The school years are a great opportunity to enjoy playing a musical instrument. To get the most out of it, your child will benefit from your support. But do you know what you’re in for? I’ve divided up our experiences into six stages, to look at more closely.
1. School Recorder or Ukelele
Although the ukelele is becoming more popular it’s still common for primary children to learn recorder in groups. It makes a fantastic squeak when you blow too hard on it. The novelty will probably wear off – stay hopeful! Mastering “three blind mice” on the recorder can be immensely satisfying for a seven-year old.
Through the school recorder you may learn whether your child has an interest in playing music. Also you may discover if s/he is ready to start formal lessons.
2. New Learner – Supporting a Practice Habit
Seven is a pretty good age to start a first instrument but even twelve years old is not too late. Of course there is no rule. If you are 82 and want to start learning then I wouldn’t tell you it’s a mistake. Remember the journey is more important than the result. This is never more true than with learning to play music.
In the early days my children would often practice at the kitchen table while I cooked tea. To learn a piece they need to segment and blend, just like learning to read, but they don’t really want to bother. With help they learned how to practice effectively. Three practices a week is pretty good going, but more is needed for exam work.
3. First musical instrument exams
Music exams are pretty intimidating because the candidate performs solo to a stranger in an unfamiliar room. However there’s a good chance that it might just wash over your younger child. The feeling of pressure didn’t really mount up for my kids until they were much older. I remember saying to Fizz when she was nine “just show the examiner how much you enjoy playing the flute” and she really took it to heart.
4. Orchestras and ensembles
Joining an orchestra does help their learning and it’s a relaxed way to try being part of a bigger sound. Some primary schools have an ensemble and it’s pretty standard at secondary school. It’s common for local Councils to run Saturday morning orchestras. If your child is learning piano, they could join in a beginners percussion section, perhaps.
My children have both gone through a stage of not wanting to go to their usual orchestra. I have let them each have a year off because they found the music was too hard. It was killing their confidence. I just made sure they understood that I wanted them to try it again after a year, and not to see it as giving up orchestra forever.
5. Changing schools and teachers
Moving up to secondary school may mean changing instrument teachers. Find out the year before what other parents think of the music teaching at the new school. Have questions ready for the open day. Get a back-up plan by looking for a private teacher too. If your child seems truly gifted at music this might be a good time to add in a second musical instrument, especially piano which will help them with theory and composing.
6. Teens – taking off or winding down
Through the teenage years super opportunities like foreign orchestra tours may come along. Sometimes there are grants for low income families to be included in this.
As the homework pressure increases, try not to wrangle with your teen over music practice. Yes they need to do some, but unless you’re raising a future full-time musician then their regular schoolwork is more important. It’s really easy to fall in the trap of asking about music practice but never asking about English homework. It totally gives the wrong impression of your priorities.
Teenage angst can make music exams feel unbearable and perhaps your child will want to stop taking them. Don’t drown the enjoyment with stress. If s/he can keep going though, they do count for UCAS points.
If your teen is really going places in music then be prepared to use your weekends to drive them to auditions for chamber orchestras, music colleges or rock bands. Anything could happen!
Have your children been learning an instrument? What has it been like? Add a comment below.
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