I am going to give you some tools today to help you give your child one of the best leg-ups you can in life, that is, learning to play a musical instrument. Before we start let’s take a quick look at some of the benefits we have seen so far in a musical education for a young person.

  • Improved math and science scores
  • Improved over all scholastic achievement
  • Better social skills
  • Greater self-confidence
  • Higher I.Q.
  • Greater appreciation for the arts
  • A great stress relieving tool
  • A positive outlet of self-expression

Pretty good stuff, huh. Okay, I might have added one or two new ones we haven’t gone over but these are all bona fide perks. The title of this series is A Great Gift and there is probably no better gift that you can give your child than yourself. We touched on this last post but what are some of the things that we can do as parents to ensure that our child is able to continue and improve in music?

First, don’t sugar coat. I have a little airplane analogy that I give to kids in my own violin shop all about jet planes and burning up a lot of fuel on takeoff. I say that this is a new skill that you will have to learn and it might be hard at first. Your fingers might hurt a little but the more you practice and play the easier it will become and the more enjoyable it is. I think that it is better to prepare them that once the enthusiasm has worn off it will take a little work, but it will be well worth it.

Second, develop a routine for practice and be disciplined in it. Maybe practice everyday is not always practical. I don’t see anything wrong with letting kids have a day off if they are serious the rest of the time but I think that making a routine of when they practice will minimize a lot of whining or sloppy playing because of lack of practice.

Third, take some time to work with them during practice. This is not always easy because of work schedules and other demands on our time but time spent with our children is precious and helping them work through their pieces, which can be daunting at times, is a great investment of our time resources. Why not learn how to play with them? Well, it’s a thought!

Fourth, celebrate the little triumphs. A little cake and ice cream or some other treat or special reward might be called for if they learn a certain pre-determined number of pieces and something a bit more elaborate when they complete a book or nail a major piece of music.

Fifth, have some fun. I tell kids, “don’t tell anybody I told you this but it is okay to make up your own songs and melodies after you have practiced your pieces.” Excuse the double negative but I am not a fan of not allowing children to go beyond the written staff. I think that making up your own melodies brings ownership of the music. This is not to diminish the importance of learning the classics and written music but if we want to emulate the great composers, well, they composed. Also, I am a huge fan of kids learning a little music theory as the go along. Sight reading is important but I believe that, especially for curious children, it is very helpful they begin to learn at an early age why these certain notes sound good when they are played together (chords) and why others don’t (dissonance). A construction worker knows where to put a certain board according to the plan (nothing wrong with that) but a builder or architect knows why it should be there.

Sixth, get into the 21st century. The traditional ways of learning music are good but we can augment their effectiveness with other material to maximize the learning potential of our children. Learning videos either on DVD or online can accelerate learning. There are great resources on CD rom that go along with several of the methods. I know that Suzuki and Essential Elements have them and I think that many of the other methods also have them available. I love the company Harmonic Vision. There award-winning software Music Ace and Music Ace II are outstanding for children from preschool to grade school to be able to learn music while playing video games. It is really good software. Let me know if you have found something else that really works.

Read the latest post of our 5-part series about “Music: A Great Gift for Children.”