Did you see the recent New York Times article about music lessons being key to career success? Although the idea of music lessons brings to mind Tiger Mothers forcing their kids to practice, or teenagers sullenly learning Beethoven when they’d rather be playing the latest pop tune, the truth is that there are as many different ways to do music lessons as there are kids, and that every kid can benefit from the skills they learn by understanding music.
Here are a few of the skills kids learn when they pick up an instrument: discipline, persistence, coordination, creativity, emotional expression, spatial reasoning, and the ability to play both solo and on a team. Unlike sports teams, music isn’t about beating the other guy and only rarely includes competition; instead, it’s about self-mastery, which is one of the most important skills a child can learn.
Here are a few examples of how to get your kids involved in music lessons, using real-life obstacles:
The overscheduled family
It’s no secret that today’s families are overscheduled, with parents acting more like chauffeurs than like heads of the household. If your family is overscheduled, don’t turn your kids’ music lessons into another afternoon spent eating dinner in the car. Instead, get the teacher to come to you. My L.A. family, not wanting to spend another night snarled in traffic, looked for Los Angeles guitar lessons in which the teacher visits our home, not the other way around. Some music teachers even work online, using services like Skype to help your child learn rhythm and fingering.
The tiny apartment
When parents think “music lessons,” they often automatically assume it’s going to be piano lessons. Then they eliminate the possibility because they can’t afford a piano or their apartment is too small.
Our Los Angeles apartment is much too small for a piano. That’s why we picked guitar lessons instead. There’s an instrument for every size apartment, and every cost range. If you or your child are set on piano but don’t have the space, consider a fold-up electronic keyboard that stores in the closet or under the bed when you’re not using it.
The reluctant kid
Nearly all kids love music. Toddlers like to get up and dance, and teenagers spend hours plugged into earbuds listening to popular bands.
If your child is reluctant to start music lessons or to practice weekly assignments, chances are you’ve got the wrong instrument or the wrong type of music. My parents really wanted me to play clarinet, but I didn’t have the breath support and it literally hurt to practice. I did much better with trumpet, which required a different breathing technique.
Many kids vastly prefer playing popular music to the standard Mozart and Schumann handed down by music teachers. This is perfectly fine. Your child will learn exactly the same discipline and self-mastery skills playing Britney Spears’ “Toxic” as she will playing Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turca.”
In short: find an instrument and a type of music that gets your kid excited about daily practice. Some kids really want to play electric guitar and show off for their friends. Others prefer flute so they can feel part of the group in school band. Let your kid lead the way.
The neglected practice
This is the one situation that can’t be easily overcome. If your child doesn’t practice regularly, he or she won’t receive the benefits of music education. Your child needs to be practicing in 20-minute chunks, ideally five nights a week. Make practice just a part of daily life, like homework and watching TV — it’s not a chore, it’s just something you do. Then help your kids adjust their daily routines if practice never seems to fit into the schedule.
Use these tips to make sure your child receives the benefit of music lessons. It provides so many key skills, and helps set your child up for future success in life.