Excel Music - Serving Tampa, New Tampa & Wesley Chapel

GETTING THE MOST FROM MUSIC LESSONS




5 Ways To Get The Most Out Of Music Lessons


The following guidelines will help you to have a successful, rewarding experience studying music. These are practical tips from university trained instructors and our experiences with educating hundreds of students each year.

Adult Students

Adults can start any instrument at any time. Their success is based on how willing an adult is to commit to practicing. We teach many beginner students in their 60's and 70's. For further information on seniors see our Music for the Senior Student article.

1) How Young is too Young – Starting at the Right Age

For children, starting at the right age is a key element to the success of their lessons. Some people will tell you "the sooner the better" but this approach can actually backfire. Development of neural pathways which affect comprehension skills, attention span, and physical dexterity are all crucial factors. If a child is put into lessons too soon they often feel overwhelmed and frustrated and want to stop lessons. Young children don't think "this is too hard for me right now," instead they think "I don't like this," which can turn them off to music completely. Often, if the child waits a year to start lessons their progress can be much faster. Children who are older than the suggested earliest starting age usually do very well. The following are guidelines we have found to be successful in determining how young a child can start taking music lessons.
*Fun fact - . The front portion of the corpus callosum has been reported to be significantly larger in musicians than non-musicians.

Preschoolers

Private lessons are not recommended prior to age 5 as the child's attention span is generally not long enough to focus for a full 30 minutes. If your child has a longer attention span, some 4-yr-olds can begin violin, which focuses on learning to hear and match pitch.

Piano/Keyboard

At our school 5 years old is the youngest age that we start children in private piano lessons. At this age they have begun to develop longer attention spans and can retain material with ease.

Guitar – Acoustic, Electric and Bass

8 years old is the earliest we recommend for guitar lessons. Guitar playing requires a fair amount of pressure on the fingertips from pressing on the strings. Children under 8 generally have small hands and may find playing uncomfortable. Bass guitar students generally are 10 years old and older.

Voice Lessons

For children age 6-10, our instructors take a more general approach as the younger body is generally not yet ready for the physical demands of traditional voice lessons. We begin by teaching the student how to read music, match pitch, understand rhythm and develop proper breathing technique to protect their voice. The more focused instruction is saved for after they are 10 years old, when the student is better physically prepared for the rigors of vocal training, which includes advanced breathing techniques, development of the vocal chords and lung capacity.

Drums

The average age of our youngest drum student is 8. This varies greatly depending on the size and coordination of the child. They need to be able to reach both the pedals and the cymbals, and have enough dexterity to hold and control the drumsticks.

Flute, Clarinet & Saxophone

Due to lung capacity (and in the case of the saxophone the size of the instrument), we recommend that most woodwind beginners are 9 and older. Additionally, clarinet and sax students should already have their adult teeth.

Violin

We accept violin students from the age of 4. Some teachers will start children as young as 3, but experience has shown us the most productive learning occurs when the beginner is 4 or older. There can be some expense incurred because the size of the instrument must be continually adjusted to the growth of the child.

2) Insist on Private Lessons when Learning a Specific Instrument

Group classes work well for theory lessons. However, when actually learning how to play an instrument, private lessons are far superior since in private lessons it is hard to miss anything, and each student can learn at their own pace. This means the teacher does not have to teach a class at a middle-of-the-road level, but has the time and focus to work on the individual student's strengths and weaknesses. For that lesson period, the student is the primary focus of the teacher. The teachers also enjoy this as they do not have to divide their attention between 5–10 students at a time and can help the student be the best they can be.

3) Take lessons in a Professional Teaching Environment

Learning music is not just a matter of having a qualified teacher, but also having an environment that is focused on music education. In a professional school environment teachers share ideas and teaching strategies and a student isn't distracted by TV, pets, ringing phones, siblings or other disturbances. With only ½ to one hour of lesson time per week, a professional school environment can produce better results since the only focus at that time is learning music. Students in a school environment are also motivated by hearing peers who are at different levels and by being exposed to a variety of musical instruments. In a music school, the lessons are not just a hobby or side-line for the teacher but a responsibility which is taken very seriously.

4) Make Practicing Easier

As with anything, improving in music takes practice. One of the main problems with music lessons is the drudgery of practicing and the fight between parents and students to practice every day. Here are some ways to make practicing easier:
  • a) Time – Set the same time every day to practice so it becomes part of a routine or habit. This works particularly well for children. Generally the earlier in the day the practicing can occur, the less reminding is required by parents to get the child to practice.
  • b) Repetition – We use this method quite often when setting practice schedules for beginners. For a young child, 20 or 30 minutes seems like an eternity. Instead of setting a time frame, we use repetition. For example, practice this piece 4 times every day, and this scale 5 times a day. The child then does not pay attention to the amount of time they are practicing their instrument, but knows if they are on repetition number 3 they are almost finished.
  • c) Rewards – This works very well for both children and adult students. Some adults reward themselves with a cappuccino after a successful week of practicing. Parents can encourage children to practice by granting them occasional rewards for successful practicing. In our school we reward young children for a successful week or month in various ways. Some teachers use stickers, small musical awards, or varying up the lesson with musical flash cards as a treat. The school nominates a Student of the Month, displaying their photo in the lobby and on the website. Praise tends to be the most coveted award – there just is no substitute for a pat on the back for a job well done. Sometimes we all have a week with little practicing, in that case there is always next week.

5) Use Recognized Teaching Materials

There are some excellent materials developed by professional music educators that are made for students in a variety of situations. For example in piano, there are books for very young beginners, and books for adult students that have never played before. There are books that can start you at a level you are comfortable with. These materials have been researched and are continually upgraded and improved to make learning easier. These materials ensure that no important part of learning the instrument can inadvertently be left out. If you ever have to move to a different part of the country, qualified teachers and institutions will recognize the materials and be able to smoothly continue from where the previous teacher left off.
Have Fun!!
Music should be something that you enjoy for a lifetime. So, try not to put unrealistic expectations on yourself or your children to learn too quickly. Everyone learns at a different pace and the key is to be able to enjoy the journey.

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- The Art of Piano: What's in a Name?
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- Finger Gymnastics: Advance Practice Tips for Guitar
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Press Articles
- Tune Yourself Up - by Robert Yaniz - New Tampa News, September 2006
- Excel Music Owners Share The Joy Of Music With New Tampa - by Melissa O'Brian - New Tampa Neighborhood News, May 2007
- Excel Music: The Art of Teaching Students One Note at a Time - by Alicia Pack - New Tampa & Wesley Chapel Neighborhood News, September/October 2011
- Tony Coleman, Drummer for Blues' Great BB King at Excel Music - by Sheri Thrasher - The Advisor, February 2012