By: Konner Scott
Music education can be incredibly beneficial for children. The literature is undisputed- having a child learn an instrument can improve their memory, coordination, math skills, and so much more. Parents often choose to enroll their children in lessons in order to capitalize on these benefits and to help instill a love of music in their child. For the uninitiated parent, this may seem like braving new territory, and many of the same questions often come up.
Perhaps the most common question asked by parents new to the experience is: how do I best support my child as they navigate their musical journey? Let’s take a look at a number of things that are worth consideration:
UNDERSTAND THEIR LEVEL OF PASSION
Yes, the arts are incredibly important, and music lessons can enhance your child’s life in many ways. However- not every child is a musician! It may sound blunt and abrasive, but very few people have true musical talent, and very few people enjoy playing music enough to devote themselves wholeheartedly to it. Of course, even if your child is not the next Mozart, there is still a lot to be gained by enrolling them in music lessons, particularly if they enjoy taking lessons and playing music.
The problem is, though, that not every child will have an aptitude for it or find any enjoyment in it. Part of a parent’s responsibility is to recognize where their child falls on that spectrum. For the children who seem to severely struggle to learn musical concepts, and for those who seem miserable taking lessons and practicing, perhaps it’s best to expose them to different artistic outlets in order to find one that clicks.
Don’t get me wrong; challenges are important, and learning something outside their comfort zone and skill set can help a child mature into a strong and well-rounded adult. However, it’s also important that children find confidence in their abilities, and if they continue to struggle in music to the point where it’s affecting their self-image, perhaps other avenues should be explored.
On the flip side, it’s important to recognize if a child is truly a future superstar! A small percentage of musical children will have the talent, passion, and drive to be able to do something special with their musical skills. It’s easy to pick out the children who fit this mold: they will eat, sleep, and breathe music, and will have a hard time putting their instrument down. When they play, their instruments will appear to be an extension of their own bodies, and other people will respond positively to their performances.
While parents will want to encourage their gifted children to have a healthy balance in their lifestyle, it’s incredibly important to nurture and encourage these gifts! You never know how far a child’s talent can take them if given the chance, and how much their passion may enrich their life.
STRUCTURE PRACTICE TIME AND ADJUST BASED ON RESULTS
Children crave structure and order, and if imposed properly, they often respond very well to it. Don’t just leave it up to your child to decide when and how often to practice- especially if the child is very young! Especially in the early stages of their musical journey, it’s very useful for a child’s parents to choose specific days and times for the child to practice, and even to sit down with them at first and guide them through a few practice sessions.
How often to practice depends completely on the age, talent level, and temperament of the child. For example, a four-year-old who seems to enjoy lessons but does not have much musical aptitude will not gain anything from multiple hour-long practice sessions a week. At the same time, a thirteen-year-old who has been playing for eight years and pours their heart and soul into their instrument may feel stunted if they are only able to squeeze in a couple ten-minute practice sessions between every lesson.
Start by selecting some days and time slots you think may work for your child, and then pay close attention to see if their practice regimen is helping or hindering their progress. There is such a thing as too little AND too much practice, and it’s important to work to find a happy balance.
BE THERE FOR YOUR CHILD
It sounds simple, but it goes so far. Drive your children to their lessons. Show up to their recitals. Hi-five them when they play through a song they’ve never been able to play before. Act engaged when they are excited to show you something new they’ve learned. Children – especially young children – respond very strongly to cues they receive from the adults in their lives. If they sense that their parents don’t truly value their music education, they will subconsciously learn not to value it either!
EXPOSE YOUR CHILD TO LOTS OF MUSIC
Music education is about more than learning to play music- it’s about learning to listen! Listening to a wide variety of music with your child, and encouraging your child to listen on their own, will help them develop musical taste and discover what they enjoy. Maybe your child has been complacent about their classical piano lessons for years, but suddenly lights up when Eddie Van Halen erupts into a scorching guitar solo through the speakers in your car. This is valuable information!
LET THEM LOVE IT!
Last but not least, it’s important to give children space to explore on their own! As a committed parent, it’s tempting to over-involve yourself in your child’s musical routine. For all children, but creative children in particular, having a “musical sandbox” where they can explore and develop their own ideas without a watchful eye can be incredibly beneficial and enriching. Even if they don’t show much interest in creativity, if your child enjoys learning and practicing new songs, giving them space to “learn how to learn” will allow them to take ownership over their musicianship- and they will enjoy the journey so much more!