Over the course of most childhoods, many children express some interest in music. This does not necessarily mean they want to learn to play an instrument or that you, as a caring parent who wants to provide your child with every advantage and opportunity you can afford to give them, should run out and sign them up for professional lessons. It simply means that they have expressed an interest in music.
What happens to that initial expression of interest is of the essence. Parents, especially those with some experience playing and enjoying an instrument, are sometimes a tad too ‘quick on the trigger’ in inferring that any expression of interest is tantamount to a request for music lessons. On the other hand, missing the opportunity to offer when a child does express interest in a particular instrument is also an error – not on the grave end of the scale – but a missed chance none-the-less.
Children sometimes express interest in an instrument that the parent would never have chosen for them. When your child says s/he wants to learn to play the drums or tuba (not to pick on, demean or single out percussion or brass instruments – parents frequently prefer something less emphatically loud when it comes to practicing at home) parents may balk or try to redirect this welcome interest toward a more acceptable instrument.
That may or may not work.
Children present us with many opportunities. Generally speaking, young children in particular can be quite forgiving when it comes to recreating and repetitively presenting opportunities to us that we haven’t picked up on in their earlier attempts. Opportunities are only that. They are not transformed into realities unless and until the attentive parent(s) notices it and takes some action.
Some parents feel they know best when it comes to music and simply tell their child that they will be learning to play (name the instrument of your choice) and that the first lesson will be next Monday after school. That’s how I was introduced to the accordion as a kid at the age of 9 after my mother’s best friend’s son had taken a few lessons and told his mother (he lied I later found out) that he really liked it. I played it as a child and, though it is, in its own right, a legitimate and versatile instrument, I learned to loathe it as an adult.
Avoiding resentment of practice time
I confess, though, to having some appreciation for having had the chance to learn something about music. Those skills have served me well as I have learned to play the several instruments I went on to choose in life. But when it came to the old squeeze box, I resented having to practice it each evening as well as the expectation that I would bring it out to the living room to entertain ‘company’ with a snappy version of “Lady of Spain” or “Hava Nagila”, two in the limited bastion of accordion all-time classics. So, it was not a waste. However, it did absolutely nothing to help the nature of the relationships in my family, a somewhat more important issue. By the time I chose to pick up an instrument and learn it voluntarily, I was in college and it was a guitar.
So, in an effort to blend my own experience with musical instruments with both my experience as a father and as a professional working with children, I have come up with the following guidelines for parents. Perhaps they are too oversimplified for many of you, but for some they might prove helpful. There are only three of them and they go like this:
1)If a child expresses interest in learning to play a particular instrument, jump on it. It is a golden opportunity to capitalize on the child’s own interest and motivation;
2) Don’t spend too much on that first instrument because children often change their minds soon after expressing the interest and then experiencing the reality. You wouldn’t want to find yourself in the position of telling your child that they were obliged to continue to take lessons they no longer wanted because you had spent so much on the instrument; and…
3) Resist the understandable temptation to coerce or force your child into playing an instrument they have no interest in. Be careful not to confuse or commingle your own interests with theirs. Relationship wise, it will likely backfire, even if they do learn to play it.
Sometimes, it is the adult who needs some music lessons! Music is a great way to relieve stress and it’s show to help keep our minds active and healthier in old age.
If that’s you and you’re in Birmingham or Montgomery, check out the music academy at Bailey Brothers here: https://www.baileybrothers.com/lessons/music-academy