Saturday, August 15, 2009

Does Your Child Need Music? The Answer is YES!

I am fortunate to have an extremely talented family. I'm second of three sisters (my poor dad) and the talent for making beautiful music somehow skipped me. My older sister, now a dermatologist (I mean really? beautiful, talented, and a genius) played piano like Bach and was the concertmaster (lead violinist) in her orchestra during high school. My younger sister could literally pick up any instrument, look at it for a few minutes, fiddle with the buttons and knobs, cover the holes and pluck the strings and immediately play a complicated melody... give her a day or so, and she'd have something unbelievable in store for you (again, beautiful, talented, and a genius!). I don't want to leave the baby out- she is a wonderful piano player, with long, elegant fingers that can span octaves who will also be going to medical school soon (and you got it... beautiful, talented, and genius). But somehow I missed out on the particular gene. I played the piano (sloppily), the violin (screechily), the oboe (have you ever heard one played badly? it is really really awful), the saxophone (less than bluesy), and the guitar (clumsily). However, with all this instrument abuse, it was good for me.

My younger sister (you know, the beautiful, talented genius?) is now the orchestra teacher for a specialty school in Jacksonville called La Villa School for the Arts and it is a magnet school that focuses on the arts, which is an amazing opportunity for those kids who are talented in areas like music, dance, voice, theater, and visual arts. Her husband is the orchestra teacher for Douglas Anderson, which is the high school that La Villa students graduate to. They took the time to answer my questions regarding music and its importance in shaping our children's lives.

Me: What attributes does music help develop in my child?

Carol and Brian: Reading music helps develop fluency in reading language. Counting rhythms helps develop mathematical skills. Playing music with other develops a mentality of teamwork and camaraderie. Performing music helps develop self confidence and perseverance. Composing music garners creativity and intelligence. The list goes on and on. There are a number of websites that show statistical information about the importance of music education. Check out these sites:;;

Integrity. Music helps make people better people. The process of making music is incredibly rewarding. It's one of the only things in life where you get 100% of what you put into it, out of it. There are tremendous life lessons in music education that cannot be learned anywhere else.

Me: When should I begin thinking about enrolling my child in a music education program?

Carol and Brian: As early as possible. With string education in particular, the earlier the better. There are violins and cellos that are made for children as young as 2 and 3 years old. Other possibilities would be a kindermusic class that teachers general musical concepts such as tempo, basic rhythm, distinctions between high an
d low, loud and soft, etc.Kindermusik starts with newborns and goes through 7 years old. Check out their website at I think Kindermusik can serve as a great springboard to Suzuki string lessons, which can start as soon as a child is toilet trained.

Me: What should I look for when searching for a private music teacher?

Carol and Brian: Experience and expertise. Charisma, high expectations, organization skills, professional performance experience can all lead to a great learning experience for a child. Ask questions. Ask about their training. Ask parents of other students about the teacher. As much as possible, find a private teacher that specializes on the instrument for which you are looking for lessons. Professional Music Educators are generally well qualified to teach private lessons to beginners and intermediates on an instrument that they may not specialize in. Make sure the personalities of the teacher and your child are compatible. Ultimately, it depends on the relationship between the student and the teacher. If you find a good private teacher, I recommend sticking with them for two years or so. In my opinion, good teachers teach their students everything that they know and then send them to another teacher. Some teachers hold onto students indefinitely because they depend on these students for income. This can definitely be a negative experience for the child, as the teacher may have run out of new things to teach the child. You want a private teacher who will hold the student accountable when it comes to practice time at home. Also, check out the rates. Compare them with others around town. You should notice marked improvement when your child begins private lessons. Attend the private lessons and take notes so that you can help your child practice at home.

Me: We have a limited income. Can my child participate in music education?

Carol and Brian: Absolutely. Many towns and citi
es have Community Music Programs with affordable tuition. Many of these also offer scholarships and financial assistance. Make sure to ask about this when you're searching for a teacher or program. Depending on the age of the child, bartering can also be used. For instance, a particular teacher may prefer to teach an hour lesson in exchange for a night of free babysitting or lawn care. Motivated students and parents find creative ways to make it work. Sometimes teachers will give a discount for students who have exceptionally challenging circumstances and are working hard at their music.

Me: How do we decide which instrument our child should play?

Carol and Brian: If the child is young, say, between 2 and 10 years of age, the violin or cello are great instruments to start on. These instruments are made in sizes to fit small children. Stringed instruments are a very tactile way of making music, therefore, little kids like to get their hands on them (adults too!). They satisfy that same urge that they have when they get in the elevator and want to push all of the buttons. Piano is also a great instrument for younger children, but is a more solitary art. Many public school general music programs teach Orff instruments, which are played with mallets similar to percussion instruments. Wind instruments such as flute, trumpet, clarinet, etc. generally require that the child have a good lung capacity. Small children do not have this capacity. Also, most of the wind instruments are made in only one size. It is best to start children off on stringed instruments and later on, when they are in 5th or 6th grade (most school band programs begin in 6th or 7th grade) and physically capable, they can try out a wind instrument. Wind instruments depend a lot on the size of the child, the shape of their mouth, and other things. For instance, when I would young I was extremely short. I never would have been able to play the trombone. Now, at 5'3", I still have trouble reaching the slide out all the way. Find out what the child is interested in, then consult a professional. Vocal lessons and/or participation in a choir or chorus is also a great way for your child to participate in music.

Me: How important is music education in the mental, emotional, and social development of my child?

Carol and Brian: It is extremely important. The student has to learn patience, discipline and focus in order to be successful. We live in a 'get it now' society where we like instant gratification. Music education teaches children to work and persevere and to be determined to achieve a goal. The gratification comes in the form of attaining goals and performing. It is not instant. Also, the student learns social skills through group endeavors. An arts class provides students more opportunity to show their personality and to create relationships with others who share their enjoyment for their art.
Playing a stringed instrument will challenge a child more than anything else they will encounter in their life. The cognitive challenges alone are greater than anything else that we attempt as human beings. When you add all of the social challenges, the teamwork concepts required, and the awesome rewards, the opportunity to play a stringed instrument is essential to a child's development and can lead to a lifetime of music making.

Me: Are there other schools out there like La Villa and Douglas Anderson? How does my child qualify to go to a school like that?

Carol and Brian: Our schools are called Arts Magnet schools. Many cities have these types of schools. Get in contact with your school's district office to find out information about any Arts Magnet programs and the process of enrollment. Here's how it works at my school. I can accept students not previously enrolled in the Magnet Program through something called Neighborhood Auditions. Students interested in attending my school come in and audition for a spot in a specific arts area. Other students who are enrolled in the Magnet Program in my district are guaranteed a seat at my school. There is also a lottery.
Every community is different in this regard. Some magnets are successful, while others are not. Successful arts magnets have superior arts AND academic programs.

Me: Are there certifications that I should consider when interviewing music instructors for private lessons?

Carol and Brian: Not necessarily. Many musicians who are extremely talented and are great private teachers never had formal college training. In these instances you have to look for experience and expertise. Always ask questions of other students who take from the private teacher.

It can't hurt for a teacher to have professional affiliations with national organizations. My husband and I are members of the Florida Orchestra Association and the American String Teachers Association. This means we can sponsor students for All-State Orchestra auditions (if they are member of our school orchestra) as well as state and national competitions that they would not normally have access to.

Me: Are there scholarships available for my child and how does he/she qualify?

Carol and Brian: Many colleges offer music scholarships to students who major in music. Some colleges will even offer scholarships to musicians who don't major in music but are part of a campus ensemble. College websites are a great resource to find out more information. Depending on the availability of a community or church music program in your area, scholarship assistance may or may not be available. Ask around. Research any music schools and make phone calls.
Music, and especially strings, are valued at the college level. Colleges look for students who not only have good grades, but have engaged in rigorous challenges throughout high school. When a student has been selected to perform in an All-State Orchestra, that is evidence that they have not only achieved on their instrument, but that they must enjoy it to put in so much time to prepare for it. The ability to prepare and to complete a task are two skills that colleges and the workforce value the most. If a college accepts a student, they want him. If they offer a scholarship, they need him. It's good to play scholarship offers against each other as well.

Me: Are summer camps worth the money? What can I expect my child to learn? How old does my child have to be to participate?

Carol and Brian: Summer camps can be the most enriching musical experiences for music students. Students attending camps are immersed in their art for a specific period of time. It's a chance for your child to study with teachers they may not normally have access to. Two weeks of camp is worth about a semester in a school music program. That's because the majority of time is spent refining and honing musicality, technique, ensemble, etc. Most camps offer music theory classes, piano classes, private lessons, ensemble experiences and other incredible enriching activities.Summer camps=Pre College. This is an opportunity for kids to gain independence. It's an opportunity for parents to learn to let go and get ready for the empty nest. Summer music camps vary...some are very "campy" and have lots of social activities while others (most) have a more pre-professional feel to them. Major music festivals are opportunities for high school kids to network with college and conservatory professors by taking lessons with them. Sometimes those lessons lead to full music scholarships where those professors teach. Age limits vary. Research specific camps for more information on this.

I want to thank Carol and Brian for taking the time to answer my questions. Feel free to ask any, too! I'll send them to Carol and Brian and post them at a later date!!! Have a great weekend!!

1 comment:

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