Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Signing Your Child up for Music and Dance Lessons

This is the time of year when many parents consider signing their children up for lessons:  music, dance, karate, art, the list goes on and on.  I'd like to offer a few helpful hints for those of you considering music or dance lessons for your child.

1.  Do your research!  Just because someone "hangs out a shingle" to advertise that they give lessons doesn't mean they are truly qualified.  Ask about the teacher's background.  Does he or she have a degree in music or dance?  Are they certified by any professional organizations?  Do they, themselves, perform?  Be sure they can give you some sort of credentials.  We made this mistake with our daughter's first dance teacher.  She was the owner and main teacher at her studio.  Our girl took lessons from her for five years before we discovered that the woman's degree was in Business and she had never studied dance beyond high school. By then our daughter was attached to her and it took us five more years until she was mature enough to realize that she'd learned all she could there (and had several years before that!)   When we switched studios we discovered that our daughter did not know any of the proper technique or nomenclature, and she had to work very hard to learn all over again.
2.  Who else teaches at the studio?  If your child is taking more than one dance class they will probably have more than one teacher.  Go to the Open House at the beginning of the year and talk to all the teachers.  Ask them about their backgrounds, and their personal theories about the art. 
3.  Ask the owner of the studio if any of the older students ever teach classes.  This is okay in some cases, but not always.  Make sure you meet EVERYONE who is going to be teaching your child.
4.  Ask for references and call them.  Better yet, ask your friends and acquaintances where their children study.  You'll get a more honest answer than if you get references directly from the teacher.
5.  If your child is taking music lessons, make sure the teacher includes Music Theory as part of every lesson.   The teacher should approach every student as though he or she is going to be the next great musician or composer, and therefore should teach every student music theory!
6.  There are  varying theories about the age at which your child should begin music lessons.  Personally, I don't believe in starting children on any formal training on an instrument until they are at least five years old.  Their motor skills are simply not well-developed enough at that age and it can be very frustrating.  Better to go to "Music Together" type classes with your young children if you want training.  Or just expose them to lots of different types of music at home, in the car, wherever.  Make sure you bounce them on your knee when they are babies, dance with them, and do everything to encourage a development of a sense of rhythm.  This is most important!!
7.  Here I speak only about piano lessons, because it is my area of expertise:  if your child has been taking lessons for a year or two and wants to quit:  DON"T LET HIM OR HER!  They are just reaching the point where things are getting a little bit harder, and maybe the excitement of first being able to play has passed and they might be getting a little bored.  Ask the teacher to work with you to help the child regain interest, perhaps by adding a few popular songs to the repertoire, or playing some musical games as part of the lesson.  But don't let them quit.  This is NOT a decision your child should make.  I know this can be very hard, and you will have to lay down the law and go through tough times when your child doesn't want to practice. They may throw tantrums like my own child did (she went on to be a music major in college).  Don't fall for it.  After all, if they hated school , would you let them quit?  Tell them to ask this question to every grown-up they meet for a week:  "Do you know how to play a musical instrument?"  I guarantee you that most people who don't play an instrument will tell your child that they wish they could!  Some will say, "I took lessons when I was a kid, and then I quit.  I wish I hadn't quit."  No one will EVER say, "Yes, I know how to play an instrument.  I had to practice a lot when I was a kid and it was really hard.  And I'm so sorry I did.  I wish I did not know how to play an instrument."
Now, if your child has been playing for a number of years and is now going into the upper grades in school, and wants to quit, that's another story.  By this time you should know if your child has the talent and passion to pursue music as anything other than a hobby.  If they do, then by all means find a way to let them continue lessons and help them manage their time.  If they are only an average player, and have lost interest in lessons, and have other priorities, then consider letting them quit or just take time off.  If they've studied for six years or so, they have a firm foundation and will be able to play at parties and for their own pleasure for the rest of their lives.
Because I am biased toward the piano, I believe every child who shows any sort of musical talent should have the opportunity to take piano lessons.  Piano lessons provide a base in music education  that will make it easier for the child to then learn other instruments if they wish.  And if your child sings, he or she will never have to look to anyone else for musical accompaniment!  Of course, music lessons help develop skills that translate into other academic areas, especially math.  There is absolutely not one bad thing to say about exposing your child to music lessons.  Start looking for a teacher today!!!