I find myself in a slight predicament this week. My daughter wants to learn an instrument. A violin. The girl would like to learn the violin. We have spent a long time arriving at this decision, talking about different music, styles and interests.
In my time at school, (a long time ago) music lessons were the other. The class tables were shaped in a horse shoe to face our music teacher with an assortment of musical instruments lined up in front of us. Our poor music teacher was a man of musical passion with a class full of students who did not follow his rules or his passion for play. Instead, he faced mockery and ridicule on a weekly basis. I had no violin lessons or even thought to ask if I could.
So, fast forward to the last ten years and I found myself managing a music inclusion service. I went on to work with Wiltshire Music Service and then the MusicHub for Wiltshire; Wiltsire Music Connect. We are all musical. We can all respond emotionally to music. We know that early communication between parent and child is musical, improvised musical language. It’s a bonding relationship for us.
I could tell you stories about my lack of musicality to back up my old belief. Somehow, I let those stories or past experiences define my engagement with music as I grew up. For me, the breakthrough came with play and interaction with my child. My daughter used to hum to herself when she was being breastfed. We started singing together. As a 7-year-old she still hums to herself when she eats, particularly if it is a good meal. She continues to sing and interact with music. It now shapes a lot of our time and we use it to take notice, tell stories and share good times and laugh a lot.
So, here I am with my own 7-year-old who wishes to learn an instrument. It can be quite daunting to find out how to help your child with this, especially if we carry a voice in our head that tells us that we are ourselves are not musical.
So, here are some tips from one parent to another:
- Finding the instrument that they like. We watched lots of youtube videos. We went to a couple of music shops and held instruments and talked to the staff and asked lots of questions. We spoke to friends about their children’s musical journey. We listened to different types of music. We read this book: “You are awesome” by Mathew Syed. It’s not about music at all but about learning something new and getting good at it. There are a lot of youtube videos out there showcasing very talented children. It’s important to remember that they practised A LOT to become good. Finding the right instrument for your child can be difficult. Age is a big issue for when to begin and how to hold your instrument so do your research with your child.
- Speak to your school. This might initially be someone on reception but could also be the class teacher or the music lead for the school if they aren’t sure. If you see another child from the school with their parent/guardian with a musical instrument stop and ask them about it ! Depending on what’s available, you could explore one to one teaching or there might be a small group they could join for instrument learning lessons. If not, ask your class if there is anyone interested in the same instrument and go from there.
- Cost. You could be entitled to a reduced rate depending on your circumstances. Always worth asking either the school or your local music service or hub for advice and support.
- Instruments and hiring them. In fact, try to do that first as it will be very costly for you if you fork out a lot of cash for a new instrument only for your child to state that it isn’t working out for them. Again, if you have spoken to your class or other classes and there are a number of you wishing to learn a particular instrument this could help encourage the school to explore further. Get in touch with your local music hub or music service and ask advice. Get to know your local music shop. They are great spaces to meet and network. If your school simply cannot support the instrument that you want, you might want to consider private tuition in your home or a tutor’s home. Again, ask your music service/hub for advice or your local music shop/musicians union.
- Safety first! It may be uncomfortable to ask if someone has a DBS but you simply must especially if you opt for out of school tuition. It should have been issued within the last 3 years. You can go to the Disclosure and Barring Service for more advice. Regardless if another parent is having lessons with this person, ask to see their DBS for yourself. It’s not enough for someone to say they have it or to presume that everyone else checked for you.
- What to expect and what to ask for I think a lot depends on your child and how they like to learn and how the music teacher teaches. It is vital that you listen to your child about the kind of music that they are into and finding the best match for your child. Have a read of The Music Education code.
- Practice. I remember one of my dear friends who is a music teacher telling me that actually the purpose of a private music lesson is to check learning and to assess next stages and provide encouragement. This lesson is nothing without practice. So, actually the far more important element is the practice in between lessons.
- Trial lessons. I can imagine that for some children it just doesn’t work out with some instrument or some tutors. It is worth asking if you can review it after a couple, to check in and consider next steps.
- Take part. How about you enjoy it with them! Maybe venture into new territory and learn an instrument as well. A friend told me recently that she was teaching a parent and their child to learn the piano. It sounds excellent and really supported both parent and child to develop and grow their learning in the same space. Sounds good to me.
Right, off I go to explore violins…