Guest Post by Kelly AJ Powers.
When my sons were ages 4 and 5, we decided music classes were in order. What we realized later is that we had signed up the whole family for lessons as well.
Because the program used the Suzuki Method, the expectation was that the parents learn with the child. At their first class, my husband received his cello, and I received my violin. After a few lessons on proper hold for the bow, and position of the instrument, only then did our children receive their miniaturized versions, and begin.
By learning some of these basic but essential techniques ourselves, integrating the practices into our daily life was easier. Once you know how to hold a bow, you can practice anywhere: brushing your teeth, using a pencil in the carpool line, and tapping out this week’s open string rhythm at the dinner table.
The Suzuki Method is just one of the “newer” – developed in the 1950s – updates to the way children learn music. Traditional methods often isolate the child’s progression with music: one lesson per week, usually individual even at introductory levels, and with an emphasis on home practices that do not include the parent. The assumption is that since the child has talent, only minimal encouragement from the parent will be needed. Well, raise your hand if the phrase, “Oh, just go practice your lessons before you’re punished” sounds familiar.
Music lessons, at their essence, are a tall order for our children still trying to prioritize tying their shoes. By making music development a part of the household as regular as a family meal, can make these practices a joy rather than a burden.
That’s one of the reasons I’d advocate for starting lessons earlier than later. For one, music education opportunities are rare in Baltimore City Schools, and often can’t include sequential instrument instruction. For another, at a younger age, children reap benefits from music like a second language with powerful effects on early literacy, time management and critical thinking skills. The Suzuki Method as taught at the Baltimore Talent Education Center starts violin and cello lessons at age 4; other instruments have age eligibility starting at age 6. Violin and cello can start earlier because these are instrument easily sized down without loss of sound.
The family that plays music together is indeed a sweet song. As for my own family, my sons, now grown, still play instruments. One stuck with cello, and the other used violin as the gateway to several other instruments. I can still peck out a decent Twinkle Little Star on violin!
Kelly AJ Powers is director of the Baltimore Talent Education Center, which offers several downtown locations. Through BTEC’s long-standing commitment to the highest quality in arts education, BTEC holds the honor of being one of the oldest and most successful community music schools in the nation. Our students achieve as musicians and scholars, parlaying elements of their BTEC experience to state orchestras, conservatories, science competitions and universities.