by Lara Levitan
Music lessons can be one of the greatest gifts you give to your child; they enrich your child’s cognitive, social, and emotional development, and instill a lifelong love of music.
But while we always have good intentions, parents can sometimes get the wrong idea about what our kids really need.
Whether your kid is about to start lessons or has been at it for a while, there’s something to be learned (or re-learned!) from this list of common mistakes we’ve gathered from veteran teachers and parents.
Read on, and feel prepared to provide your music students with the support they need.
1. Starting lessons too young.
If your preschooler really loves playing instruments and singing at home, then shower them with musical toys, sign them up for Wiggleworms, and surround them with music, but save the private lessons for when they’re a little older.
Typically, three- and four-year olds (and many five-year-olds) lack the attention span, motor skills, and reading ability required for private music lessons. We recommend waiting until at least age five or six in most cases.
If you’re certain your young child is ready, then commit to helping them practice. Which leads us to our second common mistake.
2. Not sitting down to practice with younger students.
If it’s a struggle to get your six- to nine-year old child to sit down and practice each day, sitting down with them may make all the difference.
Don’t be intimidated. Long or set practice times (e.g. 30 minutes a day) aren’t as important as regular practice times. Even just 5-10 minutes of daily practice can be effective. See it as quality time with your kid, who may only need your quiet presence and support.
Also for younger students, consider keeping the piano or instrument in a “family” area of the house to make regular engagement easier.
3. Enforcing practice length rather than practice goals.
Thirty minutes can seem like forever when you’re eight years old and all you can think about is Pokemon. Often parents require arbitrary lengths of time for practice when what really matters is practice regularity, not length.
First, make sure your teacher is leaving your student with clear practice instructions that he or she understands. Then, work with your student and teacher to establish practice goals — e.g. play slowly through this part of the song five times, then play the song from start to finish twice.
Students may end up practicing more effectively for a shorter period. Or the lack of pressure to sit may encourage them to practice even longer!
4. Excessively reminding older students to practice.
The older the student, the more independence they crave (and need!). For middle and high-school students, the occasional practice reminder probably won’t hurt, but it’s the teacher’s responsibility to keep the students interested, engaged, and practicing all week.
If the “nagging” is left to the teacher, then parents of teenagers don’t have to be the “bad guys”– and the student may be more eager to share what they learned with the parent.
If you’re afraid that your older student will never practice if you don’t hound them, talk to your teacher. You should feel confident that your teacher is enforcing regular practice, and teaching your student how to practice.
5. Doubting the teacher.
Parents who are adamant about having things a certain way–e.g. my child must learn this type of music, play this song, or practice for X number of minutes each day– can undermine progress, and cast a negative shadow on lessons.
As a result, the student’s attitude about music lessons or even music in general could be damaged.
If there’s no clear reason to think otherwise, then hold an attitude of openness and trust in your teacher’s ability to do their job well. Left to their own devices, a good teacher will incorporate your student’s particular skills, needs, and interests–and the results may be surprising!
6. Expecting the student will always play the same instrument.
Your student’s first instrument may not be their forever instrument. Some kids and parents choose an instrument because it’s the most popular, an older sibling plays it, or they think the student has a knack for it.
But stay open to the possibility that your child or teacher may discover that a different instrument may be a better fit– it can mean the difference between a child who quits music lessons and one who keeps at it.
7. Not letting kids take lessons purely for enjoyment.
As students grow older and become more involved with academics and other extra-curriculars, music lessons can take a backseat. They may still enjoy their instrument, but the demand of daily practice and goal achievement can spoil the fun, add to stress, and ultimately lead to quitting.
If you see this happening with your student, there is another option: change the goal of lessons.
Sometimes, all it takes to keep an older student in lessons is a shift in perspective. Can they solely focus on stress relief and fun rather than hard-edged goals and progress? As long as your teacher is on board, absolutely! (And if they aren’t, find a teacher who is.)
We’ve had many parents who have found that making practice optional, letting older students pick up the instrument when they want, and emphasizing fun and relaxation has been key in keeping their students happy, less stressed out, and more passionate about music than they’ve ever been.
8. Sticking with the same teacher for too long.
If things aren’t working out with your teacher for any number of reasons — they’re constantly tardy, not a good personality fit, or are rigid with repertoire — it may be time to directly address the concerns with the teacher, or even time to move on.
Like any relationship, the teacher-student dynamic changes over time. If your student is expressing the desire or need for a change, hear them out. A great new teacher will add something valuable to your child’s knowledge and experience.
9. Letting their students give up too soon.
All artists go through rough periods. There will be a time when your child “hates” music, their lessons, their teacher, you for making them take lessons in the first place, etc.
If and when this happens, try to get to the bottom of it. Talk to your student about why they’re feeling this way, and once you have an idea of what’s going on, readjust lesson goals (see number seven), or talk with your teacher about creating new goals and incentives to keep the student engaged.
10. Expecting students to willingly perform for friends and family.
Unless your kid wants to, resist the urge to show off their developing skills to others. Learning an instrument is a very personal journey, the fruit of which should be left for the musician to share, should they choose to.
That’s not to say students shouldn’t be encouraged to participate in recitals– performances can be wonderful motivation and possibly the best way to celebrate music.
Your kid will appreciate the respect you show not only by giving the gift of music, but by allowing them to share that gift at will.
Avoiding these potential pitfalls is a great way to get maximum benefit out of of music lessons, and probably make the experience more fun for not only your kid, but you, too.