Let’s talk about music lessons

A local elementary school music teacher fills us in on the whats, whens, and hows of music lessons for kids.

Students in kindergarten through 5th grade only receive about 45 minutes per week of classroom music education. Enrolling a child in private one-on-one music lessons can have an incredible effect your child’s life, helping him or her learn about time management, self-discipline, accountability, and responsibility.1

This is the part where I am supposed to remind you that music education increases math and reading scores. Here is a survey of the major studies done on music education and its effect on core curriculum scores. You can read it for yourself, but it basically states the following:

It’s possible that music education increases school achievement by a little. It is also possible that it increases achievement by a lot. It’s probably not possible that music education DECREASES achievement. The studies aren’t specific enough due to the fact that a certain teacher or certain level of instruction might have more or less of an impact on a certain child.

But here’s the deal: I can cherry pick studies all day that point to an increase in achievement in language learning, algebraic functions, or social sciences. For now, let’s keep this discussion about one-on-one weekly music lessons as they relate to broadening children’s minds and employing a trained professional to educate them in the arts.

As an elementary school music teacher, one of the questions I’m most asked by parents is, “I want to get piano/voice/guitar lessons for my son or daughter. Where should I go?” I teach in a rural county, so the options are fairly limited there, but I figured I would attempt to pull a little daylight into what can be a cloudy area.

Let’s assume that you will be providing your child with the proper instrument for a lesson. For example, a younger guitar student will be starting lessons using a one-half violin or three-quarter sized guitar. Be warned, these instruments will need to be replaced as your child grows.

Let’s begin…

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At what age should I start my son/daughter with private one-on-one music lessons?

This question is dependent on the type of instruction you would like your child to receive as well as the instrument.

Here is a loose guideline of the earliest ages to begin lessons.2

  • Voice/singing: 2nd grade
  • Piano: 1st grade
  • Guitar: 2nd grade or higher3
  • Violin/viola/cello: 2nd Grade or higher with scaled down instruments. If you can find a Suzuki method-trained teacher they may start them as young as age three or four.
  • Drums/percussion: 2nd grade
  • Wind Instruments (flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone): Wait until they are in a school band class (5th or 6th grade)–this way they won’t be miles ahead of their classmates, at least until later in the school year.

Sense a pattern? Second grade students are usually good readers and have the attention span required for a formal music lesson. If you are interested in pre-kindergarten music education you might try Kindermusik, which provides group classes to infants up through elementary-aged students.

Where do I go for music lessons?

The easiest answer is “go to a reputable music store,” but that isn’t always the best. Here are three options:

Go to a reputable music store. Like I said, this is the easiest option but it will probably be the most costly. There will likely be a roster of teachers on most instruments and they will quickly get you signed up. These teachers have had background checks and come with the endorsement of the music store. You will likely need to pay a month in advance, and there is always a fairly strict cancellation policy.

Go to a home studio. You might hear about a teacher through your local church or social group. Often some of the best private teachers are folks who simply teach lessons out of their houses. If you feel sketched out by this idea, remember that these teachers rely on good references from former and current students for their livelihood as well as transparency with parents. Sometimes these teachers will be more flexible about payment and lesson dates/times, as well.

Have the teacher come to you. If you are able to set up a quiet, appropriate space in your home for a private lesson, this might be an option for you. It may cost you a few extra dollars, but the convenience is probably worth it. Keep in mind that there is a professional in your home as opposed to a babysitter, so a quiet lesson space is important.

What am I looking for in a music teacher?

You should meet with your child’s music teacher before he/she begins lessons.4 Finding the right music teacher for your child can be tricky, but here are five questions to ask:

  1. What sort of experience do you have with [insert child’s gender and age here]?
  2. Have you received training in music education, especially with young children?
  3. What is your personality like when teaching? Are you a taskmaster or more laid back?
  4. How much do you expect my child to practice?
  5. What happens if we can’t make it to a lesson or we need to reschedule?

The teacher should also ask questions about the prospective student. A good teacher will be a good communicator throughout the time they spend with your child. Remain in touch with the teacher and always speak up if you have any questions. Teachers LOVE to talk about their teaching.5

How much do private lessons cost?

Prices vary, but you can expect to pay between $20 and $30 for a 30-minute lesson. A teacher may suggest less lesson time for a younger student. If siblings are also getting instruction, a teacher might charge less for more students. Younger teachers tend to charge less for private lessons than older, established teachers.

What am I getting out of these lessons?

Your student should be able to competently read and perform music. Some instructors have their students perform recitals, as teaching a more performance-based curriculum can be good for certain students.

Your child and family should also feel good about music lessons; they should help to build confidence rather than be a burden. If a child practices regularly, music lessons generally will be easy and fun. Playing an instrument is like exercise, and you will lose it if you do not practice. An “out-of-shape” music student will feel more frustrated with music lessons.

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  1. Disclaimer: This information should be treated as somewhat anecdotal and based on my experiences as both a private and public music educator. Your experiences might be different. 
  2. And a link
  3. Hey, Tom, what about the ukulele? It recently has exploded in popularity and it’s small enough for a large squirrel to play. You can start uke lessons as early as late-kindergarten and its a great alternative to guitar lessons for smaller fingers. I often suggest starting younger students on ukulele then transitioning to guitar after a year or so of progress. They’re also far less expensive
  4. I know this seems obvious, but you would be surprised how many parents simply drop their kids off.. 
  5. They also love food. Just FYI… 

Photo by: Camera Eye Photography

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Tommy Beekman

Tommy Beekman teaches music and doesn’t trust horses. He’s been known to pick a song or two.

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