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Everything you always wanted to know about music lessons. (But didn’t know whom to ask.)

by | January 22nd, 2014

Smart tips for parents by local piano teacher Leila Viss

A funny thing happens on the BackCountry Facebook page community. (Kinda like what happens in our close-knit neighborhood itself.)

Recently, a BackCountry homebuyer requested names of piano teachers, and readers responded with enthusiasm. But the friendly exchange got us to thinking: Maybe parents would like a little more insight into the whole music lesson gig. Below, Leila Viss, (88 Piano Keys) one of the teachers our residents highly recommended, kindly tackles parents’ most common questions. If you have a question for the community, feel free to ask on Facebook!

Musical notes with yellow pencil

Music Lessons 101

By Leila Viss

Is there ever a day that doesn’t include music? Think of the moments that would not be the same without music—in the car, at the fitness club, during worship, at the movies, on the TV, at the big game, and on your smart device. Admit it, imagining life without music would be…unimaginable.

Although not everyone is destined to be a concert artist, every human being can be a music enthusiast. Once one explores making music on an instrument and invests in lessons, an appreciation grows into an admiration for a lifetime. Giving your child or yourself the gift of learning music on any instrument is something to treasure—but finding the right teacher, the right fit to suit your interest level, is not always easy. Below are answers to some of the most common questions posed by parents who want to know more about the process of learning music.

Note: these answers can be applicable to adults looking for a music teacher as well—you are always young enough to learn!

How can I tell when my child is ready for lessons?

You may be unaware of your child’s innate readiness for making music, but there are some signs that should help you make that assessment. Here are specific suggestions that will assist you in embarking on a music teacher hunt:

  • Purchase a keyboard instrument (a portable digital keyboard may do the trick, but plan to upgrade when lessons begin) and let your child explore sound before enrolling in lessons. This will be the best way for you to determine when and if your child is ready to pursue lessons because it provides immediate feedback.
  • Once this exploration begins, notice how your potential musician experiments at the keys. Does he/she play patterns, explore the white keys, blacks, the high notes, the low notes?
  • If the keyboard receives regular visitation, this is strong evidence that your child is ready to engage in lessons.

For more in-depth information about this process, read this post by fellow colleague, friend, composer, and blogger Elissa Milne: 10 Things You Should Do BEFORE Your Child Begins Piano lessons.

How do I know what instrument is right for my child?

Because it just takes a finger to lower a key to create a sound, the piano is the easiest instrument to begin exploring. Therefore, enrolling your child in piano lessons may be a good place to begin his/her music education. Once your budding musician is introduced to other instruments in school around 4th or 5th grade, a shift in interest may occur. This may result in a change of preference for instruments. Don’t ever regret your investment in piano lessons, as this experience serves as an essential stepping stone to the right fit for your music enthusiast.

How do I choose the right teacher?

1) Referrals from friends and acquaintances are your best bet for a good teacher. If they are happy with a teacher, there’s a good chance that you will be as well.

2) Ask to arrange an interview with several teachers and you’ll discover that each owns a unique studio. It’s important for you to determine what your priorities are for your child’s music education. Here are some things to consider when shopping around:

  • Some teachers may excel at preparing students to compete, while others may lean towards a more relaxed approach with few opportunities to compete or perform.
  • While some may remain set in a traditional approach with standard repertoire, others may emphasize lessons in creativity and various styles beyond classical.
  • Group lessons are a popular social setting, and suit those who are still on the fence about studying an instrument. Private lessons usually accommodate schedules more easily and meet your intentions of one-on-one instruction. Many teachers now offer both to add variety and opportunities to meet music-making peers, reinforce concepts with games, refine performance skills and more.
  • Music is meant to be shared, so ask if the teacher offers encouragement and opportunities to perform. Although difficult, performing instills discipline, confidence and good experience for public speaking, and so much more.
  • Teachers usually use a method book or series to teach an instrument. Numerous parents have asked which one I use in the initial interview. Although it may be an appropriate question, I tell all my potential student families that I teach a human being and not a method. Perhaps a better question to ask during your chat with a teacher is: What methods and tools (books, styles of music, technological devices and more) will you use to help my child progress in his/her music skills?

For more tips on interviewing and finding the right music teacher, click here.

How can I be a supportive parent without becoming a “tiger mom/dad”?

Always a good question. Here are a few tips to help you maintain a healthy attitude:

1) Some teachers may require you to be present at lessons to take notes, so consider this as a free lesson yourself and learn right along with your child. You will realize that building musical skills is a long-term process with peaks, valleys, and plateaus.

2) Whether you attend lessons or not, it is important for you to remember that this is your child’s endeavor and not yours. Allow your budding musician to

  • Learn how to learn
  • Read all assignments
  • Take charge and ask the teacher questions themselves when they forget a concept
  • Be responsible for collecting books prior to the lesson, etc.

3) Perhaps THE BEST support you can offer your child is providing and modeling structure.

  • Make daily practicing a priority. Set up a schedule so that it becomes a habit just like brushing teeth.
  • Instead of setting the timer and demanding practice, ensure that the teacher’s instructions are understood and completed during practice time by reviewing the assignment with your musician. The amount of daily time at the instrument may vary, as consistent practice will make the assignment easier to play by the end of the week.
  • Arrive promptly for each lesson and be on time for pick-up.
  • Show teachers the respect they deserve by following all studio policies and submitting timely payments.

Here’s one more article with excellent advice and a lovely perspective on the art of taking instrumental lessons. Again, penned by Elissa Milne.

And here’s brief list of sites to help you find the right teacher for yourself or your child.

Colorado Music Teachers Association

takelessons.com

Casey and Keri Thomas: Voice, Piano, Guitar, Acting

-Leila J Viss

Leila piano teacher

Leila Viss has owned an independent piano studio called 88 Piano Keys for more than 20 years and enjoys teaching students from 5-90 years old. Customizing lessons for each student is a priority and therefore she provides “blended” instruction of Classical, Jazz, and Pop. The ever-changing tools of technology assist her daily teaching. Every student not only has a private lesson but a lab session as well. Lab assignments include activities using the latest music software, MIDI, iPad apps, a Clavinova and more.

Leila is co-founder with Bradley Sowash of 88 Creative Keys, a camp for kids, adults, and teachers. Campers are encouraged to play “off page” and cultivate creativity with master teachers and unique activities on and off the bench.

Viss blogs at 88pianokeys.me, pens a regular column in the nationally-recognized magazine “Clavier Companion” and recently authored and co-published a book The iPad Piano Studio: Keys to Unlocking the Power of Apps. She presents regularly at local, state, and national music teacher conferences.

 

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