As school year schedules are finalized, parents may find themselves fielding their kids' requests for music lessons. While the "Mozart effect" has been debunked in recent years (no, playing Don Giovanni for your child won't put them on the fast track to the Ivy League), recent research indicates that children do benefit socially, emotionally, and cognitively from learning to play an instrument. Scholarship aside, playing music is incredibly fun. If your kid wants to learn, here are a few things to consider.
Readiness: With traditional music pedagogy, there is the expectation that students can read. Suzuki Method students can start younger (ask your local instructor). Your child should also be able to focus and attend for the duration of the lesson and regular practice. Perhaps most importantly, a kid should be interested and excited. Without self-motivation, music lessons will provide diminishing returns.
Space: Space at home may dictate certain parameters; to state the obvious, a drum kit has a bigger footprint than a recorder. That said, there are certain workarounds. A digital piano with weighted keys is a great small space solution, and it can be stashed upright in a closet when not in use. Compact practice pads and practice kits are a solid stand-in for drums.
Noise: Be a good neighbor. Coordinate practice at reasonable hours away from open windows, and put down an area rug to dampen sound. It might be a good idea to talk to neighbors as a courtesy. If Junior is learning Suzuki violin, there will be endless rehearsals of "Twinkle Twinkle," and neighbors will appreciate your scheduling practice times when they aren't going to be home. Digital pianos, MIDI drums, and electric guitars are great in this regard because students can practice with headphones.
Location: If you decide to go with a private instructor, you may have the option of lessons in your home, their home, or a studio. Which environment will best support your child's learning? When I was little, I took piano lessons in a shoebox of a studio, but it was just me, my teacher, and the piano. It was uncluttered and easy for me to concentrate on the task at hand. In my teens, I studied with a different instructor in her home and I remember being so distracted by her busy decor and active cats.
Cost: The biggest potential front-end expense will be the instrument itself, but there are ways to save. Look into loaners from school, renting, Freecycle and Craigslist. If you live in the Midwest and you're looking to buy a piano, consider supporting Keys 4/4 Kids, an organization that supports arts education by restoring and selling donated pianos.
The cost of lessons will vary according to location, but an informal survey of friends and neighbors can give you a ballpark idea. Find out about private instructors as well as programs through your school district, park district, and area non-profits. Save on books and sheet music at the library, borrowing from friends, or buying secondhand.
Here's a recent report on how music affects the developing brain.
Did you study music as a child? Do you play as an adult? Are your children learning to play?
(Image credits: Roni Shapira Ben-Yoseph)