Helping your child hit the high notes
Education is about more than reading, writing and arithmetic. Music lessons are a valuable form of enrichment for young minds. Learning to play an instrument has several long-term benefits. The first is obvious: If your child sticks with the lessons long enough, he or she will gain the ability to make music, both for his or her own enjoyment and for that of others. But even if your child never masters an instrument, any lessons taken will not be wasted. Your child will still learn some basic music theory and history that will deepen his or her appreciation of music for the rest of his or her life.
There are indirect benefits to musical education, as well. Many instruments, such as piano or flute, help to develop manual dexterity. The regular practice necessary to learn an instrument teaches discipline and commitment. Performing in recitals can build self-confidence. If your child joins a band or orchestra, he or she will learn teamwork and cooperation. Furthermore, some studies have even shown that music lessons can lead to an increase in children's IQ scores and school performance. So, even if your son or daughter isn't the next Mozart or Madonna, musical education is rarely a waste.
Choosing an Instrument
There are so many musical instruments to choose from. Your choice will depend partly on your child's preference, but also on your budget and noise tolerance. Here are some quick pros and cons of popular instruments:
- Piano: This is an expensive instrument, starting at around $3,000 for a small upright, and it will need regular professional tuning. On the other hand, it is the best solo instrument, and it is relatively pleasant to listen to, even in beginner hands.
- Keyboard: An electronic keyboard is not just a cheaper and more portable piano substitute. It requires a different touch, and the skills will not necessarily transfer. A basic keyboard can cost as little as $150. For the serious electronic musician, models costing up to $2,500 allow endless creativity – your child might compose the next hit album from his or her bedroom!
- Violin: A good student violin costs around $650. There are cheaper violins available, but they are generally of such poor quality that they are not worth it. A violin is portable and does not take up an entire room of your house. It can be played solo or as part of an orchestra. However, be prepared to plug your ears at first – there will be screeches until your young musician masters the bow.
- Cello: A cello is bigger than a violin, and costs correspondingly more. When played well, though, it is one of the most beautiful-sounding instruments.
- Guitar: This may be the most useful instrument for the average person to learn. Not everyone joins an orchestra, and a piano is not always available, but you can bring your guitar with you to parties, campouts, the beach - you name it. Guitars also have that rock-and-roll cool factor that no other instrument has. A decent acoustic guitar starts at $150, and the price goes up from there. An electric guitar or bass guitar costs about the same, but you will also need an amp and some other accessories.
- Drums: The drums may just be cooler than a guitar. They really need to be part of a band, though. They also take up a lot of space and they're LOUD, LOUD, LOUD.
- Flute: A flute is very small – it can fit in your child's backpack. It's not likely to be too loud, although you might find it shrill. A starter flute costs around $400.
- Bagpipes: If you have Scottish heritage or are looking for something unusual, you might consider bagpipes. Be warned – a full set of pipes can cost upwards of $1,500. If your child is serious about it, though, there is always a demand for pipers at weddings and other events.
- Voice: Don't forget the cheapest, most portable instrument of all! If your child has a good voice, singing lessons may be the ideal option.
Choosing an Instructor
Music teachers advertise in the phone book, at music stores and through community music centers. Guitar lessons and drum lessons are very often offered through the store where you bought your instrument. The best way to find an instructor, though, is through word of mouth.
Ask around to find a good teacher who offers the style of lessons you prefer. Especially in the case of piano and violin, there are many different methods and philosophies of teaching music. Piano lessons are usually given in the instructor's home or at a music school, although some teachers offer the convenience of coming to your home once a week. Your child can take private violin lessons or enroll in a violin class with several other students. The latter option may be cheaper.
Online music lessons may be cheaper still – in fact, many are free. A young child will need help interpreting these lessons, though, and unless you are musical yourself, you may not feel up to the task. In the end, nothing beats having a professional coaching your child in person.
Starting your child in music lessons is not a passing whim. It requires a large financial investment, and a commitment to daily practice which you, the parent, will need to enforce. If you can muster the time and money, however, your child will reap the rewards.