I was asked a while back if I could put together a resource for parents of music students. Parents will sometimes surf by here or contact me looking for advice on how to help their child with music studies. Here are some of my thoughts compiled together, in no particular order.
Encourage, but keep an eye on burnout
Children studying music definitely respond to positive reinforcement. Ask your child to play for you regularly. Ask about how lessons and music classes are going and what music he or she is playing in them. Encourage your child to practice every day, or at least as close to every day as is possible. Conversely, be on the lookout for signs of burnout. Children today seem to be busier than ever with school work, music lessons, rehearsals, dance classes, athletics, and all the other activities parents encourage their children to be a part of. If your goal is to have your child love music and participate in band, be aware that sometimes they may feel burnt out on all the activity and see if they can back off on some for a while. Sometimes when an activity like practicing our instrument becomes a chore we loose the enjoyment we used to get from it.
Try to sign your child up for regular private lessons
There’s almost no replacement for one-on-one private lessons when it comes to success in music. The individualized attention a private instructor can offer will pay off in dividends down the road, as many bad playing habits can not seem to make much of a difference in the short term but are very hard to correct later. Us band directors can only do so much in large ensemble rehearsals when it comes to teaching children to play or sing music.
One trend I’ve noticed is that many students want to take a lesson or three just before a big contest or audition, and then drop the lessons once it has passed. While catching the occasional lesson like this is better than no private lessons at all, it’s not really the best way to prepare. While I’m always happy to help a student prepare for an all-state audition, very often the issues holding a student back are best addressed in exercises or etudes that aren’t going to be asked on the audition or contest. Having a regular meeting with a private instructor is going to mean better overall musicianship and developing the skills and will better prepare the student for learning the contest music.
Listen to “art” music in the home or car with your child and make recordings available
I’ve got nothing against pop, country, rap, etc. In fact, I like to listen to a wide variety of musical genres and feel there’s good (and bad) music in all styles. That said, music is an aural art form and music students who aren’t exposed to the sounds they will be performing will be at a disadvantage when it comes to learning how to play with a characteristic tone and with a stylistic approach. Take the time to put on some music that will broaden your child’s listening skills, with an emphasis on the instrument that your child is studying.
Rent or purchase a decent instrument, make needed repairs quickly
You don’t have to go overboard and buy a top of the line instrument, but your child’s instrument should be in good playing condition and be well put together. If there are dents in a trombone slide, leaky pads on the clarinet, or sticky valves on a trumpet the instrument is going to be harder (or impossible) to play and limit your child’s progress.
If you’re looking for specific brand information I recommend you speak directly with your child’s music teacher. Your child’s teacher will have a good idea of how he or she currently plays and what sort of equipment will be most helpful, as opposed to someone online, who may or may not be as expert as you think.
Many schools have deals with local music stores that offer good quality instruments for rental or purchase and also ensure that your student has all other necessary equipment and books for music classes (e.g., cleaning kits, required music books, etc.). Some music stores also have special deals for students that include repair work and may even pick up and drop off the instrument at your child’s school, saving you the bother of running those errands yourself.
Attend your child’s performances
Performing for people you know who came specifically to hear you is so much more fun than playing for a group of strangers. Of course it can be impossible to get to every single event, but make a serious effort to hear your child perform as much as possible.
Take your child to hear high quality live music
While having good recordings to listen to is invaluable for music students, seeing music performed live offers so much more. Professional performances will be more inspiring and educational than non-professional shows, of course, but don’t dismiss how exciting going to hear a community or school group too. If your child is in middle school, for example, going to hear a high school band perform will show him or her what is possible for slightly older students and what sort of opportunities are available at the high school.
Meet your child’s music teacher(s) and consult with them from time to time
Band and choir directors are busy folks. They often spend the whole school day teaching classes and then go on to run after-school rehearsals until late in the afternoon (or evening). Weekend student performances and contests also often take up a lot of their available time. I’m not pointing this out to discourage you from checking in on your child with them, but instead to help you understand that your child’s music teacher may be too busy to check in with each of their student’s parents individual on a regular basis. Talking with your child’s music teacher will let both your child and the teacher know you care and help communicate important information (e.g., what specific issues your child is struggling/excelling with, what time that next concert’s warm-up will be, what clothes they need to wear, etc.).
Join the band/choir boosters
If you’ve got the time to be active in the schools booster organization join and help out. Band is a very expensive program, requiring instruments and other equipment to be purchased and maintained, obtaining sheet music, hiring support staff, and many other expenses that might not be obvious or covered by school funding. Booster clubs are often the main source of funding for some particular programs (e.g., marching bands) and many times events and activities can’t be done without volunteers to help supervise or take responsibilities for the preparations. The stronger the booster club, the better your child’s experience will be in music.
Can you think of some suggestions I’ve left off of this list? Do you have some specific questions that you’d like to see added? Leave your comments here or drop me an email here.