Tips for Parents: Help your child succeed in learning an instrument

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Today's guest blog post is from Robert Grifa at MakeMusic Inc.

Learning how to play an instrument is an exciting time in a child's life. It is a brand new experience and the possibilities of this endeavor are infinite. There are as many reasons why a student has an interest in starting as there are students! No matter the reason, one aspect is the same for all: They need the support of those around them to help them succeed. Parents surely want to help their sons and daughters be successful in everything they do, but the idea of helping their children learn an instrument can be a bit unsettling especially if they did not have music instruction themselves.

Remember this important point: Learning an instrument and learning to read music notation are skills. When practiced consistently, these skills can lead to a lifetime of enjoyment. The topic of talent comes up frequently when talking to parents and students. As in anything, skills learned can lead to amazing accomplishments: Michael Jordan in basketball for example. He had the skills and that extra something. His accomplishments don't take away from me having fun shooting some "hoops." Likewise, don't set expectations too low either. With consistent practice of the proper skills, students will start sounding great in a short period of time.

Everyone has musical aptitude that can be developed with practice. Here are some suggestions for success based on my 30 years of teaching beginners.

  • Show an interest in your child's music study and offer encouragement. Just as you ask your child questions about the shool day, include music class. Try "What did you learn?" "Show me what you learned." "Teach me how to get the sound on the instrument." By the way, even if the sounds your hear are not pleasant, be encouraging. How many times have you heard this at a sporting event: "Good try. You will get it next time." Same goes for music!
  • Make a commitment for the entire year and establish an attitude of perseverance. We all have "ups and downs." It's a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Help your child establish a daily, uninterrupted practice time and a dedicated space for practicing. Understand that correct practice involves a high level of concentration. Check out our posts titled "How to set up an Effective Practice Space" and "How Much Should a Music Student Practice?"
  • Musical instruments are delicate and require care. "Beginner" instruments are real musical instruments! The teacher will instruct the students how to care properly for their instruments. Provide a safe place in which to keep the instrument. A good saying is "In your hands or in the case." Caring for the instrument includes assembling and disassembling. How the instrument is held during these times is critical. Bent keys, rods or slides can happen very quickly. Then you hear this: "I don't understand. The right sound isn't coming out. It worked yesterday."
  • Have home concerts every so often. Holidays can be a great time for this. Let all the family members celebrate in this endeavor and make it a family affair! Make a video recording of the budding star.
  • Attend the programs your child performs in at school. This also helps you understand what is going on in the entire class.
  • Encourage good scholarship and citizenship in all subject areas.
  • Communicate with the music teacher. The teacher wants the students to be successful as well. If you feel there is a concern, contact the teacher.

In closing, I applaud you for giving the opportunity of instrument instruction to your child. You are vital to the success of your child and to the music programs at school. You are what I call the "Secret Ingredient!"

Headshot BobGrifaRobert Grifa, SmartMusic Education/Product Specialist at MakeMusic, is a veteran music educator/band director of thirty years. He taught at the middle school/high school levels and his groups earned consistent Superior and Excellent ratings at state-sponsored performance evaluation festivals. SmartMusic was an integral part of Bob's curriculum. He earned a Bachelor of Music degree from the State University of NY at Fredonia and a Master of Music Education from VanderCook College of Music in Chicago, IL. He earned the designation of Nationally Certified Music Teacher from the National Association for Music Education. He was awarded The Outstanding Music Educator in Chautauqua County (NY) where he also served as President and Vice President of the Chautauqua County Music Teachers Association. He is a member of NAfME, Phi Beta Mu, and is listed in Who's Who in Education. He has had several articles published in The Instrumentalist focusing on teaching percussion and has served as an adjudicator/clinician/guest conductor throughout his career. Bob has performed as a percussionist with professional orchestras, big bands, combos, and ensembles, including the Virginia Wind Symphony which performed at the 2004 Midwest Clinic. He currently resides in Chesapeake, VA.

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