I have often heard from parents that they can’t help their child in music because they are not musical themselves. While I disagree that anyone is “not musical” I will save that argument for another day. What is true is that many parents do not have any previous experience in music study. But that doesn’t mean they cannot help their child succeed. If you are one of those parents or even a parent with some musical experience, here is my guide to helping your child succeed.
Encouragement and Expectations
The easiest and most obvious way to help your child is with encouragement. Learning an instrument is not something that happens overnight. It is a life-long journey that will have its ups and downs. Be there with encouraging words and support during the hard times.
When they first express an interest in music it is your job to make them believe that they can do it. Encourage whatever instrument or style they wish to pursue. Try not to force your own interests or notions of their ability onto them.
Not all encouragement is good, however. Stay away from phrases like “you are so talented” or “you are a natural”. Studies have shown that it is more effective to praise a student’s hard work so that they learn to attribute success with effort instead of some sort of natural ability. All music students will have periods of struggle, the ones that will persevere are the ones that know how to work and put in some effort.
You will also have to manage their expectations, as well as your own. It seems that we live in a culture of instant gratification, but learning an instrument doesn’t work that way. Progress is not always apparent and music study can be a long process. Focus on the little wins that they can build from. Sometimes they will be making large leaps and at other times it will seem like they haven’t improved in many weeks. This is all a normal part of the process. Don’t worry about it, and encourage them to work through it.
Along with moral support, they will also need a little financial support. While music can easily be an extremely expensive hobby, it doesn’t have to be. Good quality instruments can be found at affordable prices with just a little research.
Aside from an instrument here are a few other items that I recommend for my students:
- Lesson Books and Sheet Music
- Chromatic Tuner and Metronome (often found on the same device)
- Music Stand
- Amplifier and cable for electric instruments.
That’s pretty much all the equipment they need to get started.
Your biggest expense, but also the most valuable, will be the cost of music lessons. Prices can vary greatly depending on location and quality. Do your research and find a good music teacher. Investing in lessons from an experienced music teacher is the best way to help your child succeed.
Scheduling and Enabling Practice
Learning to practice and self-discipline is one of the most valuable skills a student will develop through studying music. However, they generally don’t have those skills from the beginning. Even if they understand the need for practice, kids tend to live in the moment and often they don’t want to stop whatever fun thing they are doing to practice.
Here are some ways to encourage practice:
- Schedule their practice sessions. It is best if you can schedule the same time each day, but even if that’s not possible they should know when they are expected to practice ahead of time. Many parents have had success incorporating practice into another established routine such as homework or when they are getting ready for school.
- Have a dedicated practice space. Make practice easy. If the student has a quiet space that they can just sit down and begin without a bunch of set up, they will be more likely to practice. Not all instruments can be left out, but if you can set the instrument up on a stand.
- Keep the distractions at bay. Sometimes you will need to run a little interference. Turn off the screens and any loud devices. If there are other people around try to keep them quiet. I have three kids, so I understand the difficulty in this, but do the best you can. They will find enough distraction on their own without others providing it for them.
- Be forceful. You know your child best, but many kids will need to be forced into practice at some point. I know this frustrates parents but that’s just the truth. Sometimes practice is just work. It’s not always going to be fun, and even when it is kids will need that push to get started. They don’t yet have the self-discipline to practice on their own. Fortunately, this is a skill that is developed over years of music study.
- Reward Practice. Sometimes a little bribe can go a long way! Screen time or other motivators can be used to encourage practice. Once again, you know what will work best for your child.
Practice with them
Even with no prior experience, any parent can actually practice with their child. Start by sitting in on their lessons. A good music teacher will not have a problem with this, and I welcome it. Sitting in during their lesson will help you to understand what they should be working on at home and how they should be doing it. Young children especially will need some guidance during a practice session just to keep them on task. Simply reviewing everything they are supposed to practice can be a huge benefit.
Another thing that parents can help with is learning to read music. And you don’t even need to know how to read yourself! Buy or make some note reading flashcards, and spend 5-minutes of practice quizzing them. This is one of the best practice methods for beginning students.
Sign Up For Your Own Music Lessons
I frequently hear parents lament the fact that they never took music lessons when they were kids. The good news is that it’s never too late to start. Some of my most successful students are adults. By learning alongside your child you can also provide them with extra motivation. It will also give you additional knowledge to further help during their practice.
These are some of the best ways that you can help your child succeed in music. I am sure that you will come up with more as your child progresses. The most important thing is not how you get involved, but that you are involved. My most successful young students are the ones that have the support of their parents. It’s not always easy, but you can certainly do it.