5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Lessons

1. HOW YOUNG IS TOO YOUNG - STARTING AT THE RIGHT AGE
Adults can start any instrument at any time. We have taught beginners in their 60’s and 70’s.
For children, starting private lessons at the right age is a key element to the success of their lessons. Some people will tell you “the sooner the better” but this attitude can actually backfire and be a negative. Many parents want their children to start private instruction at 5 years of age or even earlier. Depending on the child, this can be very stressful. Kindergarten is already stressful with new rules, new friends, and new teachers. At a time when children are learning through a brain body connection, having them sit still in a lesson for 30 minutes may not be the best path to take. They are still learning through movement.

If a child is put into lessons too soon, feelings of frustration may make them want to discontinue. Their first private instruction experience is crucial to their continuation and enjoyment of music making! Just waiting a year to begin lessons will bring quicker progress and a much more fun experience. Children who are older than the suggested earliest starting age tend to learn complicated concepts more quickly, progress faster and stick with music lessons longer than their younger counterparts.

0-3 years Mommy/Daddy & Me and Family Music classes are a wonderful way to start. From the moment we are born, synapsis are formed in the brain, that if stimulated, will increase a child’s aptitude for music. If these are not used, they disappear. Singing to/with your child is as important as talking to/with your child.

3 - 4 years Music and Movement. Children love music.  This is a wonderful time to start developing the musician before the formal environment of private lessons.  Children learn by doing.  These group classes teach music fundamentals through the body first.  These are essential for a smooth transition into private lessons. Students obtain a true understanding of steady beat, singing on pitch, rhythm and form.  At this age, private lessons generally do not work as the child has not yet experienced the formal learning environment of kindergarten or school and learns more effectively through games, play and a movement oriented preschool environment.  

5-6 years Music Fundamentals “pick an instrument!”. We have music and movement classes for 5-6 year olds that involve intros to piano and violin as well as reading/writing rhythms, getting to know the staff, musical alphabet, improvisation, composition and important music fundamentals. This ensures a strong and positive transition into the private lesson experience.

Piano/Keyboard-At Bloom we recommend waiting till the age of 6 or at least spring of Kindergarten year.  It's important that children can retain the information and not be learning through rote, but have a true understanding.  Without this, children tend to lose interest within a year of starting.  Even the most talented and musical kids can benefit staying in the group class until they've reached this age.  The musician in them will be stronger for it!

Guitar - Acoustic, Electric and Bass-7 or 8 years old is the earliest we recommend for guitar lessons. Guitar playing requires a fair amount of pressure on the fingertips from pressing on the strings. Children under 8 generally have small hands and may find playing uncomfortable. Bass guitar students generally are 10 years old and older.

Ukulele - The are different ways to approach the ukulele.  The soprano ukulele is usually the one everyone wants to play.  If you know you have a budding guitarist on your hands and they're only 6 or 7, they could try the baritone ukulele.  The baritone ukulele uses the same first 4 strings as the guitar so when they make the switch, they don't have to learn completely new fingerings.

Voice Lessons-10 years old is recommended as the youngest age for private vocal lessons. Due to the physical nature of voice lessons (proper breathing techniques, development of the vocal chords and lung capacity), the younger body is generally not yet ready for the rigors of vocal technique. For children younger than 10, we have a chorus that teaches them how to use their voices properly, in a fun, relaxed environment.  We also encourage all of our instrumentalists to sing while playing their instrument.

Drums-The average age of our youngest drum student is 8. This varies greatly depending on the size of the child. They have to be able to reach both the pedals and the cymbals.

Recorder- The recorder can be started in first grade.  Again it's best to have had Music Fundamentals or music classes that stress competencies in pulse, rhythm, pitch, reading and writing rhythms, echoes, and expressing beat in a multitude of ways before entering any private lesson.

Flute, Clarinet & Saxophone-Due to lung capacity (and in the case of the saxophone the size of the instrument), we recommend that most woodwind beginners are 9 and older.

Violin-We accept violin students from the age of 5 (preferably spring of Kinder as the earliest). Some teachers will start children as young as 3, but experience has shown us the most productive learning occurs when the beginner is 5 or older. A 6 year old will learn in a matter of weeks what took the 3-5 year old years to learn.  For the 5-6 year old, we recommend considering our group music fundamentals class that involve intros to piano and violin as well as reading/writing rhythms and important music fundamentals. This ensures a strong and positive transition to the private lesson experience.  Regardless of the exact age of starting, due to the difficulty of just the physical part of playing violin, it's important the student has a strong sense of pulse in a variety of genres of music, echo rhythms properly, sing on pitch, understand the musical alphabet and be able to move up and down and skip around with ease, be able to hear when notes go up/down, fast/slow, high/low - basically all things they learn in our music fundamentals class.

 Trumpet/Trombone-Brass instruments require physical exertion and lung power. 9 years and older is a good time to start the trumpet.

2. INSIST ON PRIVATE LESSONS WHEN LEARNING A SPECIFIC INSTRUMENT
Group classes or lessons should never take the place of private lessons. Once a session of group classes have finished, private lessons should be insisted upon. When a student chooses their favorite instrument to learn, private lessons are far superior to the group experience. Details are harder to miss in private lessons and each student can learn at their own pace. The teacher has the time and focus to work on the individual student’s strengths and weaknesses. For that lesson period, the student is the primary focus of the teacher.

3. TAKE LESSONS IN A PROFESSIONAL TEACHING ENVIRONMENT
Learning music is not just a matter of having a qualified teacher, but also having an environment that is focused on music education. In a professional school environment a student cannot be distracted by t.v., pets, ringing phones, siblings or anything else. With only 1/2 to one hour of lesson time per week, a professional school environment can produce better results since the only focus at that time is learning music. Students in a school environment are also motivated by hearing peers who are at different levels and by being exposed to a variety of musical instruments. In a music school, the lessons are not just a hobby or sideline for the teacher but a responsibility, which is taken very seriously.

A professional school environment also ensures playing or performing opportunities and a chance to hear other students as well. 

4. MAKE PRACTICING EASIER
As with anything, improving in music takes practice. One of the main problems with music lessons is the drudgery of practicing and the fight between parents and students to practice every day. Here are some ways to make practicing easier: Here is a short list of ideas.  For more see our blog post devoted to practicing!

Time-Set the same time every day to practice so it becomes part of a routine or habit. This works particularly well for children. Generally the earlier in the day the practicing can occur, the less reminding is required by parents to get the child to practice.

Repetition-We use this method quite often when setting practice schedules for beginners. For a young child 20 or 30 minutes seems like an eternity. Instead of setting a time frame, we use repetition. For example, practice this piece 4 times every day, and this scale 5 times a day. The child then does not pay attention to the amount of time they are practicing their instrument, but knows if they are on repetition number 3 they are almost finished.

Free Time-Always allow for some free warm up time or just time to explore and fool around on their instrument.  This is the time they get to play what they want how they want.  Many times this "fooling around" time turns into compositions and/or a deeper connection with music and their instrument.  

Rewards-Some families love this, others don't believe in it.  Rewards can work very well for both children and adult students. Some adults reward themselves with a cappuccino after a successful week of practicing or a great lesson. Parents can encourage children to practice by granting them occasional rewards for successful practicing. Encouragement tends to be the most coveted award.  A parent encouraging their child to stick with it when it gets difficult - there just is no substitute for a pat on the back for good hard work. The reality is we all have a week with little or no practicing. During certain times of the year like holidays and big sports seasons it can be an entire month.  This is just part of the hills and valleys of learning this new language called music.  Hang in there!  It always gets better.  

5. USE RECOGNIZED TEACHING MATERIALS
There are some excellent materials developed by professional music educators that are made for students in a variety of situations. For example in piano, there are books for very young beginners, and books for adult students that have never played before. There are books that can start you at a level for which you are comfortable. These materials have been researched and are continually upgraded and improved to make learning easier. These materials ensure that no important part of learning the instrument can inadvertently be left out. If you ever have to move to a different part of the country, qualified teachers and institutions will recognize the materials and be able to smoothly continue from where the previous teacher left off.

Most Importantly . . .

HAVE FUN!! Music should be something that you enjoy for a lifetime. So, try not to put unrealistic expectations on yourself or your children to learn too quickly. Everyone learns at a different pace and the key is to be able to enjoy the journey.