a concert band, entertain friends at the piano, perform solos at weddings, or sing in a church choir.
Cordell Walker, a 35-year-old educator from Milledgeville, claims that playing the trumpet has netted social, psychological, and financial gains far beyond the average childhood activity. “I began playing trumpet at 12. It gave me confidence because I was super shy. Since I was good, it helped me to have something that I could be proud of and people admired about me. I became popular in high school largely due to my trumpet playing ability in the marching band.”
“As an adult, I use that ability to make extra cash. My band plays for $1,000-$1,500 a show. There aren’t many places where you can make that kind of cash working for 90 minutes. I always get to meet new people (either listeners or other musicians), and it’s a great source of relaxation for me. I think playing trumpet . . . enabled me to become the outgoing person that I am today.”
When’s the right age to start music lessons?
Just because Mozart was writing minuets at age five doesn’t mean that the window of opportunity has already shut for your ten-year-old. When it comes to figuring out the right age for a child to learn an instrument, opinions vary widely. While some instructors claim that second grade is the perfect year for starting lessons, others say that five year olds make the biggest strides. Numerous Middle Georgia kids never pick up a musical instrument until they join their middle school band; and then, like Walker with his trumpet, they’re hooked for life.
“There are structured music involvement programs that start as early as 6 months,” says Strickland. “Group music activity learning programs can begin at 3 years of age. Private instrument lessons can begin at age 4.”
Inborn talent vs. dedication and determination
For a lot of parents, music lessons aren’t on the radar screen unless they notice little Nathan drumming on his sister’s head to the rhythm of the Wiggles “Yummy, Yummy Fruit Salad” or catch two-year-old Kailey harmonizing with Hannah Montana. These little signs are often perceived as talent, the green light for trying music lessons. But is musical success really all about talent; or is it more like Thomas Edison’s famous quote “Genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration?”
“I have never met a child whose parents didn’t wonder if they might not be talented because they could bang pots and pans in time to a recording or hit the high note in ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat,’ says Strickland. “All children have the ability to express themselves musically. Whether ‘talent’ is an extra-special ability, or a passion that inspires greater effort, or a happy coincidence, who can say? But, for sure, even the ones history names ‘prodigies’ spent great amounts of time perfecting and performing their art.”
“A lot of people don’t believe in talent,” points out Calista Anne Waddy, professional harpist and Macon music instructor. “There is an inclination in some children. If your brain works in a certain way, you’re more apt to comprehend the rhythm and notes. But all of that can be developed in children. The parents who show interest, that play and discuss music in the home will have children who are more inclined to play music in comparison to the ones whose parents simply try music lessons as just another activity like soccer and karate.”
Students play to the key of parental involvement
And speaking of parent interest; it can make the difference between sour notes and sweet success. “Parent Involvement is key in motivating children to succeed,” continues Waddy. “In my studio, the parents are not allowed to drop their students off until their children are of driving age. Parents must be present, taking notes, and observing the lesson. Until a child becomes very independent and interested in practicing on their own, which depending on the child, could take a few years, the mom or dad should be sitting on the piano bench with them at home during practice, reading notes, and clapping out rhythms. They may not know any more than the student, but two heads are better than one.”
James Koerts advises “if you have a musical background, learn the instrument along with the child (at least in the beginning stages). Ask the instructor questions; develop a strong line of communication with him or her. These things make all the difference.”
He also tells parents to be honest with themselves and their kids. “After you’ve expressed interest, and done all you can to help motivate, sometimes it’s necessary to reevaluate whether you’ve chosen the right area of study. Don’t view this as a failure; use it as a growth opportunity for your child to consider other areas of music expression. However, don’t give up too soon. A decision like this should not be made until at least a year of study in a certain musical area.”
Financial and Time Commitments
When it comes to music lesson costs, there is a wide variation. Private 30-minute piano instruction for beginners can vary dramatically from $7 or $8 for lessons in someone’s home, to $20-35 for professional academic instruction by master performer/teachers with advanced degrees and professional performance backgrounds. Group instruction is generally less expensive and can run from $10-25 per hour, even in professional academic music programs.
If you’ve ever wondered why so many youngsters begin their musical careers on the piano versus the French horn, the bagpipes or the steel drum, the answer is simple. “The piano is the most logical choice because it offers basic music theory,” says Calista Anne Waddy. “The piano provides every aspect of music: rhythm, fine motor skills, notes, higher level chords. It’s also very visual, allowing one to see and get their fingers on the right notes more easily. Once a child masters the piano, it’s easier to pick up other instruments.”
Whatever the starter instrument, it’s wise to not run out and buy the top of the line until you are sure that your children are going to continue with lessons for several years. This is why classified ad publications like the Penny Pincher have an abundance of used pianos for sale; and why so many family room pianos sit, collecting dust with no one to play them. Renting for the first six to twelve months is usually the smartest choice. Once you are sure that your child’s music interest isn’t just a passing phase, then it’s necessary to make sure he or she has a dependable practice instrument of their own.
Just like the cost of music lessons, time commitments can vary depending on age, skill, and music difficulty. For beginners, it’s fair to expect 30 minutes of practice, five days a week, in addition to one weekly half-hour lesson. “Younger children should not be required to sit a long time,” points out Suann Strickland. “Spaced frequent repetition of short, but focused, practice is more effective in imprinting information and building skills. Smart parents and teachers will create shorter-term incentives and rewards for a [child’s] consistent efforts.” J
Pointers for Finding the Right Instructor
• Ask about experience, credentials and music training. It’s usually preferable to have a teacher with a degree in music.
• Find out how the instructor accommodates different learning styles.
• Make sure that you and the teacher share the same musical goals for your child (within reason).
• When interviewing potential instructors, ask to see the studio where lessons are held to gauge the learning environment.
• Always choose a teacher with a good reputation and an available list of references.
A few popular music schools in our area . . .
Mikado Academy of Music, Macon
Dancing Fingers Music Heart School, Macon
First Baptist Church, Perry