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Music For Kids By Kids
Chapter 1.9: Supporting the Student: Making Music Part of Your Life


In my thirty years of teaching experience, I have come to realize that there is a huge amount of raw musical talent and passion in young children. There are a lot of potential Mozarts out there. But without a nurturing and stimulating environment, they gradually disappear.

Most parents have a sincere desire to provide their children with opportunities that will help them grow into adults with rich and fulfilling lives. However, the lack of social support structures in our culture places a huge emotional and practical burden on everyone. For those who would like their children to develop skills in the performing arts, the low priority arts education is given in the schools and community presents an additional roadblock.

Parents who understand the rewards of learning to play an instrument, (often because they did so themselves as children), and want to cultivate this pursuit in their children need to fully understand and appreciate their role. Private lessons, though the core, are not enough in themselves to keep a child going strong.

The following guidelines show how to positively support your childs interest in music so that both immediate and long-term rewards can be achieved:

DO:

Provide a quiet, undisturbed time for your child to make music on a daily basis.

Keep the piano clean and provide good lighting.

Be there. Spend time listening attentively and appreciatively to your child play and be available to assist them. In many homes, the piano is in the least inhabited part of the house the living room. Young children especially are not inclined to want to go into a big empty room to attempt a difficult task by themselves (especially after they have been apart from their families all day in school). While it is desirable to have a quiet undisturbed space for music-making, children need support and company. Either actively helping them at the instrument, or simply listening attentively, or being in the same room (perhaps doing other tasks like reading or making out the grocery list) is usually necessary for the first year or two. Understand that learning a musical instrument is as complex a skill as reading, writing or math and compare how much time and effort you and others are investing in helping the child learn these skills. Though every child holds a unique place on continuum of independence, self-motivation, learning skills, and innate musical ability, each needs some level and kind of daily support from the parents to make it work. Parents who play the piano can participate directly in the music making process by playing duets with the student (there are a number of easy duet books). Or learn along with the child ask him/her to teach you how to play a piece, or take lessons yourself. Ultimately, music is a experience meant to be shared.

Make sure that the child has free time each day in addition to school, homework, sports and other activities. Children need down time to relax, to veg out, play with friends, or to do whatever they want to do for a period of time daily in order to recharge their batteries and keep their own spirits fed and alive. Over-scheduling can be a serious problem and precludes music study, which takes focus and concentration. Dont expect your child to want to spend time at the piano after all day at school, followed by a soccer game and two hours of homework. It is too much to ask. If a private school is appropriate, consider one in which the homework load is minimal. Or consider home schooling. Many times, I have seen the homework load encroach dramatically on a childs creativity and intellectual energy over the years.

Encourage creativity and self-direction in all areas of study and relationships. Kids are often underestimated by adults. They typically enjoy being given the responsibility of joining in on decisions and if treated with respect and high expectations, will respond accordingly. Kids who are raised to be self-motivated have a big advantage when it comes to learning a musical instrument.

Treat the child with respect. Treat your child as you would a friend and equal as much as possible. Nagging, guilt tipping, reprimands (especially in front of the teacher or friends), should be avoided around the issue of music making.

Take musical field trips. Attend age-appropriate concerts, musical theatre productions, dance and ballet productions. Often symphony orchestras will conduct special events for children. Consider the childs interest and attention span and avoid events that go late into the evening with younger children.

Listen to music. Play recordings of your own favorite music and explore new kinds of music with your child jazz, blues, world music, country music, folk music, opera, popular music. Follow your own passions rather than doing this as an exercise. Ask direction from friends who have a real passion for music and do a lot of listening, or who have found things that work well for their kids.

Expand the childs musical endeavors. Community or school choruses, dance classes, youth orchestras, provide a social context for enjoying and learning more about music and typically enhance progress at the piano.

Involve the whole family. Music is ultimately a social experience involving interaction. If there no significant musical life shared with parents and other family members or peers, there is not enough support.

Explore music history and cultural traditions. Supplement lessons with additional musical educational resources dramatizations of composers lives are available on video tape and cassette; picture books of musical traditions around the world are available at the library; there have been many great movies focusing on the musical cultures of other countries; check out online resources.

Encourage performance at home. Ask your child to perform for you and other family members regularly and often during the week. Doing mini concerts for family and provides enjoyment and incentive. The program could consist of several pieces s/he knows well or simply a section of a new piece. No matter how minimal the show, a frequent and appreciative audience gives tremendous energy and motivation to the student. Never push, however. Kids tend to be shy in front of people they dont know. Let them volunteer to play. Dont bring it up in front of someone new and then have it become an awkward moment.

Encourage performance in the community. Be alert to and take advantage of performance opportunities for your child at school, for friends and in the community. For the more formal situations (talent shows at school, music theater productions), help them prepare thoroughly for it, but let them know that you will be happy as long as they are do their best. Dont project a lot of nervousness around their playing something perfectly in front of a lot of people you may or may not know. The real goal of performance is to share the special language of music and to have fun doing it. Pieces should be rehearsed well, but everyone makes mistakes, even the greats. The important thing is to teach the child to focus on the music and its expression and not on avoiding mistakes. Parents should always praise the student after a performance even one full of hesitation and mistakes. A sincere in his effort is always commendable.

Organize Piano Parties. Students need to connect musically to family and friends for it to become a relevant and rewarding part of their lives. They need to know that someone is listening, enjoying, caring, cheering them on. A yearly recital, typical with most teachers, is not nearly enough activity to fill this need, and it's a bit too formal for me. For a relatively small investment of time, the rewards with more intimate and frequent musical gatherings are high.

In order to inspire my students to spend more time at the piano, to give them performance skills and experience, and to give them positive feedback, I encourage each family to participate in a program I call "Piano Parties". Schedule an intimate gathering every few weeks consisting of a few of the childs friends who play and their families. Anyone who wants to, and is prepared, could perform one or several pieces (including parents and siblings). Any musical instrument (including voice) is appropriate. Think about friends from school, the neighborhood, etc., that you would enjoy seeing regularly. Performances should be first on the agenda, followed by optional refreshments and playtime. With 4-8 performers, say, the whole event could easily take less than an hour, including refreshments. A quiet, respectful listening time free of distractions is necessary during performances. Very small children should be elsewhere. Piano parties are highly motivating. If you have a child who loves music but whose interest is waning, try scheduling a few of these gatherings and watch the interest level zoom.

Parents need to support performance without ever forcing the issue. Children vary wildly in their enthusiasm and confidence and their comfort level has to be completely respected. If it is, those who are shy will gradually loosen up and discover the joys of sharing music. (All too often, relatively accomplished adults will come to me for lessons. They may have become quite proficient on the piano by their high school years, then left formal training to have a family or pursue a career, but still kept playing on their own. Invariably, however, even these individuals who exhibit a lot of skill and musicianship, are terrified of performing, and often only their immediate family has ever even heard them play. This is such a heartbreaking waste). Music not shared, is not fully realized.

Approach music as play. Keep things upbeat, fun and positive.

Guidebook for Parents and Teachers