The following tips and advice has been prepared by John Bassett.
John has worked professionally with children & music for over thirty-five years. He is a competent musician and has written many children’s songs and directed & produced children’s music-based programmes for television. John began playing at the age of seven and has performed around the World including at London’s famous Royal Albert Hall.
"Parents, who have a limited knowledge of understanding music, may feel somewhat helpless when seeing their child show serious interest in such an exciting and rewarding subject. I hope this practical advice gives both peace of mind and enjoyment for those helping the young, would-be musicians through the early stages of understanding music."
- John Bassett
How can I help the child start to play music?
Enjoy finding out together and encourage the child to explore musical instruments through books, music and the internet. If the child is curious and interested in any form of music; such as singing, pop groups, school orchestra or band, the piano in the classroom or simply talking about music with friends in the playground, now’s the chance to help develop the interest.
What instrument should I choose?
Musical instruments come in all shapes, sizes and sounds. In the early days of a child’s interest, you may find it easier to select the instrument together with the child. This is a very experimental stage for all. The important point is to budget for purchasing the tutor and accessories at the same time as the instrument. Buying an instrument on its own may be exciting, but without professional guidance from a book/CD/DVD and suitable accessories, the young would-be musician might be disillusioned and uninterested after five minutes of simply trying to only play sounds.
Which tutorial should I purchase?
Music For Kids™ has carefully selected instruction books and tutorials that are simple and clear to understand from the start. The books and DVDs are also chosen to be ‘parent-friendly’, especially for those supportive parents who are perhaps, non-musical but want to help with progress when at all possible. Tutorials don’t have to be in book form. A child may be happier watching a DVD or listening to an accompanying CD.
At what age should the child start playing?
There is no set rule for this. A child may begin (in their own way) at one or two years of age or pick up a clarinet or guitar when they are in their teens…or even later. The unwritten rule is ‘the time to start playing music is whenever the child is ready’. Certain ages and body development dictate certain instruments. Some instruments are simply too large or too heavy to hold. Music For Kids™ has selected instruments with this in mind. It is always advisable to read the details about the instrument before deciding the purchase.
What should I bear in mind when I buy an instrument?
Although the child’s interest in a certain type of instrument is very important, it is possibly not the controlling factor in the early days. The player first needs to build confidence with playing and understanding music. Sometimes, instruments that are more difficult to play at the outset can become a barrier for what should be an enjoyable experience when learning music. If a child wants to play drums, perhaps start them off with simple percussion such as a tambourine, or a percussion kit and watch and hear them play along to the rhythm of a song. If a child likes the saxophone, perhaps start by playing the recorder and reading music, the transfer to another fingered woodwind instrument becomes much easier. Understanding the strings and frets on a ukulele might be the start to competently playing a stringed instrument such as a violin or cello in an orchestra.
Can I encourage my child to play music?
Encouraging a natural interest in music can help build confidence and self-esteem in the young would-be musician. More so, than the pressure of ‘got to play music’ coming at the child from others. As we all know, patience is a virtue and helping and encouraging a young person’s interest in music at the right time surely must be in the best interest of the child.
What if the child can't play the instrument at all?
If the child is disappointed or disillusioned by the progress made with the choice of musical instrument, maybe try another? Sometimes, even for professional musicians, a player may excel with playing a certain instrument but strangely find another instrument type more restricting or simply difficult to master. It’s paramount that the child has an understanding of music whilst trying to learn the instrument. Music is virtually the same for all musical instruments, the skill of reading and understanding music can be seamlessly transferred to another instrument. However, percussion music is another subject!
Are there instruments that stay in tune?
Yes. Musical instruments that don’t rely on stretching a membrane to create a sound (recorders/most other woodwind/brass/most tuned percussion) can remain in tune, once tuned. Those with strings or skins (guitars/ukuleles/violins/cellos/timpani/drums/banjos/ etc.) rely on being tuned before playing.
This is not a problem. There are many manual or digital tuning (electric) devices such as pitch pipes (blowing) or tuning forks that can help music-makers begin their musical session in tune. Most instruments that need tuning have some device available or recommended for tuning.
What should I do if we break the instrument?
Musical instruments are generally built to withstand manual handling, even by little hands, but some are more delicate than others due to their historic construction and necessary design. Treating an object, in this case a musical instrument, with respect is part of the journey of growing up. There is an old music saying… "A musical instrument that is carefully looked after, will look after the player". However, if you do accidentally break the instrument it will be best to contact a repair specialist. Most musical instruments are specially built and trying to repair them at home may cause more damage and may cause further repair. Why not look for a specialist repair shop using various internet or book directories, or visit your local Musicroom store.
How can I help the child learning to play? (I’m a musician)
When anybody, especially a child, starts to learn music it can be very frustrating to watch by a competent musician. Why not join in? Sometimes it can be fun just reminiscing over the simple notes and terms. It may bring back great memories of those early days of learning music. Whilst it is always an advantage to clearly and correctly play the exercise to the child, it’s usually better to keep within the confines of the child’s learning ability. A learner may get easily disheartened if it sees and hears great things from a competent musician. Its always good to hear the end result, but if one hears it too soon, it can be somewhat destructive to the confidence of the learner... Aspiration not desperation! Saying all that, everybody is different…
How can I help the child learning to play? (I’m NOT a musician)
Being a musician and helping a child learn to play is obviously an advantage but not a necessity. Music For Kids™ has been very careful in selecting tutorials, be they books, accompanying CDs or DVDs, which are easy to follow or can easily be used to dip in and out by the helpful parent. Its always advisable to try to stay one page ahead, perhaps by reading or looking over the next page or two whilst the child is sleeping. If the child needs help to progress but cannot understand or comprehend the instruction, it might be helpful to sit down with them and go through the puzzling page. Not only does it re-assure the child by your presence but it helps you to understand the child’s learning capability.
What if the child loses interest in playing music?
There are many peaks and troughs in most learning experiences. Some days, things are exciting and time seems to pass quickly. Some days, things seem a real slow chore. This is because progressive practice and understanding seems to come in waves. One needs to be aware of simple distractions, especially on those difficult days. Distraction can be things such as sibling or friend/s interrupting and various distracting ambience, such as vacuum cleaning or noisy games, both electronic and natural. The important thing is to not try to force the would-be musician back to the music stand. Simply make practice undisturbed by controlling these unwanted distractions and encouraging the return to the instrument and music when the child is ready… not when you want the child to continue.
Is the musical instrument covered by my house insurance?
This can vary from policy to policy. Some policies ask the policyholder to list any items over a certain amount of money. It is advisable to keep the receipt anyway. You may need this for the guarantee or something. It may be worth contacting your insurance company or broker.
Is the musical instrument covered by insurance whilst locked in the car?
The answer is similar to that regarding the house insurance. Because many policies vary regarding individual items, it may be worth contacting your insurance company or broker.
When will I know if the child has ‘grown out’ of the instrument?
This is something that just happens naturally. When a child completes a learning programme or naturally exceeds the playing level, the now ‘junior player’ becomes restless and wants to experiment further or move on to the next stage. This implies that the musical instrument is probably sufficient at the moment, but the child needs more stimulation from developing the playing or learning more music. This sometimes shows the natural talent or gift that the child has towards music. But… be aware, a new musical instrument might be needed soon.
How can I sell the instrument when I need to purchase another?
If you feel the child is ready to ‘move on’ regarding the instrument, perhaps now is the time to consider other instruments. Although entry-level musical instruments are a good, economical starting point for any would-be musician, the child may now be ready to make that step to a better instrument or perhaps another similar instrument in the instrument family or something completely different. Quite often, more expensive instruments are manufactured to a higher quality and this will reflect in the purchase price. To raise funds for a newer instrument, it might be a good idea to either sell the first instrument in the local newspaper (perhaps the child can give the new potential owner a demonstration by playing a tune). Internet auctioning sites are also used to raise funds. However, if one can afford it, there’s nothing better than passing it on to a member of family or a friend. Remember…one person's discarded instrument is another’s first!
For how long should a child practice?
Everybody is different and has different learning speeds. Practicing regularly can only help one achieve a goal or target of some description. Regular to some can mean once a week and to others, once a day. Let the child play at whatever he/she sees as regular. Just make sure that the environment is regularly acceptable (without distractions) for practice time. The most important key is to keep a regular slot available for practice time. Unexpected outings and house visits upsets the flow and makes ‘informal concentration’ very difficult for the would-be musician.
What if a sibling or child’s friend/s play the instrument better and learns quicker?
This is a true example of everybody is different.
A friend or sibling of the student may seem to ‘pick up’ music with ease. Learning is very individual and each individual has their own way of learning. Turn what seems like a negative experience into a positive opportunity. Encourage the would-be friend or sibling to learn as well and start to form a mini band. Both will then gain from the musical experience and its far easier learning music with friends or family through having fun whilst playing together.