Saturday, September 12, 2015

9 Ways to Help Your Child Be Successful On Their Instrument

Messy Messy Fail - So I now have three key chains - one for my house keys, one for my high school keys and one for my new middle school keys (yay for a new classroom room!!!!).  I used to keep all of my work keys on the same key chain but now there are so many, too many for one ring.  You can imagine how many times I've left a set of keys at another location - that would be three times.  Lots of extra traveling looking for keys this week.

Tidy Victory - Just finished going through the UPKer's old clothes to get the 18 month clothes out for the baby whom we will now refer to as the Toddler.  I was worried we wouldn't have enough clothes for the right season - the first was born in the early fall and the other in the spring - but it seems to be working out because the UPKer always wore smaller sizes anyways.  So glad I saved all of it!  I even found a random sock I was missing! :)

It's funny - I am a middle school and high school orchestra director but I have really never posted anything about my area of expertise.

Well folks, that's about to change!

How many of you out there reading this have elementary or middle school students in the process of trying out musical instruments at their schools?

Hopefully it is a hefty number of you.

This opportunity is so AMAZING for you and your child - I really REALLY recommend that you take advantage of your school's music program and have your child START AN INSTRUMENT!

Playing a musical instrument will not only help your child develop physically, emotionally and mentally but will provide the environment to reinforce how structure, persistence and hard work can pay off.

Starting a musical instrument, especially a string instrument, is not about instant gratification but thoughtful practicing, focused study and learning through repetition.

As music teachers, we go through a truly difficult and rigorous undergraduate program in college that produces successful educators with the proper tools to further the music education of your children.  However, we are not necessarily the main factor in how successful your child will be.

Believe it or not parents, you play a MASSIVE role.  And I'm not talking big -  you alone can make or break this experience!

Therefore, I feel that it is not only important to educate the child about how to play their instrument, but also educate the parent on how to be my voice when I am not there in your home.

It is you, parents, who need to offer assistance, guidance, care and concern in my absence.  

So, if you are a parent of a child starting an instrument soon, check out these IMPERATIVE ways to help your child be successful on their musical instrument!

<One> Encourage Your Child to Choose the Best Instrument for Them - Most instrumental teachers will run some type of trial with your child on several instruments to see which is best for them.  Believe it or not certain statures, hand sizes and facial features can really determine how successful your child will perform on particular instruments.  We understand that you may have Aunt Nellie's flute from 1945 ready to go in the attic, but if your son or daughter is having a really difficult time making a sound on the flute head joint, a free instrument will not be worth the stress of having difficulty playing the instrument.  Music teachers will sometimes send home notes with instrument recommendations - ask your child about their experience trying the instruments and trust in what the music teacher suggests.  

<Two> Provide the Ideal Practice Environment - Somewhere that is quiet with good lighting to help your child stay focused is great.  Distractions such as video games or TV are not good.  The garage (unless it is a really NICE garage) typically isn't a desirable place either.  I know, I know - the sounds you hear will not always be the best, but garages are for lawnmowers, not your child trying to practice their oboe.  If parents are concerned about string instrument practicing while little ones are sleeping in the home, practice mutes are available for purchase that really tone down the sound while still giving the child a successful practice experience.

<Three> Provide the Ideal Instrument and Accessories - You want to make sure the instrument you borrow/purchase/rent is in good working condition.  This means it can make a decent quality sound when the child is using the proper technique.  If your child is complaining to you about how the instrument sounds, i.e. strange squeaks, isn't making a sound, chances are there is something wrong.  Garage sales and hand-me-downs can be great, but do make sure you take the instrument to a professional for an overhaul or once-over.  A music stand is also highly recommended to allow your child to place their music at the proper height.  Taping music to the wall will only take the paint off, and placing it on the seat of a nearby chair is just no good for posture.  String students need to make sure they have a good quality bow with HORSE HAIR (please not synthetic hair!) that will tighten properly and a cake of rosin so the hair is able to make the string vibrate.  If you ever have any concerns about your child's instrument, talk to your child's teacher and they will help.

<Four> Provide Consistent and Scheduled Practice Times - Children tend to respond best with a consistent and dependable schedule for practicing.  For example - if you set up a 20 minute practice time every weekday immediately after dinner and STICK WITH IT, your child will come to expect this designated time and respond well to it.  The routine will become automatic (or somewhat, I'm sure you'll have to nag here and there) and with proper practice, your child will start to see consistent progress.  With consistent progress they will hopefully want to CONTINUE to get better, therefore they will CONTINUE to practice at the set schedule.  Their minds will become mentally and physically prepared for the time you set aside, which will mean more thoughtful and successful practicing.  As the student reaches a more advanced playing ability, increase the practice time (which will be necessary with more literature/etudes/scales to practice anyways).  When your child sees you are taking their practicing seriously, they will too.

<Five> Know and Record the Concert Schedule - Your child's music concerts can be compared to the final exam for a class - this is the culminating event for everything they have been learning!  It is vital that your child sees how important the concert is to both them and you by displaying it clearly on family calendars, inviting family and friends to the performance and making sure all are in attendance to support your child.  Check with the teacher that your child has the proper attire for the performance  (there is NOTHING worse than being the only kid with white socks!).  My heart breaks when a student is missing from the performance and I find out the next day that it was due to the parent missing the date, was scheduled to work or "something came up".  Family medical emergencies are completely understandable and excusable.  But your child has worked SO HARD to get to this point in their playing - they want you to see and be a part of their public performance!

<Six> Ask Your Child to Play For You  - No matter how awful or bad your child sounds on their instrument, your approval is one of the driving factors in their success.  Just the mere fact that you even asked to hear them play will be encouraging.  Children are constantly seeking attention and praise from adults, so here is the perfect opportunity.  Even a basic comment like "I really like how you are standing/sitting up so straight" or "You appear to be really focused on what you are playing" can mean the world to a student trying to play Mary Had a Little Lamb.  As a young violinist, I was required to perform something for my family in the living room after every practice session.  I remember playing Lightly Row from Suzuki Book I for violin for three weeks straight, but I received enthusiastic applause from my family every time.  That really felt good.

<Seven> Keep Communication Open with Your Child's Instrumental Teacher - Being your child's music teacher, I need to know how practicing is going at home, what your child is saying about their lessons at school or if they are expressing frustration.  Students will not always be the most honest with me because they don't want to disappoint them, they don't feel like telling the truth, etc.  With correct information from the parent, I can help alleviate any stress, adjust my teaching for the particular needs of your child and make their experience as positive as possible.  I know that we don't always pick the correct first instrument and may need to switch to try something else.  But I don't know if you don't tell me.  Help me help you!

<Eight> Reinforce to Your Child to Complete at Least One Year - When students are faced with a difficult task, it is easiest to just quit.  However, there will be many life experiences where quitting is not an option.  If your child is becoming frustrated on their instrument and voices a desire to give up, PLEASE DON'T GIVE IN!  It truly takes AT LEAST one year to see progress on a string instrument given the nature and multi-tasking abilities required.  I HIGHLY recommend that as the parent, you insist that your child complete one full school year on their instrument.  There is truly nothing worse as a music teacher than getting that dreaded note 10 days before the concert - "Please drop my child from orchestra".  Just like on any sports team, EVERY child plays a vital role and with one missing link, the team is incomplete.  Seating is arranged, programs are painstakingly typed and many lessons are spent preparing the students.  To simply give up at the 11th hour is frustrating and not teaching the correct lesson to the student.  When you start something, you follow through with your commitment.  And that truly applies to any experience in life, not just playing a musical instrument.

<Nine> Always Be Positive and Complimentary - As the instrumental teacher, it is my job to teach your child, critique and make changes to enable success.  I know how to do this in a way that will (hopefully) be beneficial and make your child want to become better.  As the parent, you can reinforce what I've taught with your positive feedback.  "Wow, that sounds like something out of a horror film!" is probably not what your child wants to hear.  You may think you are being funny, but children at this age and starting something new are sensitive and easily embarrassed.  You cannot be too complimentary or encouraging - just don't make your child think they are the next Mozart (he's irreplaceable!).  Try comments like "Thanks for practicing your 20 minutes in your room without me asking you to" or "I can't wait to hear your next concert" can make all the difference in your child's own enthusiasm for their new instrument.  All it takes is a couple encouraging words from someone they really love and trust - you!

As an orchestra teacher, I hope these tips are helpful to you as your child begins navigating their way through this difficult period in education where peers and other influences can mean so much.  Starting a musical instrument can bring confidence and new skills to an otherwise quiet and timid child.  With YOUR help, we can help your child to be successful and experience the wonderful feeling of accomplishing something that can bring such joy and be just plain old fun!

Just because your child does not plan on being a music teacher or musician DOES NOT mean music cannot play a huge role in their life.  Music is a lifelong skill that can continue past school for personal enjoyment - and that's wonderful!  Our goal as music teachers is NOT make everyone want to audition for a professional ensemble but learn how to do something that can bring joy for the rest of their life.

Good luck to all the students and parents on their new instruments this year!

Did you start/play an instrument in elementary or middle school?

What kind of role did your parents play in that experience?

Linking up with......

The Diary of a Real Housewife

Polka-Dotty PlaceMy Pinterventures


Jamie Jeffers said...

My son is beginning band this year. I am a former music teacher myself, and I think you make many excellent points! He keeps picking up his trumpet and blatting away at it and then talking about how he sounds. I constantly remind him that he isn't going to make the best sounds at all for a few months, but he will get better and better the more he practices.

Love My Mess said...

Hi Jamie,

Good luck to your son on the trumpet! How awesome that he has you to help him at home! Keep up the positive talk, but I don't need to tell you that ;) Enjoy the time with your son and thanks for checking out my post!

tara said...

Great tips! Thanks for sharing!

Love My Mess said...

Thanks Tara, have a great rest of your week! :)

Heaven Smiling said...

These are all great tips. As a professional pianist as well as a mom to a harpist, Friday, violinist, and cellist I can identify with these. Consistency, praise, and performance opportunities are what drive my children to do well. Found you on Throwback Thursday. Great post!

Heaven Smiling said...

Sorry. I meant flutist - not Friday! I'll follow you. :-)

Love My Mess said...

Hi Heaven - I TOTALLY knew you meant flutist :) So glad you found me and thanks for reading, sounds like you have quite the musical family! It will be interesting for us soon when we start exploring instruments for the UPKer, but right now he's too completely not careful to start playing on the violin or something :) Have a great weekend!

Giftie Etcetera said...

We are about to start my 10 year old on lessons and I am so excited!

Lux G. said...

I wish I was exposed to music early.
These are fantastic tips for parents and parents-to-be. :)

Love My Mess said...

Giftie Etcetera - I'm so sorry I missed this comment from March - I hope your child's lessons are going well!!!!!! :)

Love My Mess said...

Hi Lux G - thanks for stopping by! I hear that from adults SO OFTEN who did not have an opportunity to try music when they were young. But remember you are NEVER too old to start! :)