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Where’s the Fire?! The Rush for Readiness (By Francesca Panfilo-Milza)

“My child is 5 years old and is reading.  I think she’s ready forFrancesca Panfilo Milza 2 resized 600
private lessons.”

Before you rush out and buy that baby grand piano, STOP! 

There are many elements that comprise readiness for private instrumental lessons.  Remember, music learning is a cognitive, emotional, physical and social experience.  Here are some things to consider before taking the leap:

  1. Fine motor skills:  Can my child manipulate and coordinate hands, feet and mouth with ease?
  2. Gross motor skills:  Can my child move his/her body to a steady beat? 
  3. Expanded focus: Can my child sit for a 30 minute lesson, listen to instruction and multi-task?
  4. Self-motivation:  Does my child WANT to learn an instrument?  Emotionally ready?
  5. Self-discipline:  Will my child willingly practice every day for the required time?
  6. Cognitive skills:  Is my child reading?  Left to right notation reading?

This is why I value the Musikgarten Musik Makers sequence for ages 4 -9 years.  The program encompasses all of these aspects, giving children the room to grow and hone the above skills.   In my experience, pushing a child before he/she is ready will only backfire later.  The consequences of a premature start may not be seen until later years when they experience frustration, a declining interest and essentially burnout.  So RELAX!  Take the time to ENJOY the music.  In order to create a lifelong lover and learner of music, READINESS IS KEY.  

Five-Year-Old Wins Prize in Composers' Competition

William by Piano.small resized 600In March, five-year-old William Manno, violin and piano student at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts, entered the 2010 VOICES Music Composition Contest for Children, at the recommendation of his violin teacher, Dr. Russell Hoffman.
The annual VOICES Competition, which is intended for children ages 5 to 12, requires participants to submit an original composition of music with a vocal component.  The song may be written in traditional or child-invented notation.  Contestants are asked to mail in their song along with a cassette or CD recording of it.
William had observed his father compose music since birth and actually co-wrote a piece with him entitled "Body Song" to teach little children about the organs of the human body. For the VOICES Competition, William decided to work on his own song about a topic he loves: the planets.  He asked his dad how he should start, and dad recommended he write some rhyming sentences stating facts about the planets.  Knowing quite a bit about the planets and wanting to be thorough, William came up with 3 pages of facts, which he and dad edited down to a page.
William then sat at the piano and plunked out notes to go along with his words, writing the note names, in letter form, above each text syllable.  Taa-daa! William said when his Planet Song was complete, and sang it for his mom and dad. His parents were thrilled and dad helped William write down his work in traditional music notation.
At the VOICES Competition, the judges selected William's Planet Song as an outstanding piece.  It was performed at the organization's recital in early April, where William and other honored students received awards for their efforts.
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How to help your child with music lessons

Do you have children in music lessons?  Are you wondering about the pace of progress in lessons?  Does your child seem frustrated or want to quit lessons entirely?  If so, we would like to offer some advice on how you as parents can help your child prosper in music lessons

Be Patient: 

When you watch and listen to a good music performance, you may think that playing an instrument is easy.  But first impressions can be deceptive.  The truth is that learning an instrument is a difficult process that involves diligent practice to achieve good results.  Aside from learning what the notes are and how to produce them, learning an instrument requires the development of fine motor skills and in most cases, complex hand-eye coordination and coordination between both hands. If your child is not turning into a master performer within your first month of lessons, please be patient and don't expect the impossible. Give it some time, and you will see tangible results. Ultimately, your child will be very proud of his or her successes along the way!  


Along with this, encourage your child to stick with music lessons, and practice regularly. Even with regular practice, however, some students will progress faster than others. This is normal! We are all individuals going through life at our own pace. Since learning an instrument is tricky, your child needs your soothing guidance when hands and fingers just can't follow yet what the brain is telling them to do. As adults, you do have a better perspective on life; you do know that good things take time. So don't add further stress to the frustration your child may be experiencing in learning that C Major scale. Encourage, but don't force!

Purchase a good-quality instrument:

Too often we see students struggle with their music studies for the wrong reason. Upon closer scrutiny, quite a few of these students are practicing on poor instruments. When purchasing an instrument, please consult your (prospective) teacher for advice. To be sure, there are many great deals on the market, but some of these "deals" will all but guarantee that your child won't be taking lessons for long. If even a professional teacher is struggling to play your instrument well, imagine how frustrating, if not impossible, daily practice must be for your child!

What if my child wants to quit? 

Don't allow your child to quit at the first sign of trouble.  Ask lots of questions to get to the bottom of the problem, and you may be surprised at some of the answers. The solution may be readily available. Sometimes the piano is placed in a room with so much distraction that it is impossible for a child to focus. Moving the piano to another room may fully address the problem. At other times, scheduling a lesson right after school may be too tiring for your child, however conveniently the lesson time may fit into your personal schedule. Needless to say, a combination of fatigue and low blood sugar will not improve the lesson experience! In this case, all you may need to do is reschedule the lesson for another day, and your child's attitude toward music lessons may change radically. In other words, don't just quit without first removing all potential obstacles on the path to happy, creative, and fruitful music lessons.


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