We are a few weeks into a new academic year, which invariably means there will be many children who have started music lessons for the first time. When children first start music lessons they are filled with excitement: new hobby, new instrument, new sounds, new teacher, and possibly new friends. As time passes however, this excitement is often replaced by reluctance to practise, or it may even be that music lessons are starting to feel like a chore. In such cases, it is not uncommon for parents to approach teachers to clear up what may be a misunderstanding regarding lessons: ‘my child wants to do music for fun’. But are we misusing the word fun when it comes to music tuition? Over the next week, I will consider the motivations behind signing a child up for lessons, look at what every parent needs to know as their child settles into music lessons, reflect on misconceptions concerning formal music education, and reveal some of the stories that make teaching a rewarding occupation.
Before you sign up for lessons ask yourself three questions
Not only are we surrounded by music in our daily lives, music also forms an important part of a child’s development. It’s no wonder then that music holds a special place for so many people and that affording your child an opportunity to learn an instrument is like offering them a gift for life. Before signing your child up for music lessons, or even if you have just signed them up, remember to ask yourself three questions:
- Why are you signing your child up for lessons?
- What do you expect your child to gain from lessons?
- How do you think they will meet their/your expectations?
The last question needs careful consideration in particular because what is often expected from music tuition does not necessarily correlate with what it entails.
Why are you signing your child up for lessons?
It might seem like a peculiar question when the answer must surely be ‘so they can learn to play an instrument’, but often during lessons students confess they really do not want them, it was their parents’ idea. I remember having a conversation with a father of a teenage daughter who was so proud of his daughter’s achievements he did not realise that his enthusiasm for her to continue to do well was actually turning her off music. From his perspective, his concerns were in her best interest: he didn’t want her to look back and regret not having achieved more or regret giving up piano. Although these were real concerns, he failed to see an alternative possibility: she may look back and regret ever having played the piano due to pressure to continue to ‘do well’. In the course of this conversation he also admitted that he wished he had played the piano himself.
Are you signing your child up for lessons because you think it will benefit them or because of your unfulfilled desire to learn an instrument? Although most children will respond to music favourably, it is important not to mistake this as wanting to learn an instrument. Of course, music lessons may unlock a curiosity your child may never have expressed before for music, and many children may fall completely in love with an instrument because of having lessons. If you are reading this and are unsure whether you should sign your child up for lessons, ask yourself the following questions:
- has your child shown an interest in music?
- has your child asked to learn an instrument?
Remember, your child can still partake in music without signing up to formal lessons. In some cases, there are plenty of opportunities for music-making in local communities and in primary and secondary schools. There are pre-instrumental music groups run in private music schools to introduce children to music in a holistic manner, not forgetting Music Generation, a national programme that aims to offer as many children as possible an opportunity to engage with music-making. How your child responds to music in these contexts may be an indicator as to whether they would like to pursue it further.
What do you expect your child to gain from music lessons?
When I take on a new student, I ask either them or their parents (depending on the student’s age) about their expectations for the lessons. What frequently emerges from these conversations is a mismatch between what is expected, what is feasible, and what is required to achieve aspirational goals. It is important for both parties involved to have a conversation about expectations in order to avoid any confusion or frustration down the road. Beyond learning a musical instrument, ask yourself what you want your child to gain:
- Are you expecting music to help your child perform better in school?
- Do you expect your child to do graded exams?
- Do you expect your child to progress quickly?
- Do you expect your child to want to practise?
- Do you expect your child to have to practise?
- Do you expect lessons just to be fun?
When you have established your expectations, speak to the teacher to see if they are feasible, and if so, to learn about their approach and potential time-frame to reach goals. But remember, establishing expectations and meeting them are two different things. Check back on 25 September for part 2.