The idea of playing a musical instrument can be very enticing – whether it is the allure of strumming among your friends, performing on stage or just unwinding at the end of a busy day while playing your favorite melodies on the piano, most of us have been tempted to learn play an instrument. We see the act of signing up for lessons as the start to fulfilling our musical dreams and aspirations; it is very exciting to take that first step. The disconnect can happen with the realization that learning to play an instrument requires time, practice and dedication; learning to play an instrument involves some hard work.
The question that arises is how to keep that initial interest and excitement alive. There are as many answers to this query as there are students, methodologies and teachers. Students respond as individuals to the many tactics that teachers and parents can and do employ. Perhaps the first thing to look for is a teacher who is focused on the student; one who notices and is responsive to what works for you or your child. A teacher who follows the same lesson plan with each and every student will only connect with a limited number of students. Most teachers have many tricks up their sleeves for keeping students interested during the actual lesson time. They will also offer many enticements for the student to practice but most of that responsibility will fall on the student and in the case of a child, it will fall on the parent or caregiver; in general the younger the student the greater the parental involvement necessary.
First and foremost, I cannot say enough about the importance of keeping lessons consistent. We know you are busy and that conflicts will arise which is why we have a make up policy. If you can’t get to your regularly scheduled lesson try your best to take advantage of any other available lessons that might be offered during that same week. Consistency makes learning easier and helps to keep the student moving forward in their studies, both make lessons and learning less frustrating and therefore more enjoyable.
While on the subject of the actual lesson, if you don’t sit in on your child’s lesson while it is in progress (and that doesn’t imply that you should on a constant basis), do make an effort to check in with the teacher at the end of the lesson. For young beginners, this should be a weekly occurrence. For those who are older and more experienced at lessons, checking in with the teacher can be done less frequently but should still not be ignored. While talking with the teacher you will want to discuss progress, the current assignment and helpful tips for keeping the student on track, and if the thrill of that first lesson is waning, what to do to keep the fun and excitement in the learning process. Don’t be afraid to make suggestions either. You know your child best. While learning the fundamentals are necessary, there are certainly plenty of very elementary collections of simple and familiar melodies available for young beginners to play and enjoy. These collections can be used to supplement lessons and reward young students for their efforts.
This seems like a perfect time to mention that participating in recitals and other periodic community events gives students something to work toward. Performance is an excellent way to keep lessons both exciting and relevant. Working toward a short term foreseeable goal offers something to look forward to. Recitals are a special event and an opportunity for students to shine and to receive reinforcement, encouragement and positive feedback from family and friends. In addition, recitals are very motivational as they allow the younger students to hear what the more experienced students are playing.
Effective practice is truly the key element in learning to play an instrument and the most difficult to keep consistent. Here are some suggestions for making daily practice at home more pleasant. Begin by creating a consistent time, of an appropriate duration for a daily practice to occur. Keep the practice environment pleasant and free of distractions. For young beginners it is often best to spend the practice session together. If you were present at the lesson you might want to follow the teacher’s lead in terms of encouragement, or you can ask the teacher for suggestions. Singing, clapping rhythms and counting along can be fun as is listening to recordings of the piece that is being worked on. In some situations, where the parent is able, it can be enjoyable to play together, to echo one another or to create a challenge (I can play that three times in a row, can you?). Time spent with the student will evolve as the student progresses and certainly at some point your participation will no longer be necessary but helping to set the foundation is essential for creating good practice habits which serve to keep the learning process satisfying. As an added bonus, one of the very valuable benefits of learning those good practice habits is that the concept transfers to all other aspects of education by virtue of introducing the discipline of spending consistent time on one subject while working toward a long term goal.
After a couple of lessons and then as frequently as practical, create a block of this for a little family concert. What better way to satisfy the age old, “Mommy/Daddy, look what I can do!”. That sets the stage to have the young music students in your family perform at larger gatherings as well, birthday parties, barbecues and holiday events are always made more festive by the addition a little live music. Planning for this kind of event adds it’s own excitement to the preparatory practice sessions.
Music is everywhere but often it is simply background sound. Becoming cognizant of that music and bringing it to the attention of a young music student can help them to focus on all of the listening opportunities that exist and help them to identify what they like to listen to and what they’d like to play. The simple act of familiarizing ourselves with the wide range of musical styles that we are surrounded with and recognizing the genres that we identify with can go a long way toward motivating us to set goals and to keep learning. Whether we are moved by classical, rock, pop, hip hop, jazz, musical theater, background movie or video game music, it is reasonable to patiently and determinedly work toward the day when we can play what we love.