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MIDLANDS MUSIC SERVICES

The Midlands Community Award Winning Service

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The top 5 biggest problems facing a parent taking music lessons

Over the years teaching music, we have encountered a lot of questions from parents about what’s best for them or their child. In this document our team have put together the top 5 most asked questions and given our answers to them.

We understand that you may have many other questions that aren’t answered here. If that is the case feel free to call us on 0333 987 4321, or if you prefer one of the local office numbers (see above) and our team will be happy to help.

1) I have no musical knowledge, how do I help my child?

The most common problem faced with a parent is lack of knowledge yourself. This can have a big impact on your ability to help your child during their practice sessions and can often lead to frustration from parent and child.

The solution: Speak to your music tutor. Let them know that you have no musical knowledge and if they need to explain something to you again so it can be understood make them aware of that. You might also consider having a go yourself to experience what your child is going through and enjoying the time doing that. Music is a ‘team’ game and this time together with your child can be a similar experience to reading with them before they go to bed or a kick around in the park.

The biggest thing is not to get overly concerned about it and have a frank discussion with your music tutor should the need arise.

2) The cost of the lessons are quite expensive, why is this?

On the face of it music tuition can be expensive. If you break it down into your tutors expenses, university education, years of music lessons paid for themselves and the maintenance of instruments etc. you can soon see where the money is being spent.

The solution: Firstly, it is only expensive if it doesn’t work. A good music tutor will make sure investment is never wasted. if you’re wanting to take lessons and the cost looks a little high there are a number of avenues you could go down. Firstly, look around as the cost of lessons can vary.

This solution might not suit everyone as you largely get what you pay for in this industry and the higher educated, more experienced tutors will be more on the expensive side.

Speak to your school. Although music is currently under funded in mainstream schools there is still opportunity for your school to finance at least a proportion of your child’s instrumental tuition with the means of pupil premium funding etc. If they say no challenge them and explain your position. It very often works

With instrument cost go to your local music store and see what they can do, very often they will lease something to you for a reasonable monthly fee.

3) I’m struggling with the travelling to and from lessons.

This is quite a challenge for many parents with young children, not just with music lessons. In a world where there is so much for your child to do from martial arts to sports and music lessons to dance juggling everything can be a big problem.

The solution: Speak to your tutor to see how flexible they can be, sometimes they will have more than one time slot available and very often other lessons can be moved around to accommodate. If you explain the situation, show you understand that they have other children to teach and let them know you appreciate how awkward it is they will be as flexible as they can for you.

Alternatively there are plenty of music tutors who will come to your home. Be aware that this may well come at an additional small fee (to cover petrol and time from the tutors side) but it does relieve a lot of pressure for you to make sure you’re on time every week. Ask your tutor and see what they can do for you.

4) What academic benefits are there to my child taking music lessons?

There is no ‘solution’ to this question as such but it is something that we are repeatedly asked in this sector.

The academic benefits of music are often called into question, especially in the UK where schools are constantly having their music and arts budget cut. Music can be seen as a nice addition if you have time and isn’t seen for what it really is.

Music is many, many things and we could really go on for far too long answering this question but briefly put music is mathematical (time signatures and subdivision of rhythms which must be worked out instantly, not using a piece of paper), it is science (sound, pitch, length of tubes make different noises), it is languages (the terminology is often French, German, Italian and Latin. And as for reading the music itself, it’s anything but English), and it is physical education (the playing of an instrument requires extraordinary physical dexterity).

Most of all though, music is teaching social skills and creativity to a level that can’t be met with any other academic subject. It is teaching your child that making mistakes is common and needed to succeed in other areas of life. Every job and every role your child will ever take will require a large element of creative thinking and music can and will provide that.

5) How do I maintain my child’s interest?

We all know that children often flit from one thing to another and losing interest in any subject can be challenging. Once you have paid out for instruments and got them started the last thing you want to do is give it all up.

The solution: Very often it can be the approach taken towards the practice time and the lessons that needs to be changed. You will often find that your child’s reading time with you isn’t questioned but the practice on the trumpet is so look at the approach you take to the reading and try to replicate it. Join them in their practice, they’ll see a point to it then. Taking an active part in their practice will encourage them and can result in a fun time for parent and child.

Let them practice in short bursts, 30 minutes to a young child in one go is a lot so break it down to 10 minute chunks with games, instrument playing and technology (there are some very good music apps on the market) used in equal measure. Ask your tutor for games to play for your child’s ongoing learning.

These are the top 5 queries music tutors get every day.

Some more questions answered…

At what age should my child start music lessons?

This is a conversation that you need to have with your child so you can ascertain their readiness.  No-one knows your child like you do so the best person to gauge their ability to start is you but there are some general guidelines that you should consider:

Playing most musical instruments will create pressure in areas that aren’t usually considered.  Brass for example will create pressure on the lips and teeth on the younger players until they learn to play without pushing on so you might want to consider their own dental progression.  Having no teeth on the front can be a benefit to teaching brass as well and this needs to be discussed with your tutor.  Similarly the length of the arm is a factor in a lot of instruments as can be the spread of the fingers, even the height of your child can play a part in when to start music tuition.

It isn’t uncommon that children as young as 4 are learning to play depending on what they want to learn.  What is crucial is that the tutor you choose can communicate the very technical theory of music in a way they can understand.  Children are like sponges and will learn very quickly but if they don’t understand something, they will simply switch off.  Only an excellent music teacher will be able to communicate the technical demands of music to all levels and this is something you must ask when considering who to go to for your child’s education.

Are music lessons worth it?

There have been numerous studies which both ‘prove’ and ‘disprove’ the benefits of a music education.  The facts, though, do indicate that having a creative side to any education will benefit most, if not all. Career paths.  

When considering a music education, you need to think well beyond simply learning music itself.  It will develop team working skills, increase their confidence and allow their communication skills to grow (to name but a few) where many other subjects fail.  We find that those involved with music also increase their ability in languages as well as the subjects like mathematics and science.  Many music students later use it as an extra income stream to fund their university education, working flexible hours around the lecture times.

The basic question you must ask yourself is; can you think of any career your child might like to have in the future where creativity won’t be required?  Where thinking on the spot won’t be needed?  Where communicating effectively and confidently is not needed?  Music education has been proven to help in all of these areas as well as having a great time while doing it

Can I teach myself music?

There are lots of noteworthy musicians who have been self-taught and gone onto do very well.  If you visit the App or Google store you will find applications that will claim to be able to teach you at very cheap rates.  For that matter, you could cut your own hair or wire your own house.  Doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

Those that decide to try and self-teach are generally the people who make the most mistakes and take on the worst habits.  It is human nature to find the easiest route to combat an issue or a problem they are having, that doesn’t mean that it is the right answer.  In fact these people often come to a professional teacher for assistance in the end and when they do it takes longer to get to their goal, as they need to undo the bad habits first.

Despite the noteworthy famous musicians who have claimed to be self-taught, if you’re considering taking music lessons always speak to a professional first.

What instrument should I learn?

This largely depends on what you want to learn.  If you have always fancied playing the saxophone, give it a go.  If you’ve always been amazed by the piano, then that’s likely the instrument for you.  If you have always liked the sound of the bagpipes, then speak to someone who can help you here.

The instrument you choose depends on what you feel passionate about playing.  It also does have cost implications as a beginner’s trumpet is decidedly cheaper than a piano (Having said that if you shop around and willing to pick up, you can get very reasonably priced pianos.  Just read our ‘how do I buy my instrument’ below before you do!)  There are also space issues, not everyone has a spare room that they can dedicate to an entire drum kit, but you may be able to fit a clarinet and music stand in the corner of your child’s bedroom.

If you’re in the market for an instrument, go to a local music shop or organisation first.  They can often let you have a go before you buy; let you rent one or even in some cases loan you an instrument for a short amount of time.  That way you’re not spending money on anything that’s simply going to sit in the corner of your dining room gathering dust.  If you do buy don’t feel the need to go new straight away.  The second-hand instrument market is filled with beginner’s items that have barely been used due to the reasons we have mentioned earlier, you can pick yourself up a bargain if you do it right.

How do I buy my instrument?

There are plenty of options for this. Firstly, and most importantly, if you don’t know what you’re doing steer well away from eBay.  There’s loads of options (as I’m speaking to you now I typed ‘piano’ in ‘musical instruments’ and over 108,000 options have come up) and the fact is that the more expensive option isn’t necessarily the right one.  

With brass instruments you can’t really go wrong for beginners, but don’t be tempted with a bright shiny new one.  If I was to ask you if you’d rather have a brand-new Toyota Aygo or a second-hand Aston Martin DB9 for the same money, which would you go for?

There are loads of excellent second-hand models available and the best thing to do is ask your tutor or local music shop what might be best for you.

This is different to pianos and similar bigger instruments.  There’s a lot of different ways of setting up a piano and technical terms such as ‘overstrung’ and ‘Soundboard’ can confuse.  There’s also a lot that can go wrong that might not be detectable to a new starter.  The solution is to take along someone who knows, your local piano tuner, teacher or shop owner may do this for a fee, but the overall cost will be significantly cheaper than something going wrong later.  Similarly, with woodwind, drum kits (percussion) or if you’re unsure about the amount you’re spending take someone with you who will be able to inform you better.  

How long do music lessons last?

The range in length for your music lessons depends greatly on many different factors.  As a rule, schools don’t like to have lessons for more than 20 minutes, so the child isn’t missing other lesson time too much, whereas private lessons normally start at a 30-minute period.  For more advanced students a tutor may advise extending this time to 45 minutes or even an hour, but of course there are cost implications with this.

Equally, many tutors offer shared lessons thereby reducing the cost, but it also reduces the amount of 1-2-1 time the student receives.  If you can imagine a 20-minute lesson during school time shared between 2 or even 3 students, how much time are they getting dedicated each?

Don’t be afraid to question this with your tutor and see what the best fit is for your child.

How experienced are music teachers?

This is the ‘how long is a piece of string’ scenario.  The experience of a teacher depends simply on how many years they have been teaching.  That said, there are a lot of teachers who are treading water and, despite the years of teaching, they’re not great at what they do.  Equally, there are many younger tutors who are excellent at what they do, owing to the training that they have gone through.  It also depends on what kind of experience you are wanting; special needs, specific instruments or more specialist instrumental tuition might be required for example.

Like many other areas; speak to your school (if they provide tuition) or your music shop.  You can out a request out on Facebook, but the risk is that people are simply going to recommend their friends!  A shop should be more professional and honest about their advice.  There are also many good sites to help you such as thebestof.co.uk and even Google will give you honest star ratings and feedback from clients.

Are music teachers DBS checked?

Simply put, yes!  Individuals can get them selves a DBS check and all large organisations should have DBS checks done for their own teachers.  Ask to see the certificate before sending your child to the tutor.

What is a DBS check?

A DBS (Disclosure and Barring Services) check is provided for all those working with children and vulnerable adults.  If anyone is coming into contact with your child (including, for example, council workers and maintenance workers at your child’s school) then they should have proof of an ‘enhanced’ DBS check.  Any music tutor, private or otherwise, should have a DBS check certificate with them to show you.

Can I learn a musical instrument at my home/house?

Yes, but there are things to be considered.  Firstly, there might be an additional cost involved for your tutor to come to you.  Speak to them about this when discussing your options.  There’s also the neighbours to consider.  If you live in a detached house in the middle of a field, great!  But if you live in a terraced street and are learning the drum kit then noise is a consideration to be made.  Even instruments such as flutes and clarinets can be heard and can prove annoying to the less patient neighbour.  Of course, even without the lessons at your house you need to practice so noise needs to be considered.   See ‘when should I practice my music’ below.

There are tutors that will come to you so if this is important to you ask if this is a service they provide.

When should I practice my music?

Ask any music tutor anywhere, and the answer will be ‘every day!’  In reality this is not always possible though; adults lead very busy lives and in the UK, we are working more hours than ever before.  Even children are working more hours at school than they were 10-20 years ago and coupled with the choices they are faced with for after school activities fitting in a daily practice routine is challenging. However, practice is required to get better and that is an unescapable truth.  If you can’t fit in 3 times a week as a general minimum, then you need to consider if this is the right time for you to start lessons.  

There’s also the neighbours to consider in this. Most people don’t mind noise from next door but hearing a drum thrashing away might be beyond the pail for many.  To avoid this, you can speak to local centres, recording studios and colleges about practice rooms.  Alternatively, there are excellent noise reduction systems on the market now such as drum pads, silent brass and even acoustic pianos can come with a headphone socket, so you can practice until your heart is content.

How important is it to learn to read music?  How do I learn to read music?

There are a great number of noteworthy musicians who have never read a note of music (Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and even famed film composer Danny Elfman are great examples here) but I wouldn’t suggest it is necessarily the way to go.  You can, of course, have lessons without reading but this is largely mussing out a big part of a musical education.  

Along with improvisation, playing by ear and general listening skills learning to read music makes you a better musician.  It means you can learn to ‘sight read’ so you don’t have to hear the music before you can play it.  There are many musicians who can get hung up on reading the notes and this can be an error as well, leading to lack of creativity in the most extreme cases.

Not all teachers can teach you to improvise but I would go so far to say all teachers should be able to teach you to read the music in front of you.  It says nothing about your ability as a musician but does open other doors for you should you want them.

Learning to read music is like any other language.  The dots and dashes in front of you are anything but English and as well as that the terms are usually French, German, and Italian.  Even Latin and Russian play their part in making music. It can be complicated but like anything else, perseverance goes a long way and any good tutor will be able to guide you or your child through.

What performance opportunities are there as an amateur musician?

In most cases, the reason we become musicians or learn to play is so we can perform to the public.  This can be especially important to younger students who want to see a point to what they’re doing at their weekly music lesson.  For children, though, it is possibly easier for them to find opportunities to perform with school bands and orchestras as well as various Saturday morning music clubs and weekly junior band rehearsals to attend.

As an adult speak to your tutor as there is a high chance they know of or are involved with a group of some sort to help you here. If they don’t know of opportunities, or there aren’t any, start a band or music group yourself.  You’ll likely find you’re not alone!

How many music lessons do I need in a week/month?

This depends on how much practice time you have at home and how much you want to spend.  At the early stages and largely later on you’ll have a lesson every week, at least during term time (as a child).  Many tutors will observe the holidays laid out by the local council, but others may offer lessons in the holidays as well.

To start we would suggest 1 lesson every week, giving you time to practice between lessons.  The tutor would likely prefer this as well as they like to plan their weeks out.

Why do I need to pay my tutor for missed music lessons?

Although to many music is a hobby, to music tutors and professionals it is their income.  As it is their income they rely on the income that teaching provides to pay for their rent/mortgage, car payments, food bills etc in the same way you do.  If you were to drop and break a bottle of wine when you got home, you wouldn’t go back to the supermarket to have it replaced.

If your tutor cancels it might be expected to have that lesson refunded but if you cancel or miss it should be expected to be paid for.  If you speak to your tutor, they may re-schedule the lesson for another time but it’s not always fair to rely on this.

How long will I need music lessons for?

Another ‘how long is a piece of string’ moment.  It really depends on how long you want lessons for.  There are those that simply want to get to a certain stage and then stop lessons.  Others start at a young age and carry on all the way through until they get to university and beyond.  

As long as your music tutor is able and qualified to do so it is always worth sticking with lessons if you can.   The more qualified you are as a musician the better and the more sought after you become.  

If you have anything you would like answering please email hello@mms-music.co.uk and we will be happy to get back to you with a full and honest answer.