It's an essential rite of passage in many families — the first music lesson. Studying music comes with a host of benefits for your kid, from improved fine motor skills to a longer attention span, to increased verbal and spatial skills. However, for parents who don't come from a musical background, helping a child achieve success is a daunting task. Before you take your child to her first lesson, here are five essential steps to prepare for the big day.
1. Find the perfect teacher
While it's tempting to go with the closest of the cheapest option for a teacher, your child's music instructor is about to become a huge part of your child's life. The relationship between a student and a teacher lasts for years, sometimes even decades, and that person is partly responsible for teaching your child responsibility and the value of hard work. This is not a time where you can skip the due diligence.
Find a teacher who's great with kids. Remember that not all great musicians are great teachers, and look for someone who can balance teaching technique with using developmentally appropriate methods. On the practical side, you also need someone who is consistent, reliable and organized. Get multiple recommendations from friends and ask for a trial lesson to decide if the personalities are compatible.
2. Gather materials
Obviously, you'll need an instrument for your child to play. Once again, this is not the area where you should scrimp. A huge part of learning an instrument is learning about proper tone, and your child won't have success with a sub-par instrument. That doesn't mean you have to go out and buy the most expensive instrument available, and it also doesn't mean your child can't study music if you have a modest income. Rather, have your teacher help you choose the best option in your price range.
Whatever you do, don't rely on the salespeople at the music store to find you a good deal. Many of them work on commission, and you need an impartial person on your side. Get instrument recommendations from your child's teacher or a professional performer on that instrument. They often have the best connection for finding deals.
You'll also need all the accessories and books necessary to start lessons. Get a detailed list from your student's teacher before the first day. If you come to your first lesson without books, it's a waste of the teacher's time and your money.
Starting an instrument is hard, and many kids quit within the first six months. Kids need some inspiration to get them through that hard first year. If you haven't already, buy some CDs that feature your child's instrument, and play them often. Make sure your child knows what good playing sounds like, and get him excited to learn.
Ideally, you should also take your kid to a live performance. There are so many awesome options for seeing a show, whether that's a professional symphony, a jazz review, a professional recital or the guitar player at a local coffee shop. Let your child see real musicians doing what they do best.
4. Have the etiquette talk
Kids need to know how to behave at lessons, especially if the lessons are happening in someone else's home. Teach your kids to remove their shoes when entering someone's house, and talk about respecting other's belongings. It's a logistical challenge welcoming 10-30 kids into your home or studio each week, so kids need coaching on how to behave respectfully.
Also, there are some music specific etiquette tips your child needs to pick up. It's rude to play an instrument while the teacher is talking or to pound on piano keys in frustration. Also, instruments always need to be treated with the utmost care. For example, teach your kids to never, ever set food or drink on a piano.
5. Pick the perfect time
Before you commit to lessons, pick a time that works for your family regularly. Music teachers make childcare and studio rental arrangements based on agreed lesson times so prepare yourself to pay for lessons you miss or cancel. Your child's teacher wants to help him learn, but this is also a business. Your teacher's livelihood depends on your consistency. Don't schedule a time that may become problematic. When it is your lesson time, come exactly on time. If you're too early, you'll disrupt a lesson in progress.
It takes some time to learn the culture of music, but you'll pick it up quickly. Most importantly, come to the teacher with any questions or concerns. Communication is the key to a great working relationship, and they are there to help.