It’s as simple as ABC – when you add D E F & G

When your child starts learning an instrument, there are a few key factors to think about:

  1. What are your expectations?
  2. What are your child’s expectations?
  3. How often (and where) is practice going to happen?
  4. How are you going to communicate with the instrumental teacher?
  5. What is the long term goal?

1 & 2) We find that the expectations of children and their parents differ greatly when it comes to learning an instrument. It is very important that everyone goes into this new venture with the same mindset. Explain to your child that if they want to progress with the instrument, they have to work with their teacher, put in the effort of practicing each week and make sure that they have something to offer or ask their teacher in the next lesson. Lessons that are driven by the child wanting to learn the next steps are worth every penny!

3) Different teachers will have different views on practice, but a good guideline is to practice the instrument every day that you don’t have a lesson for the same amount of time as the lesson. Ideally the length of the lesson should increase as the child gets to the intermediate stage (around Grade 5). Practice does not make perfect playing – only perfect practice achieves that and that is essential for improvement. 

4) Having the ability to be in contact with the instrumental teacher is also key. Most teachers will be more than happy to communicate via your child’s practice book, but you do need to remember to look at the book on a regular basis to ensure that you haven’t missed anything and you are also up to date with what your child should be practicing.

5) When starting a child on an instrument, it’s good to look at the long term goal (even if you don’t get there!), so that you have the “persuaders” to encourage your child to continue when they’re struggling. There will be times when they struggle – learning an instrument isn’t a walk in the park, but the benefits are enormous.

Other points to know / consider:

Please note that your child will encounter the initial hurdle of learning to concentrate on several things at once – how to play the instrument, which fingers are for which notes, reading music, learning to play in time, playing in the right key, playing loud and quiet, etc, etc. After a while (and every child is different!) things will become a little easier and more enjoyable (and better for your ears!).

Usually your child can join bands / orchestras at school after they’ve been learning for a few months (it can sometimes take longer than this as it’s also dependant on which instrument they’re learning). Alternatively, there are local Music Groups who will get together outside of school hours and are well worth investigating as they often have regular concerts (potentially in well known venues), as well as trips and tours which your child can take part in once they can play at a reasonable level. This is when the real joy of playing with others begins and your child begins to see the benefits.

Progressing further:

After a while, your child can start to take Graded Exams on their instrument – Grades 1 to 8 are available for most instruments, but it is not necessary to take all of them; their teacher may decide to skip the odd one if they feel that is will potentially hold your child back if they are progressing well. As a rough guide, Grade 4 is considered to be around GCSE level standard and Grade 6/8 is considered to be around A Level standard. 

Once a child has achieved a certain level on one instrument, a second instrument can be introduced – this is usually (but doesn’t have to be) within the same family of instruments, ie clarinet and saxophone are both woodwind instruments and have similar fingering, so it is easier to add the second one and the child normally achieves a similar level on the second instrument in the first couple of years. 

Going to University having achieved Grade 8 will normally allow your (now adult!) child to join the bands and orchestras there (a great way to meet other students) and potentially play in a pit band for the drama department for musicals. Often Universities offer a grant for students at Grade 8 or above if they are intending to do a degree in a subject other than Music. This is well worth looking into and usually requires your child to do an online submission of a video recording of themselves playing a piece on the instrument; it can be worth thousands of pounds over the period of the Degree Course.

Many parents assume that Grade 8 is as far as you can go with playing an instrument, but there are diplomas that you can take, after achieving Grade 8, in performance and teaching. The later will enable you to teach the instrument and can be a useful way to achieve an income stream, or as an additional income if required.