Learning an instrument is the start of an adventure that can last a lifetime. It can be the source of incomparable joy, the doorway to lasting friendships, and an unbeatable means of personal satisfaction once mastered.
But learning an instrument can also be frustrating at the beginning, filled with seemingly impossible challenges and self-doubt. As the parent or caregiver of an aspiring musician, what can you do to help them through the initial teething troubles and into a love of a musical instrument that will never leave them?
Martin Buzacott shares the best advice from ABC Classic audiences who’ve been there before.
1. Be encouraging and patient
Step one in any child’s musical development comes with your unconditional support and encouragement. So, park the one-liners about buying earplugs and bribing the neighbors. You are their first and most important audience, so play nicely, even when they don’t.
- “It’s supposed to sound awful. Be patient.” Jenn
- “Lots of positive reinforcement. No negativity. Sit and listen.” Carolyn
- “Always find something to praise, even if it’s how they hold the instrument or put it away properly.” Anonymous
- “Don’t try to correct them. Encourage them. NEVER complain or nag about practice. Create an environment where learning is safe and encouraged.” MJ
2. Create a regular practice routine
- “Ten minutes of mindful practice is better than 30 minutes of mindless playing-through.” Honoria
- “Practice a little, often.” Mike
- “I used to get out of doing the dishes in order to practice my music. Good deal!” Diane
3. Choose instruments wisely
There are some practicalities to think about when a child is learning a new instrument. If you have a small car, you might be best to steer clear of the double-bass or harp. Living in an apartment? Maybe not the drums.
Aside from questions of practicality, find the instrument that inspires your child. Even if they choose something other than your instrument, or what you want them to play, they will stick with it longer (and you might be well on your way to forming a family band!)
Also remember, sometimes things don’t work out the first time. Legendary violinist Pinchas Zukerman started out as a clarinetist. Iconic clarinetist Sabine Meyer did the opposite. She started out as a violinist!
- “Try to choose an instrument that they are actually interested in, so you don’t have to hound them to practice.” Sarah
- “Don’t buy an expensive instrument, but don’t settle or cheap and horrible either … Poor-quality instruments are off-putting because they will continue to sound horrid no matter how much a child practices.” Marie
4. Get them to play with others
Music is a social activity. Regular solo practice is important (see tip # 2!), but the real business happens when we get together and play. When kids play with others, they’re communicating, socializing, and learning from the people around them. It’s a Utopian ideal really.
There’s nothing like peer pressure to make you want to work hard and improve. And the best bit? It will teach them to listen.
- “Get them into a band/group/orchestra. Music is a fun social activity.” The Australian World Orchestra
- “Playing in a band is great for developing friendship, telepathy and keeping rhythm.” Neil
- “Music is all about connecting.” Kat
5. Make it fun
Encourage hilarity and irreverence and find a teacher who makes it fun. Most do, which is why Australian music-teaching standards are among the best in the world. Devise a music routine that can help lift little one’s moods.
- “Go down to the backyard and play for the chooks. That’s how I learnt to play the recorder. They were a much more appreciative audience than those in the house.” Ian
- “Make it fun. My sister and daughter would still be playing piano if they’d been allowed to play popular music in addition to classical. Classical-only just wasn’t for them.” Teresa
- “I did classical violin lessons as a kid and they were always such a chore. Then my mother started teaching me Australian fiddle and it became so much more enjoyable.” Ben
6. Be a musical role model
- “Learn with them. Get them to teach you what they learnt in their class or rehearsal.” Marian
- “Try it for yourself to experience how hard it is.” Lizzie
- “When at home, play music that includes their instrument so they can hear the possibilities. Play classical, jazz, bluegrass — anything that includes their instrument.” Elizabeth
- “Show interest in what they are learning by asking them about the new piece they just started, ask what things on the sheet music mean — give your child the chance to be ‘the teacher’, to help consolidate their knowledge and to show you care.” Jessica
- “Give your child every opportunity to love and learn music. But don’t expect them to love it in the same way you do, and certainly don’t try to succeed vicariously through them.” Zoltan