Welcome to our blog about music education

Parental Involvement in Music Lessons

Despite all that has been written in this blog and elsewhere the truth is that there is one element of learning to play an instrument even more important than regular practice. This is true for all students but especially important for younger students. The students who make the most consistent progress are the ones who benefit from parental involvement in the process. Parental involvement is linked to increased understanding, practice and enjoyment which are all key ingredients to success.

Parental involvement comes in many different forms, levels and degrees.

Except in certain circumstances it is not necessary for parents to sit in on each and every music lesson but it is absolutely recommended and beneficial to take a few minutes at the end of the lesson to communicate with the teacher. Checking in after every lesson is the ideal but even after every other lesson or monthly is better than never at all. The five minutes you spend talking to the teacher at the end of the lesson is NOT a waste of your lesson time. I assure you that it is just as valuable and essential to the learning process as the time the student spends with the instructor.

Scheduling your time so as to be able to talk to the teacher at the end of each lesson allows you to ask questions, express concerns, offer input and hear the teachers observations and suggestions. You will then be clear about the assignment for the week, the teachers goals and expectations from the lessons and about any upcoming happenings such as recitals and other events and performances.

We do try hard to communicate as much as we can via email and even by leaving phone messages but the purpose of that type of communication is usually to share general information. For information regarding your student and his or her specific needs nothing compares to one to one interaction.

As mentioned earlier there are some instances when a teacher might request that a parent actually sit in on the lessons for at least a brief time. That requirement is more likely to apply to very young students or those with special needs. As the students grows and matures, as trust and relationships build, the parent can graduate to waiting right outside of the studio during the lesson. Ultimately the goal would be for the student to attend their lessons independently with the parent just stopping in at the end of each lesson.

The determination for a parent’s level of involvement in the lessons is one that is made on a case by case basis. Every parent should plan to come into the school with their child at the very first lesson and to meet with the teacher at that time. That is an excellent opportunity for you to let the teacher know anything at all that applies to your child’s learning style or differences.

A bonus to coming in to the school as often as possible is that it gives us an opportunity to get to know one and another. Regular communication is essential for more than the actual lessons. When we see you regularly we build a more personal relationship with you. This creates a better understanding between us and an appreciation of one another’s point of view.  That tends to help avoid situations that can result in misunderstandings about you, your family situation and changing needs or our policies and philosophy.

For those who do not make a habit of coming in during your child’s lessons, I hope that this will help to convince you of the need to do so in the future. We have cozy waiting rooms throughout our buildings allowing you to sit comfortably while you wait. Please know that we would love to get to know each and every one of you.




The problem with leaving recitals early

One of the things we are bound to hear on occasion, during recital season is, ” We are very busy. We can come to the recital but we have to perform early and then leave.” Even worse is the situation where we receive no advance warning. In that instance students and their families just get up and walk out in the middle of a recital.

I need to say that I feel very strongly about this subject. When asked in advance I will always respond with, “We would love to have you perform but we require that you stay until the end of the recital you are performing in.” Please know that there will be no exceptions made to this rule. If your recital date does not work for you,  we will work with you to find another date (which will most likely be with a teacher other than your own). Again, we will require that you stay until the end of that recital.

We announce recitals months in advance to assist with your calendar planning and we organize our recitals in 90 minute segments. Most recitals are actually an hour or less in duration with time built in to socialize at the end of the event. Most people do take advantage of that extra time and seem to really enjoy the opportunity to interact with and offer praise to the other performers and their families. It does not seem unreasonable to expect that guests of the recital can set aside 90 minutes of their time to attend and support the student’s many hours of preparation.

We understand that everyone is very busy, stressed and even overextended.  That is actually a big part of the problem. Everyone is busy and granting permission to one family to leave early would invariably result in allowing many people to do so. Ultimately this could result in a perpetually shrinking audience throughout each recital.

However, there is more to this situation than that. Simply put, staying until the end of a recital is a matter of respect. Walking out before the conclusion of a recital is inconsiderate of everyone, students, teachers and other guests. Recitals are special occasions occurring only twice per year. I understand that something else might have to be sacrificed and I thank you for prioritizing recitals when you are able. I assure you it is a sacrifice worth making. If it is truly impossible to do that then we hope you will be available for the next recital series or perhaps a less formal community performance.

There are rewards attached to attending entire recitals on a continual basis. On a strictly personal basis recitals offer a chance to sit back, unwind, enjoy a performance. Unlike many of your other family activities, once you arrive we provide comfortable seating in a relaxed, temperature controlled environment that is safe from the elements! There are more social and educational rewards as well. Young students can be inspired by more experienced performers. More experienced players gain insight into just how much they have progressed. Families get to know one another and share in the joy of witnessing musical growth. A camaraderie develops between students that can lead to long term friendships.

In general I feel that we very understanding of your needs and that we regularly go out of our way to try to be as accommodating as possible in scheduling and rescheduling lessons when conflicts arise. With that in mind, I hope that you can appreciate and respect our relatively inflexible feelings about not leaving before the end of your recital.




An index to our music lesson blog and an introduction for all new students

New beginnings are often exhilarating but we all know that in time some of that initial thrill can begin to fade. At some point all new music students come to the very real understanding that attaining those dazzling dreams will require some work and we don’t want that to scare you away. Learning to play an instrument doesn’t come naturally to anyone, it requires practice. It is our job, as a music school to help make this new endeavor a successful one and to keep the long journey ahead pleasant. We realize that many of you don’t have music lesson experience and that you might benefit from a guide; whether you are the student or the parent of one.

To that end I have been writing this blog for the past three years. It is chock full of helpful information and suggestions to help explain the art of practicing (the single most important activity required of all music students), the importance of recitals, the benefits of music education, interesting facts about music lessons and much, much more. I know that this blog will provide a great deal of helpful information for all of our new students (as well as those who have been with us for a while). I realize that the blog has become quite lengthy and so I have created an index (scroll down) for ease of finding helpful articles. Please note that the posts on the actual blog are organized in reverse chronological order.

I hope you will take the time to read those posts that seem most pertinent to you and that you will refer back to it from time to time. You can always find access to it by going to the bottom of home page of our website, scroll down to the bottom and click on the “W” (for WordPress).

NJSM Blog Index
October 10, 2014 through May 12, 2017

10/ 10    Let’s talk about practicing for your music lessons
10/17    Let’s talk about practicing – Practice tips part 1
10/29    Let’s talk about practicing – Practice tips part 2
11/05    Let’s talk about practicing: Overcoming frustrations and challenges – Part 1
11/14    Let’s talk about practicing: Overcoming difficulties and challenges – Part 2
11/26    Let’s talk about practicing: Overcoming difficulties and challenges – Part 3
1212    Let’s talk about practicing: Overcoming difficulties and challenges – Part 4
1230    Getting back to practicing after a break

01/20    Let’s talk about practicing: Overcoming difficulties – Part 5
02/25    Let’s talk about practicing: Overcoming difficulties – Part 6
04/14    Let’s talk about recitals
04/21    Let’s talk about recitals – Part 2
05/05    Let’s talk about recitals – Part 3
05/16    Let’s talk about summer music lessons

01/18    Why schedule private music lessons when your child gets group lesson in school
01/28    Starting lessons and working through the initial learning curve
02/08    Playing a musical instrument is good for your health
02/17    Why make up lessons and substitute teachers?
Series of four posts on what to expect when beginning lessons on different instruments: 02/25    Focus on piano and drums
03/04    Focus on stringed instruments – Part A
03/11    Focus on stringed instruments – Part  B
03/19    Focus on brass, woodwind and vocal
03/28    Passively vs. actively listening to music
05/04    How long does it take to learn to play the __________? (fill in the blank)
05/19    Suggestions for keeping your child interested and excited about their lessons
08/26    What music students need to stay motivated
10/07    Playing music and creativity
10/21    Healthy instrument practice habits
10/26    Recitals – why all of the fuss?
12/12    Note reading and sight reading

01/30    The importance of group playing
02/09    Why do I play worse at my lessons?
02/15    Ever feel like more practice leads to worse playing?
02/21    How many times do you want me to play that?
03/02    Busy week – no time to practice
03/10    The science behind practicing
03/17    The need for continuing private lessons while playing in groups and ensembles
03/24    How to tell if your child is practicing effectively
04/07    Music for aging well
04/10    Music competitions aren’t for everyone
04/20    Preparing for your recital
05/01    It is important to attend live concerts
05/12    How to create a great recital audience
05/19    Recitals are not just for kids
05/26    Keeping your musical skills fresh when life gets in the way
08/22    What to expect when resuming music lessons after a break
08/29    I haven’t practiced all summer and my lessons resume next week.
09/13    What to expect as a student new to private music lessons


What to expect as a student new to private music lessons

Welcome to our school and to the world of music education. You have made a very important decision and the first step in what could be a lifelong exploration into the art of playing an instrument or singing (your voice is indeed an instrument). We know that you will approach this milestone with a great deal of excitement. We want to help you to hold onto that same feeling as your lessons progress. Toward that end this blog is full of helpful information for you and we hope you will take the time to get acquainted with it.

The purpose of this short post is to help you begin your lessons with healthy expectations geared to getting you started on the right track toward many years of musical and personal growth, self expression and satisfaction. Whether you are the student or the parent of a student I am sure you will find this guide very helpful.

  1. It is essential that you have a working, well maintained instrument. If your instrument needs repair or tuning please don’t wait to see how the lessons go before attending to that. The lessons will not go well without a playable instrument.
  2. Make a commitment to attend your weekly lessons; to arrive a few minutes before the lesson is due to begin and to be properly prepared.
  3. Dedicate yourself to practicing regularly (see many of the other posts in this blog for helpful information). Your teacher will give you weekly assignments and help you to understand how to practice.
  4. Know that playing music is very satisfying and that practice can be hard work and that the more you practice the more satisfaction you will derive!
  5. There is work involved in the learning process. Know that and approach it with a positive attitude.
  6. Little will be accomplished by just attending lessons without practicing; working on your assignment at home in preparation for your next lesson. Your actual lesson time is for review of previous assignments and  the introduction of new material.
  7. Communication is essential. Get engaged. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. The more involved you are, the better the outcome.

You have made the all important first step of beginning your music lessons. These simple expectations will help to set you on a successful path.

I haven’t practiced all summer and my lessons resume next week…

Avoid the tendency to panic! If you have been away from your lessons and your practice for a while have faith in the process and in your teacher to put you back on track. Prepare yourself for the inevitable and rather than getting bogged down by your frustration just accept the situation and resolve to go forward from wherever you are.

Your teacher has many years of experience and has worked with many other students who are a bit rusty after a break. There is no shame involved. We would certainly rather see you and do some review with you than not ever see you again. We would rather help you to get back to where you were and beyond than to see you let all of the work you had put into your lessons before your break, simply go to waste.

If you haven’t played at all this summer and you don’t even know where to begin, don’t stress, just come back to your lessons and allow your teacher to be your guide. There is no need to do anything in particular to prepare for your return at this point, however, if you have some time and the motivation in the days or weeks before your lessons resume by all means sit down with your instrument and do some light review. Scales are an excellent place to begin. The perfect speed is very slow, focusing on tone, intonation and technique. If time allows you can work up to a tempo that is closer to what you had been playing before your break.

If you do nothing else before resuming your lessons, practicing your scales will prove very helpful. Just playing will help to reconnect you with your instrument and to act as a reminder to your muscles. If you are using a scale book when you play, you will be reviewing your note reading skills as well as helping your body and mind to recall all that is necessary to think about and to focus on as you play.

If you are motivated to do more in preparation for your return to lessons then after you feel comfortable with your scales choose something that you knew well before your break, something that you had already completed and that was easy to play. Spend some time going over that piece rather than challenging yourself with a new piece. Again, trust your teacher to move you ahead once you are back on track.

Getting back after a break can be frustrating if you let if but it can also be an opportunity to let go some of your old, less than ideal practice and playing habits. Starting with a clean slate provides a chance for you to begin anew and to take your playing further than before. No doubt you do remember many basic skills.  Now you can get back into your fundamentals and reinvent yourself as a music student, taking the best of what you used to play and bringing in new inspirations and your development as a person.

We welcome you back! Please take your time and allow your playing to gradually reach a level that feels satisfactory in terms of having regained any lost skills.

*Note, remember to bring your books with you to your first lesson back even if you haven’t looked at them recently.




What to expect when resuming music lessons after a break

Though we all acknowledge that taking time away from your lessons is less than ideal in terms of learning, some students do opt to take time off during the summer and for some there is simply no option. We know that students often resolve to make time to keep playing during their absence. However, despite that conviction they get busy doing other things and very little if any practice actually happens.

Now that summer is just about over we are fortunate to have the opportunity to welcome many of the students who have been away back to the school to resume their lessons. As exciting as it can be to return please be prepared for the fact that there can be a  bit of initial frustration over what may have been forgotten. We want to acknowledge that it can be a bit difficult but not impossible to get back into the swing of things!

Not all students suffer from setbacks after a break but it is better to acknowledge and prepare for the possibility than to be surprised and overwhelmed by it. Following are some of what can be expected and a few suggestions for effectively dealing with it.

While some may think that students will come back to music lessons rejuvenated after summer break, that is not always the case. During their time off, students can lose some of the skills and the dexterity they had worked to attain, as they were not being reinforced. This can result in the necessity to backtrack and review forgotten material during the first several lessons after a break. It is best not to view this as a negative thing.

Additionally, students may find it difficult to get back into the habit of a routine practice schedule. Playing the instrument may feel awkward at first due to loss of muscle memory. It is even possible that the new lesson time is not as conducive as the one you left behind in the spring. All of this can lead to a bit of frustration when lessons are resumed.

If the new lesson time is not ideal, let us know. Though we cannot make any promises we can certainly work to improve that over time. Getting back into a routine, once school and activities resume, can be challenging. Here are some tips that can help to ease the way back into lessons after a short absence.

It is important for students to know that it is normal to digress a a bit during a break. Encourage students to be patient with themselves allowing for time to get reacquainted with their instrument and back to the level of proficiency attained before the break.   Some students get frustrated and expect to pick up right where they left off. It can be disconcerting to be rusty and that can cause some students to lose motivation too quickly! It will all come back in time as long as the student is patient, practices, is persistent and avoids stressing and worrying.

It is a fact that anything that is scheduled in advance is much more likely to get done. If practicing is on your calendar every day after dinner, for example, the practice will happen. If the student had not been on a schedule before the break now is a perfect time to make the commitment to scheduling regular practice time into your day.

Where possible, practice should occur at about the same time everyday (ex: after you finish your homework), or perhaps it will vary based on the day of the week. Do what works for you and your family but be consistent. This will go a long way toward helping students to get back to where they were and even quickly surpass their own expectations.

Some teachers recommend creating a practice chart. Making lists and recording practice works well for many students. Once the practice is recorded, the student becomes much more accountable for what is practiced and for how long they practice.  Crossing items to do off of a list can be very satisfying for some!

Following these guidelines and referring back to many of the previous posts on this blog about practice tips will provide you with all you need to know about effective practice habits which are the key to success for all music students.

For all of those who are returning after summer break, welcome back! We can’t wait to begin working with you again and to watch your skills and abilities grow as you progress.




Keeping your musical skills fresh when life gets in the way

This is such a busy time of year that it’s difficult to stay on top of everything. The school year seems to rev up just before it winds down, vacation time is looming, there are proms, graduations and recitals, and finding the time and the focus for productive practicing can become a challenge with all of those distractions. Yet you’ve worked so hard on developing your skills that I am sure you want to protect your investment from the inevitable loss that can occur due to neglect. In short you want to do what you can to keep your skills fresh!

If at all possible, resist the temptation to put your instrument aside or to take a little break. Taking time off is the surest way to have some of that carefully honed skill, technique and newly acquired dexterity deteriorate.  Of course it is always possible to gain back lost proficiency but nobody likes to have to re-do something that they’ve already done if they don’ t have to. As it turns out, there are ways to avoid it.

The first thing to do is to step back and take a breath. Most of the time the situation does not require an all or nothing approach. Of course an hour of daily practice is better than 30 minutes and during an occasional busy time, even 20 minutes a few times a week is better than nothing.

The second most important thing you can do is to keep your instrument visible so that it is always on your mind and  accessible so that the simple act of getting ready to practice does not take up all of the time you have. At the same time, please keep your instrument safe! If your instrument is left out of it’s case be sure that it is not in harms way especially if there are very young children or rambunctious pets in the house.

Most of the students we teach are pursuing music as a hobby, for enrichment, self fulfillment and enjoyment. If you are pursuing music as a career than you are in a different situation that requires you to put a higher priority on making time for serious, daily practice. Either way, keep in mind that stepping away from all of the stresses in your life to play your instrument can actually be therapeutic.

If you have a recital coming up then at the very least sit down and review the piece you are performing.  You are already comfortable with that piece so playing it should be a source of comfort, satisfaction and enjoyment. Reviewing it as often as possible will keep it fresh and actually reduce the stress of worrying about your upcoming performance. A few daily repetitions with a bit of concentration on the remaining rough spots should not take all that long.

Another really nice way to keep fresh is to play scales. They are easy to memorize and to play.  They keep your fingers moving and allow you to maintain your dexterity and practice your technique. Even if you have time for nothing else temporarily, beginning or ending your day with fifteen or more minutes of focused scale practice can actually help you to unwind, relax and feel good about not neglecting your instrument.

The same can be said for any simple etude or other piece that you can play easily. Rather than stress about not moving ahead enjoy the fact that you are at the very least not going backwards. It is satisfying to feel that you are accomplishing something and protecting your investment.

Finally, if for some reason you cannot access your instrument remember that it is actually beneficial to engage in “mental practice” (The Science Behind Practicing, published here on March 10, 2017). Simply put this refers to practicing in your imagination in vivid detail when for one reason or another you must be away from your instrument. Physical motion can be reinforced just by imagining it!

If all else fails, engage in lots of focused listening. Find every opportunity to relax with the music you enjoy. Listen while you drive, while you exercise or while doing chores around the house but most importantly listen while you are doing nothing else but listening. You will find that it is a very different experience. (Passive vs. active listening to music, published here on March 28, 2016)