By MICHELLE SCHMIDT
For kids, seeing someone else play an instrument well is usually sufficient motivation to ask to do the same — until they realize there’s hard work between them and the proficiency needed for a fan club. Our own parental motives are sometimes no less fanciful: redeeming our own music lesson failures or producing the model child. Whether private music lessons are something kids are begging for or being dragged to, they usually benefit.
“If you read all the studies on the benefits of music, you’ll find the kids who play (a musical instrument) generally do better in school,” said Nyla Clare of Clarkston.
Clare has privately taught piano and voice for 35 years, and is a member of the Clarkston/Lewiston chapter of the Washington State Music Teacher Association.
But there’s more to music lessons than academic success: with consistent practice comes success. And that, Clare says, brings intrinsic motivation and enjoyment.
And if a kid is to excel in private music lessons, they’ll need three things: a good teacher, a decent instrument and plenty of practice time.
There are plenty of good music teachers in the area (for how to find them, see the sidebar). If you don’t know a prospective teacher, take time to ask questions about their teaching experience, the types of music they teach and what they expect of their students. Attending a student recital also gives you a feel for their teaching skills and style. Lessons generally fall between $10 and $30 for a 30-minute lesson, depending on teacher experience.
When it comes to instruments, it’s tempting to cut corners — Clare cites piano students who only practice on a small keyboard. But a “real” instrument is necessary for building foundational skills. If a new instrument is out of your price range, used ones can be found in the classifieds — or often, collecting dust in the basement of a family member or friend.
If lessons and instruments take money, then practicing takes time. Different teachers require different amounts, often depending on the age and level of the student. Practicing 20 to 30 minutes a day may be enough for young beginners while older, more advanced students will need an hour or more of focused practice. And the music student isn’t the only person to consider:
“It has to be family decision,” said Clare. “They have to be OK with some noise.”
For example, a piano is a piece of furniture, often located in the same room as the TV, an arrangement that will likely require some scheduling and compromise. And even though trumpets and drums and violins can be easily moved to a bedroom, few walls are soundproof — and, unless you’ve got a prodigy on your hands, that first year of noise may not be pretty.
Another question with music lessons, then, is not how, but when. Clare recommends waiting until students are reading fairly well. Good reading skills and sequential thinking abilities are essential to being able to interpret and understand music, she says — and also the ability to follow the directions given during lessons.
That’s not to say pre-readers can’t enjoy music, she clarifies, but they tend to do best in music readiness classes that often require more parent or teacher involvement.
And the most important tip for taking music lessons: have fun. Music is good for the soul, says Clare. Whether they become a great sightreader or play by ear, it can bring people a lifetime of enjoyment and pleasure.
How to find teacher
1. Word of mouth. The oldest way of finding a music teacher is still the most common. Talking to friends and friends of friends generally will turn up the name or a teacher or two to look into.
2. Talk to teachers. Whether it’s a grade school band teacher on up to the music department at the college or university, music instructors are connected. If the teacher you talk to doesn’t provide lessons themselves, it’s likely they will know someone who does.
3. Check in at the local music store. Most local music stores either provide lessons or can direct you either to recommended teachers or teachers for you to look into.
4. Find someone with the Washington or Idaho music teachers associations. These teachers belong to the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) and participate in local, state and national level events and opportunities for students. Visit www.wsmta.net to find the chapter website for Pullman and www.idahomta.org for Moscow. Contact Stephanie Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on the Clarkston/Lewiston chapter.
Schmidt can be contacted at email@example.com or at (208)305-4578.