The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: NPR offers a terrific and helpful primer of how to get children started on music lessons and keep them practicing and playing. | June 23, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

School is out, for the most part, and many families will be looking for a way that children can pursue cultural enrichment activities.

Or maybe parents are looking for a way to replace what many budget-strapped schools districts have been cutting out.

For that case, music lessons might loom large – whether they are started in the summer, or the summer is an interim before music lessons start in the fall.

But parents, especially parents who themselves have no experience in music, can have a lot of hard questions:

When should children start taking music lessons?

What is the best instrument for a particular child?

How can you tell if you have found the right teacher?

How can get your child to practice without being a nag?

And how far should you be encouraging of playing and performing?

These are just some of the tips that were feature all this past week on NPR, derived from the radio show “From the Top,” which highlights and showcases young talent around the country. The series is called, in a reference to a composition by British composer Benjamin Britten, “The Young Person‘s Guide to Making Music.”

The Ear found the series – which has a lot of specifics and a lot of links – a terrific primer. Now he wonder if they will do the same for ADULT MUSIC STUDENTS since they often face difficult and confusing questions, as well as self-doubt and a lack of confidence, about starting late.

Anyway, here are some of the topics covered by the NPR series, which has performed a valuable public service and deserve all our thanks. BE SURE TO READ SOME OF THE COMMENTS AND TIPS ABOUT THE SERIES LEFT ON THE NPY BLOG ‘DECEPTIVE CADENCE.”

And if you have tips from personal or professional experience, please share them in the COMMENTS section of this blog.

Finding the right instrument for your child:

Finding the right teacher for your child:

Getting kids to practice without a fight:

How to be a supportive and encouraging parent without becoming overbearing and overly ambitious:

How to help your child through the anxiety of the nerve-wracking process of auditioning or competing in a competition?


  1. Reblogged this on Reed Pros.

    Comment by reedpros — June 30, 2012 @ 12:10 am

  2. More than anything, I believe starting early is more important than anything else. Starting while very young, practicing every day, and performing consistently prepared me for a fulfilling classical music experience later on.

    Comment by journeythroughnews — June 23, 2012 @ 7:11 am

    • Hi Journey,
      Thank you of reading and replying.
      Your personal experience makes great sense.
      Thank you for sharing it.

      Comment by welltemperedear — June 23, 2012 @ 8:44 am

  3. The whole thing about certain amounts of time spent at music practice is fraught with myth and misconception.
    Firstly, most students AND teachers do not make the important distinction between Playing, that is, performing, and Practice. Playing for an hour is NOT an ALL the same as practicing for an hour. Practice is repetition at a slower-than-performance pace of small sections of any music for the purpose of intimate familarization with same. It involves the recognition of errors, and the formation of interpretation.
    Performance is in real-time, is at the desired pace, makes NO acknowledgment of errors, and is the manifestation of the desired interpretation.
    Performance in private is NOT practicing. Performances in private that stop and correct errors is also NOT practicing. Sectional repetitions and analytic thought are obviously not part of a performance.
    So, time spent at or with one’s instrument can have either focus. 5 minutes of actual practice, not a read-thru or a run-thru, is so much more valueable than 30 mins of performance masquerading as practice. 30 mins of actual practice is what makes ALL the difference in internalizing a composition so that it can be performed.
    The Samurai of Japan have a motto, Plan logically, Execute emotionally. This applies so directly to instrumental and, I assume, vocal music.
    So getting your children, or your Inner Child for all you adults out there, to practice is first a matter of knowing what Practice is, and is NOT. Spend time each day at your music, don’t cram like an exam. Music performance is the culmination of a relationship built just like any other, with time and attention in small chunks that accumulates power over time. The little things count insofar as bigger things are made up of the sum of little things. It’s like giving a person attention. A little bit 10 times a day makes for intimacy. Bouquets and diamonds make a Big Splash, but are not for everyday use.
    I did notice that so many of the young people mentioned in the NPR links were Asian-Americans. They have no special cultural advantage. What they DO have is less television, less gaming, less sports, and less parental equivocation. Everyone can use this approach, but so many non-immigrant families want their kids to be doing 10 things poorly, and
    scattered-ly, instead of one or possibly two things well.
    MBB, not an over-scheduled Adult…

    Comment by Michael BB — June 23, 2012 @ 6:19 am

    • Hi Michael,
      As always, you get to the point right away.
      There is indeed a huge difference between playing and practicing, and you illuminate and illustrate the differences very well — and very helpfully, I would add.
      I try to do exactly what you say. But it is not always easy, You want to hear the music to satisfy yourself. So I sometimes make the very mistake you warn of.
      To play the wrong notes is really to practice the wrong notes, and make them even harder to correct.
      But I would like to hear what others, especially professional musicians, have to say about your thoughtful and instructive comments.

      Comment by welltemperedear — June 23, 2012 @ 8:50 am

  4. When my son was younger, I seldom used the word “practice.” I used the word “play.” It sounds much more fun to “play” your instrument and more like work to “practice” it. Some days he would “play” for hours, including playing scales. I figured a prescribed minimum number of daily minutes would make it seem more like a chore to be gotten out of the way and would turn into a maximum, with a lot of clock-watching, so I didn’t do that, either. He knew he was playing this instrument because he wanted to, not because we made him do it.

    Comment by Steve Rankin — June 23, 2012 @ 6:05 am

    • Hi Steve,
      I very much like your positive approach — provided that you and the teacher as well as your son also recognized the difference between playing and practicing that Michael BB discusses in another comment. Check it out.
      I find his comments very instructive and helpful.
      Thanks for reading and replying.

      Comment by welltemperedear — June 23, 2012 @ 8:52 am

      • I was talking about semantics mostly, which is why I mentioned that he played scales – very few people are going to spend much, if any, time on scales unless it is practice, but if the parents make it sound like taking out the garbage, that’s what it will be like. If you force your child to work at music from a young age and you make it sound like work, I suspect they will likely resent you and the instrument and burn out at a young age. Since my son is now a performance major and a conductor, I don’t think my use of the word “play” hurt him. His practice time has increased and the seriousness of his practice has increased. Likewise, his teacher started him with 30 minute lessons. They now last an hour or more and he comes home talking about what is left to work on, as an hour is no longer enough…the more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know.

        Comment by Steve Rankin — June 23, 2012 @ 10:56 am

      • Hi Steve,
        I think I understood what you were saying. And i think the fact that you use scales also speaks to a serious practicing method, no mater what it is called.
        One excellent teacher I knows also prefers students to practice 30 minutes twice a day rather than one hour all at once; or one hour twice a day better than two hours all at one.
        It is better for the intense concentration and for the physical effort that practicing requires, as well as for the music that results.
        Keeping such a schedule can be difficult, but Chopin also advised less practicing at the keyboard for his students along with more time for thinking about the music and more time going to museums and operas as well reading and to improve their playing.
        So with your advice and approach, you seem to be nn good company.
        It also sounds like the results you get with your son demonstrate the validity of your approach.

        Comment by welltemperedear — June 23, 2012 @ 11:05 am

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