School is almost in and for hundreds of 6th graders that means trying their luck with a band/orchestra instrument. It’s unfortunate that in a country where every scientist, sociologist and even our government agrees that music is great for you in every way, a large percent of the students will not continue music past the first year. After 17 years of working in music stores I can pretty much guess (with incredible accuracy) who’s going to make it right when they rent the instrument. You see, the parent has every bit as much to do with their child’s musical success as the student themselves. Follow these 8 simple guidelines and help your child beat the odds.
1) MAKE THEM PRACTICE: I hear parents say all the time: “I don’t want to force them to practice.” My response is “Why on earth not?” Studies show that children involved in music do better in math and science skills and score an average of 100 points higher on SATs. New studies show that learning an instrument can stave off Alzheimer disease. Do you make them do homework? Do you make them eat vegetables? Don’t feel bad about making them stick to a regular practice routine.
- Time – Try to set the same time everyday for practice. It doesn’t take much, a ½ hour every day will make them the best in class. Generally the earlier in the day the practicing can occur, the less reminding is required by parents.
- Repetition – ½ hour not working? Try repetition. For example, practice this piece 4 times every day and this scale 5 times a day. The student pays less time to the clock and has the mindset of “I’ve just done it three times, I’m almost done!”
- Rewards – Some adults reward themselves wit a cappuccino after a successful week of work. Parents can encourage children to practice by granting them occasional rewards for successful practicing. How about a new songbook with a play along CD? Cheap, fun and gets them to play more without thinking about it as practice.
2) DON’T WAIT TO “SEE HOW IT GOES:” I think this is the most backward thinking I hear from parents. When your child joins band or orchestra, there are one or two instructors for 50-200 kids. It’s not enough! If your child can’t get the attention or answers needed, he/she might fall behind, get discouraged and worst of all, quit. Get them the help they need and take them to the front of the class by taking private lessons.
3) BUY THE PROPER ACCESSORIES: This one also falls under the “See how it goes” category. Look, if your kid wants to join the football team, you don’t send him out on the field without pads because you’re not sure if he’s going to stick with it. There is certain things beginner’s need. Method books, music stands, tuner/metronomes and cleaning kits are a must.
4) NEVER BUY AN INSTRUMENT SIGHT UNSEEN: I see this all the time. “I saved a bunch of money by buying a horn on eBay.” turns into “This horn needs $200 worth of repairs.” If you are buying a horn used or online, make sure there is a return policy. Let your band director/private instructor check it out. Unless you play that instrument, you don’t know what to look for and even if you do play that instrument you cannot tell if the instrument is in playing condition by looking at a picture.
5) Subscribe to music magazines: This is as cheap as $15-20 per year and it will keep the young musicians interest by showing them other people are into the same thing. The magazines are filled with educational material that will be fun, fresh stuff to play.
6) Don’t let a personality clash end a musical adventure: I hear this sometimes from kids. “I quit because I didn’t get along with the teacher.” I can’t believe parents let their kids off the hook for this! I’ve heard a lot of kids not liking their English teacher but I never saw a parent let them quit English!!!
>7) A sub-level instrument can cause more harm than good: I’m all for comparison-shopping and saving money but please use common sense. If a music store is selling a new trumpet for $600 and a national chain (that also sells milk and bread) is offering a trumpet for $150, do you really think you are getting the same trumpet? Don’t be surprised when it doesn’t play in tune and has to go to the shop a lot. You also might want to find a music store that will work on some of these instruments. There are certain brands that my repair people will not touch because the metals are too thin or replacement parts are not available. The saddest thing is a sub-level instrument that doesn’t play well can frustrate the student and make them give up. Is the risk worth the savings?
8) Have Fun! Music should be something that you enjoy for a lifetime. So try not to put unrealistic expectations on the student too quickly. Everyone learns at a different pace and the key is to be able to enjoy the journey.
Did you know? I wouldn’t be a musician today if it wasn’t for my mother. It’s true! I was one of those kids that didn’t really fit into anything. On top of that, I was one of those kids that thought everything was stupid. Tried soccer, didn’t get it. Tried tennis, wasn’t my thing. When 6th grade came around my mom said “You’re joining the band.” My uncle Ken played the drums so I thought I’d try that. We started band. Started taking private lessons and started learning the drums. You’d think the rest would be history, right? That it just clicked and was a natural fit. That I had found my niche. You’d be wrong! I didn’t hate the drums, far from it, but I didn’t LOVE the drums either. I could have done with or without it. It didn’t matter to me BECAUSE I WAS A DUMB KID!What would I rather be doing? Riding a bike, playing with my friends, watching TV, or playing video games. I wanted to do the same things all my friends were doing. I didn’t want to be in my room practicing. But my mom wouldn’t let me quit. So I kept doing it. Sometimes I’d practice. Sometimes I wouldn’t. It wasn’t until High School that I realized “I really like this drumming stuff.” I fit in. I have friends here. I’m good at this.
So why am I telling you this? Because parents come to me all the time and say “I can’t get him/her to practice, so we are quitting.” It’s heartbreaking! Mom, Dad……Don’t do it! Don’t let them take the easy road out! I have yet to meet the adult that is angry at their mom or dad for making them learn a musical instrument. Trust me, it doesn’t happen. You know who I do meet? Adults who say “I wish I stuck with it.” Maybe you are one of them? Is it your fault? No! You were just a dumb kid like me that would have rather played than practiced. It’s human nature. Working towards a goal is work. Watching TV is not. So how come you stopped and I didn’t? My mom! Thank you mom! I love that you could see for me what I was too young to see.
Ok Doug, I get it! But how can I get them to practice? I’ve always said “You make them do homework, you make them eat vegetables, make them practice. It’s good for them and they will thank you when they get older. I truly believe that to be true, but I didn’t realize how difficult it was to get kids to practice until I had my own. Kate (9) is now singing and playing piano. Charlotte (6) is learning the ukulele. Every day they are with me, they practice. Not because they necessarily want to, because I figured out the secret!!! It’s all about wants. They want to watch TV, go swimming, ride bikes. I want them to practice. When they come to me and say “Daddy, can I…………?” I say, go practice for 15 minutes and then you can! Dangle a carrot. So simple, so effective. And I KNOW my kids are never going to grow up and say……………..”I wish I stuck with it.”
Some people preach about religion. Some people preach against the government. Doug Ponier preaches about the benefits of music.