Advertisement

Archive for Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Tunes for tots

Five-year-old Nate Huffman, right, reacts to trying to remember a note during piano practice Thursday with Lisa Enns at Hume Music, 711 W. 23rd St. It's not unusual for children to start violin or piano at ages 3 or 4, although most begin later, usually at 6 or 7. Before starting lessons, a child should be able to follow instructions, count and recite the alphabet, says Leanne Kirkham, the director of the music preparatory program at Texas Christian University.

Five-year-old Nate Huffman, right, reacts to trying to remember a note during piano practice Thursday with Lisa Enns at Hume Music, 711 W. 23rd St. It's not unusual for children to start violin or piano at ages 3 or 4, although most begin later, usually at 6 or 7. Before starting lessons, a child should be able to follow instructions, count and recite the alphabet, says Leanne Kirkham, the director of the music preparatory program at Texas Christian University.

September 18, 2007

Advertisement

Reader poll
Do you think it's important for young children to take music lessons?

or See the results without voting

Lawrence Municipal Airport development

The pros and cons of choosing various instruments

The choices:

Piano

Pro: It provides a good musical foundation for children, especially if they want to pursue another instrument when they are older. The piano repertoire is enormous, and it ranges beyond classical music to jazz, rock and pop.

Con: Even the cheapest piano will cost hundreds of dollars. And it's not something you can stick in a closet when not in use; you need to find an appropriate place in your home, one where you won't mind hearing daily practice sessions.

String instruments

Pro: Children can reach a decent level of proficiency in a relatively short amount of time. It also gives them an opportunity to perform in orchestras and chamber ensembles.

Con: For a child whose ultimate interest lies in pop or rock music, a violin may not be the best idea.

Percussion

Pro: Most children naturally gravitate to drums. It is also one of the best ways to teach complex rhythms.

Con: Get out the earplugs - they're awfully loud for practice at home. Essential music basics such as melody and harmony often are lost in percussion lessons.

Guitar

Pro: An excellent way to teach harmony to a child. They're also versatile instruments that can teach a child classical and pop repertoires.

Con: For a child ages 5 to 9, a guitar can be a big instrument to handle. Limited opportunities to play with school bands and orchestras.

Flute

Pro: Children are often fond of the silvery tone of the flute. It also makes a good band as well as orchestral instrument.

Con: A flute is often too large for a 5- or 6-year-old, although some smaller-sized flutes are being made for children.

Brass instruments

Pro: A popular choice with many children: Who isn't impressed by the big bold sound of a trumpet or horn?

Con: For children under 10, generally not a good idea. Nearly all brass instruments require adult-size lung capacity and big enough lips for the mouthpiece.

— Young children love music, as anyone with a passing acquaintance with a 4-year-old knows.

Getting that early interest to translate into real musical ability is tougher, though; most school districts don't start instrumental programs until fifth grade at the earliest. That means kids are missing a golden opportunity to get started earlier - even as young as 4 or 5 - when their fertile minds can benefit most from learning how to play an instrument.

But for many parents of kids younger than 10, especially parents who aren't musically gifted themselves, the search for individual music lessons can be a bewildering maze of choices. Which instrument to choose? Where to find a good teacher? Which method to pick - the Suzuki program with its emphasis on aural learning or the more traditional approach of reading music?

"It requires a lot of leg work," says Fort Worth, Texas, mom Lori Brumley, who spent a chunk of her summer investigating music lessons for her 9-year-old son. After making lots of phone calls and consulting with a teacher at Texas Christian University, Brumley started her son with the guitar, a choice that has made both happy.

Unlike many sports, playing an instrument is an activity that a child can pursue her entire life, even if she does not become the next Van Cliburn. Studying music can help children develop self-discipline, concentration, memory and motor skills. And, says Don Taylor, a professor of music education at the University of North Texas, there are intangible rewards.

"When you give a child the opportunity to explore music, you're opening up the opportunity to experience life as fully as possible," he says. "Music is not a survival skill. For example, you can go through life without seeing a beautiful sunset; you would still be OK. But if you're able to see beautiful scenery, you're enriching your life in innumerable ways. It's the same with music."

Getting started

But first comes the hard part: Figuring out where to start. When do you know if a child is ready for a music lessons?

It's not unusual for children to start violin or piano at ages 3 or 4, although most begin later, usually at 6 or 7. Before starting lessons, a child should be able to follow instructions, count and recite the alphabet, says Leanne Kirkham, the director of the music preparatory program at Texas Christian University.

Just as important, can your child concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time? "The ability to stay focused for a 30-minute lesson can sometimes be a lot to ask," she says.

Parents also should ask themselves whether they are ready for a long-term commitment, including making weekly trips to the teacher's studio and supervising at-home practice. Most teachers recommend you be prepared to stick with lessons for at least six months to a year to adequately evaluate a child's progress.

How do you choose the right instrument for your child?

UNT's Taylor says that children often gravitate toward musical instruments they've been around - especially those they see on TV or hear in a classroom. He encourages parents to expose children early on to a wide variety of sounds. "Children are usually going to stick with an instrument if they truly like the sound," he says.

Instrumental decision

But instruments are not created equal - especially for very young children, say younger than 6. Wind and brass instruments can be a poor match for a young child's small lips and lung capacity. In contrast, pint-size string instruments - and nowadays, even smaller flutes - are made to accommodate a child's small hands.

Pianos can be another excellent option.

"I actually tell parents to start with piano," Taylor says. "People who start off with piano have a great foundation to build on. Children learn bass and treble clefs. ... They also get harmony as well as melody, which is a very important thing."

What if you and your child disagree on what instrument to play?

It's amazing how strongly stereotypes persist with music. Contrary to certain perceptions, boys can play the flute, just as much as girls can play percussion. Additionally, short, stubby fingers or small hands are no deterrent for most instruments, especially if the child shows a strong desire.

"I think educators and parents definitely need to respect their child's choice," Taylor said.

But pragmatics also enter into the equation. It's also important to bear in mind what kind of instruction is available in your area and how far you are willing to drive for lessons. Consult with a university music professor or experienced parents to figure out what are the options where you live.

Cost considerations

How much will it all cost?

First, figure in the cost of the instrument. A piano can be expensive (a decent used upright starts at around $1,000). A violin or guitar is significantly cheaper; a good violin can cost around $300. A new flute can run around $1,000. But for band instruments such as flute and clarinet, many music stores offer reasonable rental rates, anywhere from $20 to $35 a month, with the option of renting to own. Parents might think they are getting a bargain with an electronic keyboard or a hand-me-down piano from a neighbor or aunt. But this can backfire.

"Cheap instruments are often harder to play," Taylor said. Most electric keyboards, for instance, are poor substitutes for the weighted-key action of pianos and therefore make it more difficult, in the long term, to technically master the instrument.

Likewise, don't skimp on lessons. The best teachers - someone who has good playing skills and also works well with children - will charge more than the teenager down the street. A single lesson for most instruments can run anywhere from $30 to $60 per hour.

Finding the right teacher

All educators agree that the first teacher is essential in setting the right tone and establishing good playing habits, so do the homework.

Patty Purcell, a longtime instructor of Suzuki strings in Fort Worth, suggests parent and child first observe a lesson, to make sure they are comfortable with the way the teacher interacts with students.

With the Suzuki method - a Japanese-originated program of learning string instruments, piano, flute and guitar - parents are an integral part of their child's musical study. They attend all lessons and serve as a sort of coach during the child's practice at home. Students learn by ear, rather than the traditional manner of reading music. With the more traditional method, children might make slower progress at first than with the Suzuki method, but long-term, they often make better sight-readers. If you are uncertain which method is right for your child, the deal-breaker is chemistry.

"Probably the most important thing to look for in a teacher is a good personality," Kirkham said.

Be sure to ask whether a teacher plans to stay in the area long-term. A child can get very attached to his first instructor, and a departure of that teacher can create a huge disruption in a child's musical progress.

Smooth grooves

So you've settled on an instrument, started lessons - and your child doesn't like to practice. Or he wants to play Top 40 hits, not practice scales. Or she is having trouble fitting lessons in around soccer games, or he'd rather relax with a video game after school.

Purcell says it's essential that parents keep in touch with their child's feelings and be a source of encouragement during the hard times - without being taskmasters. When it comes to practicing, encouraging consistency is important. Daily practicing for about 30 minutes a day is preferable to cramming the day before the lesson.

Adds Taylor, "Music should remain fun and enjoyable. . . . With a lot of praise, children are probably going to want to practice."

Comments

Janet Lowther 7 years, 3 months ago

Music teachers have to be the most positive and optimistic people in the world: Constantly detecting and commenting on the minute improvements in their students, even when the results are still awful.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.