What is the right age to start?
There is no one answer to this question of course, because not everyone has the opportunity to begin music lessons at will. We all hear stories of children who started very young and grew to hate their instrument by age 13. And of those who did not start until they were a teenager, and took off exponentially. The truth is there are many factors that go into a projected growth plan and a realized one. Children can begin benefiting from private lessons roughly between ages 4 and 6. It is the role of the teacher to ensure their student of any age is moving with them, being challenged, and maintaining interest during lessons. Being overly systematic, stationary "book work" and repetitive exercises on their own are certainly no more useful than completely free student-led models if not directed with discretion. So long as the child has interest, and the family dialogue around music lessons is positive, then goals can be made and met to suit students of any age and ability.
**Young children learn best in a group social setting, often with the support of a caregiver. Musical skills developed in a group class are invaluable to cognitive development, and transferable to private lessons in the future. Younger students will do well to try group lessons, workshops and choirs. See group lessons section. Private voice lessons are not for every young child, for several developmental reasons. The teacher can assess and discuss with prospectives.
Should my child be taking RCM examinations?
It is a misconception that the pursuit and completion of Royal Conservatory of Music examinations is the pinnacle of music study. While it is a useful model in skill/'level' placement, lessons based solely around the completion of examinations can be lacking in other important musical skills. Students who do not follow a single method book can also have an excellent music education and perform at a high level. The performance and adjudication process will not mean much to a 7 or 8 year old -nor should it! to parents or teacher- however, a 12 year old may gain powerful, positive experience from the preparation, planning and successful completion of an exam. It is never advised to send children for exams based on an annual timeline or any other motive besides their own readiness. The teacher and the child themself should know where they stand in terms of successful completion of the required material. The examination itself is an experience, not an indicator.
When should my child study theory?
A good teacher is always teaching theory, and like other musical subjects, incorporates them into the current material to solidify and extend understanding. The last things any music educator wants is for theory to become a dreaded alien subject that plagues the minds of students. Theory is everything from pitch, to scale systems to notation, rhythm, and harmony. "The study of the theoretic elements of music". As students advance, there is greater need for the additional or concentrated study of theory for them to better understand the why's and how's of what they play, or wish to write and play. This more intensive study is best for students middle school age and up, and occasionally advanced younger students can also benefit from theory study separate to their instrument lessons.
Home practice? Help!
There are many things in life that we have to do, and often times only when we experience the squabbles and struggles do we learn tenacity. The key here is maintaining positivity and not making a huge deal, bargains or threats over practicing. Family units are constantly having to learn to make time for things, and like any other activity, music lessons is indeed another ball to juggle. Let it be something that slips into your (ideally, daily) routine. Younger children especially benefit from daily practice of even a few minutes. Be it right when you wake up, before you brush your teeth at night, or on days you run the dishwasher...find something and stick with it. Older students will learn that even a daily hour's worth of practice doesn't always yield the supposedly corresponding results. For middle school age and older, the concept of effective practice, and quality vs quantity becomes essential, and translates to studying and time management in academics and life. In short, be consistent, practice as often as possible, in increments that are reasonable for your attention span at the time. Children should do 10-20 minutes daily, and pre teens and teenagers will realistically do 20-50 minutes every other day. If your child needs extra assistance, you may want to consider a few lessons yourself, or sitting in on their classes. Close communication with the teacher is always beneficial, so students can feel supported.
I do not think I/my child particularity has musical aptitude, how should we move forward?
One of my favourite classroom posters is that of an irregular graph, saying "A learning curve is never a straight line." Give it time. The synthesis of music literacy and technique does not always occur at the same time as musicality and understanding. Multiple elements go into creating music, and they are not easily isolated form each other to study and master individually. The more musical experiences a child has are stored internally and will contribute to overall learning. Persevere with positivity and you will be surprised. So long as the student has interest, and is active in their musical experience, they will progress. Be flexible with your timeline. It is simply unrealistic to enter lessons with aspirations A B C, and expect the teacher to decipher a timeline of completion. Your teacher should however, be able to assess and guide you through tangible goal setting, explaining the elements and steps along the way.
Child X is at # level, at what age should my child be at this level?
Please do not make comparative comments to your child, or to yourself. There is no age or ability standard. Achievement is relative. Instead, if you are concerned about level and achievement, talk to the teacher and together you can come up with a plan to assess what is working/what is not, practice tips; and to set clear, motivating goals. Reassurance is key.
I have been told I am tone deaf/sing off key. What does this mean?
Luckily the likelihood of your mean siblings or friends being correct about this is extremely slim! It is true that beautiful singing comes naturally to some, but singing itself comes naturally to all believe it or not. It only takes time and experience to develop control of one's voice. A variety of exercises, techniques and approaches are used to shake off any insecurities and find the natural voice. It is an unbelievably rewarding process to undergo, and can even be highly emotional for some. All you need to do is bring an open mind, and a sense of fun and imagination. From simply matching pitch, to singing harmony, and doing vocal impressions, I am 99% that you are able to do it! (and no, not all of you reading this are that 1% )
I/my child am very shy, even in day to day social interactions, so the very thought of performing is overwhelming. What can I/we do?
Don't worry about it! -the more emphasis or even thought you put into how uncomfortable something is, the more permanent that reality becomes. Think of performances as show and tell sharing times. There is no pressure. There are no grades. There isn't even an audience. You are simply showing what you have been working on, an act that should bring great pride and power. With children, I find very often that it is the shy ones who are the most expressive and eager performers! So each in their own time, backed by a supportive team of family, friends, and teacher will discover the beauty in performing. I encourage new students or those unsure if they are "ready" to perform to attend recitals to observe. They can watch others, and are always allowed the opportunity to have a turn themselves if they like. For some teenagers and adults (and rarely, children), performance anxiety is more complex. Steps can be taken and goals can be set during lessons to explore any issues at will, and to work towards a healthy view of self and expression.