Thursday, August 9, 2012

Behind Every Successful Music Student Is a Devoted Parent

Behind Every Successful Music Student
Is a Devoted Parent:
How to Guide Your Child on His Musical Journey
by Michelle Alten

Musical Notes For Parents:   

1. Help your student stay motivated by being positive and supportive.
2. Set a pattern with a specific practice time and stay with it.
3. Find a place and time for your child to practice where she won’t disturb the family.
4. Discuss with your instructor an appropriate amount of time for your child to practice and let your child know your expectations.
5. Show your child that you find music enjoyable and that it is a priority for your family.
6. When you hear your child making progress, let her know.  Your encouragement will go a long way.
    The day my child brought home his cello and played his first note, I was elated.  The thought that we might have a future musician in the family was tantalizing.  But it didn’t take long to realize that there is a lot to helping a young musician launch and stay committed to his musical experience.  Music students are not just born loving to practice and ready to work hard at music.  Like every great musician, each successful music student has a devoted parent behind the scenes helping him to reach his goals. 

    Most of us assume that if a child chooses an instrument that he or she will naturally want to practice.  I have spoken with parents of enthusiastic and outstanding music students, as well as parents of reluctant young musicians.  What I learned is that neither group is eager to pull out their instrument and devote time to practicing.  Kids don’t like to practice, and that’s that.  So the idea of placing children in charge of making decisions about practicing is unlikely to succeed.  Clearly another tactic is needed. 

    Robert Wilson, owner and director of the Bellevue School of Music, has suggestions for parents of young instrumentalists who wish to help their child succeed.  “It is important from the beginning for parents to help their child establish a practice pattern,” Wilson explains.  “The family should choose a daily practice time and stay with it.”  When children know when they will practice each day, he points out, it is easier for them to shift from other activities to playing their instrument. 

    “Parents also need to choose a place for students to practice that will be the least disruptive to the family,” Wilson explains.  “This makes it easier for the family to be supportive.”

    Howard Klug, Professor of Clarinet at Indiana University, also points out the significant role parents can play in the education of young musicians.  “Parents don’t necessarily need to know a lot about music,” Klug explains “But they need to provide a supportive environment by encouraging students, setting aside a time of day and place to practice, and putting them on a schedule.”  Klug also suggests that parents ask their child questions such as: What have you learned?  How is it going? When can you play for us?  “This helps the child understand that the family considers their music education valuable and important,” he explains.

    Parents often wonder whether their child is practicing enough.  We’ve all heard stories about the amazing child down the street who practices for two hours each day.  Should we expect our seven year old to toot away on his trumpet for hours?  Wilson recommends talking with your instructor and agreeing on an appropriate expectation.  For a five year old this may mean merely ten minutes a day, but by age ten the child may be expected to practice for a half hour.  Your instructor can help you to set a realistic goal for your child.

    How do you know if your child may be destined for a career in music?  The problem here is that most of us don’t know if our child will someday want to play in a symphony, or become a great soloist, director, teacher, or composer.  In most cases, it is too early to tell.  It is also true however that careers in music have become so competitive that students need to prepare at an early age.  If there is a chance that your child may want to pursue this option, there is no choice but to begin helping them to get ready now.  For high school students this means revving up their practice time to about two hours each day.

    As a child continues with an instrument, his passion for playing will have its peeks and valleys.  Most of us wonder along the way how to keep our child motivated.  The attitude of parents and atmosphere at home play a major role as to whether Johnny or Jennifer persist.  Try to stay upbeat and supportive, even when you have heard your child play a piece for the hundredth time and the saxophone is blaring.  “Repetition is a big part of learning an instrument,” Wilson explains.  “Children need to be encouraged even when the music is loud and an inconvenience.”  Children also pick up on our comments about the music they are playing.  “It is important to support the teacher’s music choices by expressing positive feelings about the pieces of music your child is learning,” he adds.  Just as children of readers learn to love to read: children of music lovers learn to be aficionados of music. 

    Finally, make sure that you and your child have realistic expectations.  “Learning an instrument is really more about effort than talent,” Wilson explains.  “The more children work at it, the more progress they will make.” 

    Wilson likes to tell of students whose efforts have helped them to reach their goals.  He recalls one student who came to him when they were the last chair in their school orchestra.  After studying with Wilson and working hard at playing, they moved to first chair.  Another student was told at school that he had no talent.  Instead of quitting he took private lessons and put extra effort into practicing.  By the end of the year his orchestra awarded him Most Improved Player.    

    Remember that for all its challenges, music education has many rewards.  “Children learn the importance of making a commitment to something and staying with it,” Wilson points out.  Children see for themselves the rewards of their hard work.  They learn that talent is only a beginning in life and that it is effort that really determines how far we can go.  With all the ups and downs that we all face, learning this kind of resilience is an invaluable lesson that will help children all along the road of life.

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