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Preparing for formal music lessons

Let's cut right to the chase: private music lessons are really, really expensive! The basics of music are really quite basic and should be able to be taught quickly and efficiently in order to get on to the interesting stuff and therefore get the most out of your tuition fees. If you are frugal, I have two suggestions:

A. Don't enrol your child until they have some basic skills already under their belt.

B. Make sure you have time for a practice routine. This is crucial for musical success. If you have a good teacher, practicing shouldn't be too much of a chore. If it is, find a different teacher that is able to motivate your child (kids are all different and sometimes the personalities just don't click). Or join up with a music studio that has incentives for practicing (for example, my studio has a token reward scheme for younger students to encourage them to complete all their weekly practice tasks...and it works great!) or competitions to stimulate practice in the holidays.

Parent support is crucial and I believe it absolutely makes the difference between success and failure in music. I don't really believe that some kids are naturals and others aren't, it is more likely that 10% of it is natural talent and 90% is practice, determination and opportunities. So if you don't think you are that musical, you can still make a HUGE contribution to your child's success by encouraging the practice, determination, and also enabling the opportunities.

My youngest student was 3.5 years old and had tremendous support from her mother which enabled her to progress at a phenomenal rate. Anything that I said in the lesson was 100% nailed by the next week, so new concepts took no time at all for her to learn. I estimate that she did at least 2 years of normal progress in 3 school terms because of this (unfortunately I had to say goodbye to this dream student as they moved overseas, SO, SO sad). She was happily doing fractions at 4 years old!

I have had a ton of young beginners and I will share with you that, for the most part, I was teaching ABC and 123 for the first term (sometimes longer) with a little bit of musical expertise in there. So to save you some serious cash and probably get your child more enthusiastic about music because they will succeed faster, here are my top 5 basic skills that you should have well underway before enrolling your child in music lessons:

1. Know your ABCs. As above, sometimes I have spent at least 5 minutes (equates to at least $5 of the lesson fee) teaching ABCs per lesson. The musical alphabet only goes ABCDEFG, so it is not really that complicated. Know the order starting on every note though. ABCDEFG | BCDEFGA | CDEFGAB | DEFGABC | EFGABCD | FGABCDE | GABCDEF. If you have mastered that then try saying them backwards (not required for beginning lessons though!).

2. Be able to count to 5. Obviously a very, very basic thing. Be able to count verbally and recognise the digits. Apply numbers to your fingers (this is for piano particularly. For violin and guitar they are numbered differently):

3. Recognise lower-case and capital letters. So many music books have the note-names written in capital letters, so if the child is only familiar with lower-case this is a huge problem as they often rely on reading finger numbers instead and therefore don't learn to read music properly.

4. Know your left and right hands. This is crucial for holding instruments correctly! Piano-wise it really helps if they are fast at putting the correct hand on the keyboard. I'd estimate that 2 minutes of lessons with my beginners consists of "No, that's your left hand....this is your right hand....can you play with your right hand please?" If that 2 minutes cost you $2-$3 and you learnt for a year (approx. 40 lessons) that is money worth having in the bank!

5. Have the ability to keep a steady beat. This is something that can be taught from a very, very early age. Simply bounce your baby to the beat of the music. If you are not sure where the beat is, there are some apps around that can help you practice. One is called the metronome! Listen to it and clap along ;).... I'm kidding, that would get very boring very quickly (but is very necessary later on in the musical journey). "Beat Sneak" is a neat game you can try. There are also other apps to improve rhythm, one that I have is called "Rhythm Swing" and you can set it to just do single beats. My daughter has been able to do that perfectly since 14 months...but she has had a LOT of musical input so far: twice-weekly pre-school music classes with Kids Music Company (who are fabulous) plus I take every opportunity to pat the beat or bounce her to the beat in a variety of situations: when I'm practicing, during a concert, during church, watching youtube videos, ....anywhere there is music!

Right, that gives you plenty of homework to get stuck in to :) If you feel like your child can manage the above points, they are at the perfect age to begin music lessons!! Go for it! Just please, please, please find a teacher that inspires your kid and look for opportunities to go and listen to music LIVE! There are usually free orchestral concerts around and always buskers about. Stop and listen to them a while :)

If you want to teach your child more yourself and save even more cash, I offer parent coaching in piano and recorder (flute possibly in the near future!). Having a coach as a parent gives you the peace of mind that you are not teaching your child bad habits or missing crucial pieces of information if you are not musical yourself. Plus you get to learn all my tips and tricks! I believe anyone can teach the basics these days as there is plenty of technology to assist you - you just need to know what works! If you would like more information you can contact me at If you are not in Auckland, Skype or Facetime are great!

Congratulations on taking the initiative in your family's music education and thank you for reading! I shall sign off with a quick quote from Friedrich Nietzsche:

'Without music, life would be a mistake'

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