Six Important Parent Tips for the Young Musician – by Ray Benton
“Going beyond simply footing the bill can make the difference between the student just getting by and being amazing.”
So your child is playing a musical instrument. You’ve invested hard-earned dollars into the project, so is your job over?
As a band director with over 32 years of experience, I can say many of our parents first believed that, once they provided the instrument, their job was essentially over and the rest is up to the student. My experience has also shown again and again that parents who go beyond “footing the bill” can make the difference between success and failure. And in many cases, they can make the difference between the student just getting by and being an amazing musician. So what can the parent do to make that difference?
TIP #1 – PROVIDE A QUALITY INSTRUMENT – If you’ve already arranged to get the instrument, hopefully you made sure it is in fact a “quality” instrument. IMPORTANT – learning to play is difficult enough on an instrument that plays properly. Learning to play an instrument of low quality or needing repair can be very difficult or even impossible.
- DON’T – buy an instrument from an online store such as Amazon, or from an online shopping site such as Craigslist. Many “bargain” new instruments are poorly manufactured and difficult to get replacement parts for. Many “bargain” used instruments have a questionable use and care history which can cause air leaks, misaligned keys, sticky valves and slides, and other problems that make the instrument difficult to play in tune.
- DO – obtain your instrument from a reputable music store. Yes, this article is posted from such a music store, but our business thrives because we have gained a reputation for providing ONLY quality instruments over 65 years. Reputable music stores only select from quality name brands (there are many). In addition to brand new rental instruments, most dealers also provide that have previously been rented but have gone through rigorous testing, and repair if necessary. Either way, you are assured of getting an instrument that plays properly.
- DO – rent during the first year. Rental offers a host of advantages over purchase, including the minimal cost during the trial period of the first year. Also many stores like ours offer RENT-TO-OWN type contracts, where the cost of the rental applies to the purchase of the instrument. So if your child has success, great – all of your rent goes to purchasing the instrument. And if your child decides not to continue, you are only charged for the rent and don’t have to go looking for someone to buy a purchased instrument. ALSO – most stores cover normal maintenance at no additional cost.
- DO – have a reputable music store check out any instruments you may be thinking about using from another source such as a family member or friend. Instruments that were once used and put away for a period of time are sometimes known as “attic instruments.” Many of these instruments are playable but, for a variety of possible reasons, may need some repair shop work – replacement of pads, freeing of stuck slides or valves, correcting leaks, etc. We are always happy to evaluate such instruments at no charge, giving the parent peace of mind. And if repairs are necessary, often the repair shop charges are minimal compared to the cost of a new instrument. If not, you can determine if it’s worth the cost.
- MORE INFO – for complete information of Nottelmann Music’s rental plans, CLICK HERE.
TIP #2 – SUPPORT HOME PRACTICE – “Practice makes perfect,” right? Almost all parents realize that home practice is key to success. It’s difficult to determine in the beginning how much practice is required or how often, because the level of talent varies from student to student and the pace of the school band class varies from school to school. But one thing is certain – quality and regular home practice is vital to student achievement.
- DON’T – say “well if he’s (or she’s) not going to practice, I’m certainly not going to make him (her)!” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that from parents and I believe they couldn’t be more wrong! For many students, the challenge of learning an instrument presents a need for discipline and patience they have yet to develop. You can help them to develop this! This challenge of learning to play is a PERFECT learning opportunity to develop these qualities, and a parent can make a tremendous difference in that development. Help them learn to be be disciplined, responsible, and patient.
- DO – provide a PLACE for home practice, one that is conducive to regular and effective practice –
- with minimum distraction – find a place where your child can practice his material in quiet and free from family members intruding.
- with easy access – find a place a quiet room or area rather than a corner of an unfinished basement or the garage.
- with a backed chair to sit in that encourages good posture (rather than the edge of their bed like when I was in band!)
- DO – discuss and agree on a good, regular TIME to practice. Practicing a the same time each day provides an effective routine, and studies show that it promotes faster learning and development on the instrument.
- DO – provide practice TOOLS. Your school music teacher may have suggestions here. A music stand and a metronome are universally recognized as worthwhile additions to any home practice area. Many teachers also recommend technology helps persuch as the computer program Smartmusic, audio/video helps from Google Classroom, YouTube, Apple Music, and more. I highly encourage you that you find out what tools the teacher recommends and provide a way for your child to implement them.
- DO – provide INCENTIVES for regular practice. No, this is NOT bribing! Use those parental creative juices to come up with incentives, such as those you would offer for any other desired behavior like keeping their room clean.
- DO – have FAMILY CONCERTS. I recommend that you approach your child with this idea, set a time that gives him time to prepare, and ask that he just play some things from his method book or ensemble music that he’s been working on. Don’t be surprised if you meet some resistance here since many students are shy about playing in front of people. You may have to stay with it but be careful not to take a demanding tone. Students will usually agree to play for parents eventually. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy performance, just long enough to give him a chance to shine and for you to show your support. But remember to be positive – an eye roll or a snicker from a family member could really damage his overall attitude toward playing. If squeaks or bad notes happen during the performance, keep in mind that those typically happen with young players and will go away as he develops. BE HONEST – don’t say if it was great if it wasn’t, but instead let your comments focus on how proud you are of his improvement. GENUINE applause and praise can do wonders!
- MORE INFO – Check out our great article — “Mom, how do I play a G Sharp?” A Parent’s Guide for the Young Musician’s Practice Experience.
TIP #3 – ENCOURAGE GOOD INSTRUMENT CARE – So as we discussed in TIP #1, playing an instrument is difficult enough when it is in good shape.
- DO – Ask your child what steps he’s learned from his teacher to keep his instrument playing properly.
- DO – Encourage him to always follow those steps. Otherwise, any progress your child is making could come to an abrupt halt if the instrument is not working properly.
- MORE INFO – Nottelmann Music presents these steps in the form of short, step-by-step videos – How to Keep Instruments OUT of the Shop and IN Your Students’ Hands. Depending on the instrument, there are certain procedures to follow that will KEEP that quality instrument playing properly. Free to use! (CLICK BELOW)
TIP #4 – ATTEND YOUR CHILD’S MUSIC EVENTS
Attending your child’s music events matters more to them than you might know. A true story – it was on the evening of a high school band concert I conducted, right after our warm-up in the band room. Before the band filed out to the auditorium to perform, I noticed one of my senior girls in the corner, crying. I went over to her and asked why she was so upset. She said, “I’ve been in band since 6th grade and my parents have never come to any of my concerts. This is my last one before I graduate. I thought they might make it tonight, but they decided at the last minute to go bowling instead.”
TIP #5 – BE WILLING TO UPGRADE YOUR INSTRUMENT
That quality instrument your child got as a beginner, with proper care and maintenance, can easily last a student all the way through high school. But for many of the more serious students, there comes a time when it’s a good idea to upgrade or step-up to an intermediate or professional level instrument.
- Why – Depending on the instrument, benefits vary from moving to a step-up. Usually, they include better tone production, ease of fingering and facility, and tend to play better in tune.
- The intermediate models are less expensive and afford a notable upgrade over the beginning models.
- The professional models afford a tremendous upgrade and are played by top professional player college-level students, as well as advanced high school and middle school students.
- When – This becomes advisable beyond the first year and varies depending on the philosophy of the music teacher. Also, the more success your child has in playing, the more extra events they want to participate in such as solo and ensemble festival, the more likely the teacher will be to recommend a step-up.
- How – If the current instrument is still under a rental contract, many music dealers will apply all or part of the previously paid rent toward the purchase of a step up. In this case, I recommend that you ask your dealer. If you own the current instrument, dealers will accept it as a trade-in for a step-up but usually it is less costly to sell that instrument to a private buyer and use the proceeds toward the new instrument.
- Do – Be open to the suggestion from your child’s music teacher if they suggest a step-up.
TIP # 6 – SUPPORT MUSIC EXTRAS
As we began our discussion in TIP #5, many students continue all the way through high school and only participate in school music related activities. But for many of the more serious students, tremendous growth and satisfaction is available beyond that.
- Summer Music Camp – There are wonderful local, regional, and national music camps available. Advantages include continued playing and growth during the summer break, new ideas and learning about music performance, and the fun of performing music and making new friends in a different environment. If your child resides in the Greater St. Louis Area, we at Nottelmann Music offer a tuition-free scholarships each May for our application winners. Visit our website at nottelmannmusic.com during the month of April to apply online.
- Private Lessons – In a large class or ensemble, because of sheer numbers, the teacher has limited ability to address the specific needs of a young musician. In a private lesson, a quality teacher can focus on ONE student guide them in improving many needs. While private lessons are a great idea for any student, they can be particularly helpful for the more serious student and the student has more than one issue that seems hold them back from progressing. CAUTION: existing private teachers have a wide range in expertise and philosophy. It’s a good idea to do your research. Look for recommendations from the school music teacher and others who have studied with the teacher, and have a preliminary interview with the prospective teacher, parent, and student. Look for positive signs and red flags when discussing how the private lessons will work and what might be achieved.
- Solo and Ensemble Festival – Many music programs participate in local and state festivals where students perform in a small group or perform a prepared solo for evaluation by a judge. Festivals vary as to the presentation of awards and rating system. Such participation usually comes at the suggestion of the school music teacher. If your child is not participating but would like to in the future, it might be a good idea to ask about it during parent-teacher conferences.
I hope these tips, no matter what age level your child is currently, will provide you with a better understanding of how to guide your young musician. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to add them below or email me.
Ray Benton, Technology and Media Specialist for Nottelmann Music, is a veteran band director of 32 years. He built and directed successful programs at Lafayette High School, Windsor C-1 Schools, CBC High School, and Rockwood South Middle Schools.