What is the best age to begin lessons?
Children develop so differently that the answer to this question varies as much as children themselves. There's no shortage of material and smaller sized instruments available for young children. Violins and guitars can be found for children as young as 4 years old. Young children (under the age of 7) may enroll in private lessons, and this can be a very rewarding experience, but it does require a greater commitment on the part of the parent to help at home. Once children are age 7 and up, their reading skills and maturity allow for more independence, and they are able to move through material more quickly. While older children will still need practice reminders and some help from parents, it's small by comparison.
What kind of an instrument do I need and where can I find it?
For guitar, violin and woodwinds students: If you don't already have an instrument, talk with your teacher beforehand about size recommendations and other options. Your teacher can make recommendations as to renting or buying new or used.
For piano students: While a piano is the preferred instrument for any student, many students don't have the space and/or finances for a piano. Beginning lessons on a digital piano is fine. When shopping for keyboards, key resistance is more important than the number of keys. Look for keyboards with minimal distractions (pre-programmed songs, rhythms, etc.), weighted keys and the most keys (a full-sized piano has 88, opt for at least 60 keys). If there's an option for a damper pedal, all the better. Keep in mind that you'll also need a stand - as it's important for the instrument to be at the appropriate height for correct technique. If the student continues progressing, it's important to consider upgrading to a regular piano. While many digitals claim to be as good as or superior to a piano, there is no comparison to a student's technical, aural and musical development which can only be fully developed on an acoustic instrument.
How much should my child be practicing?
Outside of the lesson, practice time is the most important part of music study. Enrolling in lessons with little or no practice would be like expecting a child to learn to read with only 30 minutes a week of exposure to written words. Progress simply will not occur. Optimally, students would practice daily, but 4 days a week is a minimum. Younger students with short assignments will only take a maximum of 10-15 minutes a day to cover their material. As students mature and progress, this increases to 20-30 or more minutes per day. If this sounds like a lot - keep in mind that research just revealed that the average 6-11 year old spends 28 hours per week in front of some sort of screen (TV, computer, video games)!
How long will it take my child to learn to play an instrument?
Your child will begin making music right away through playing simple melodies and chords. Compare this to learning to read: the student must sound words out initially, then work on fluency and exposure to more complex vocabulary. Moving from Dr. Seuss to Charles Dickens takes many years. So is the journey from Old MacDonald to Für Elise. To ensure the fastest road there...practice, practice, practice. A student with poor practice habits may take 10 months to work through the same piano book that a well-practicing student completes in 4 -5 months! You can imagine the difference between these students after 2 or 3 years.
Keys to Success
Materials: Make sure your child is well-equipped for each lesson and for practice time at home. Find the right instrument, be sure it's kept in tune and well-maintained. Bring all music and materials to each lesson.
Understand the importance of a music education. Don't expect your child to fall all over you with thanks for giving him or her something you never had and wanted (or had and loved). If you believe exposure to the study of music is part of creating a well-rounded individual, it's a lot easier to repeat the 'you must practice now' mantra.
Support your child's teacher. If you have a question or concern, please contact your teacher for clarification. Refrain from questioning or criticizing any teacher in front of your child. Nothing makes a child less responsive to his or her teacher than a critical parent.
Instill good practice habits early. Find a consistent time in a distraction free place for practice. Try to practice the day of or after your lesson, when new material is fresh. If your child is too taxed from other activites or homework, encourage playing easy favorites or simple scales which demand less concentration. The key is to stick to a schedule, even if doesn't always seem to be productive. Any time with the instrument is building skill technically, if not intellectually.
Create a positive atmosphere. If you want your child to truly enjoy making music, refrain from criticism. Few pieces (even those of professionals) will ever come out perfectly. So this is never the goal of the teacher - nor should it be of the parent. Draw on the positives that you're hearing week to week to encourage your child to feel comfortable making music in front of others, and leave corrections to the teacher.