It can be a bit overwhelming. My daughter is still consistently inconsistent that her favourite colour is purple one week, pink the next. How can she possibly choose which instrument to learn for the year, perhaps longer? How can I, as her parent, make that choice for her? And what on earth IS the Suzuki method, anyway?
These are questions I hear often as the director of Upper Beaches Music School. Take heart, fellow parents! There ARE some basic criteria that can help you determine which style of music lessons and which instrument is best for your child. If you've already decided that your child ready to start formal lessons (read "The Best Age to Start Music Lessons"), here are 3 things to consider when diving into the world of music lessons:
1. Is there a close connection to a specific instrument in your family?
Do you have a piano collecting dust in the corner? Does Great Aunt Sue own a pretty decent cello? Did the older cousins start violin already, leaving in their wake a set of tiny violins? If so, you could considerably diminish the cost of instrument rentals and purchases. By choosing an instrument for your child in which you already have a vested interest, you can deepen your relationship with your child. Plus, there is the added bonus of having a resident expert right in the home who can help with practicing and motivating (read "Five Tips to Make Practicing More Fun").
2. Are you able to commit to a group class as well as a private lesson each week?
This is where the Suzuki method comes in. You may have heard about this method, or seen "Suzuki violin" advertised at the school down the street. In short, a true Suzuki method program requires a group class and a private lesson on the same instrument each week. This can yield amazing results in young students because the combined effect of a private lesson plus a group class nurtures the whole musician. The group setting is also highly motivating to young learners (usually they enter the Suzuki program between ages 3 and 5). The Suzuki method really only works if the parent is heavily involved in practicing with their child at home and attending lessons. It is a big commitment, with big results. You can read more about the Suzuki method in our blog post "7 Common Questions about the Suzuki Method" to see if it is right for your family.
3. Does your child exhibit a strong preference or predisposition to a certain instrument?
This might seem like a silly question, since if your child had a preference, very likely you wouldn't be reading this post. But in all honesty, sometimes kids just know that they like a certain instrument. They see someone play the violin at a party, and they are dying to try it, or you can't stop them from tinkering on the piano, or singing silly jingles. It's okay to follow their lead. It won't take the "fun" out of it, and you certainly won't stunt their interest by putting them in lessons. With the right teacher, their interest and abilities will grow and flourish.
Similarly, is there a physical or personality trait that would make a particular type of music lessons more natural for them? If they are tall or have big hands, cello lessons might be a good fit. Can you already see that they have a type A personality? Violin lessons might be an excellent choice as the technical aspects require intense attention to detail. Can they walk and chew gum at the same time? Piano lessons might be the best choice, since reading two lines of music simultaneously is easier for a multi-tasker. Think of your child's natural strengths and cater to them.
When choosing an instrument for your child, sometimes it's best to just dive in. At Upper Beaches Music School, we even offer a trial lesson so that you can test out an instrument (and teacher!) even after you've worked through the above list (you can request a trial lesson here).
Think of it this way: if you knew your child was naturally athletic, would you suffer over the decision to put them in soccer or hockey? Probably not. The same is with music. Pick an instrument early on, and the skills they learn will transfer easily if they decide to switch to a different instrument down the road. Parenting is hard enough. Don't sweat the small stuff!
Rebecca Lane is the director, founder, and owner of Upper Beaches Music School. She teaches at the school on Saturdays, but most days you can find her chasing after her three young children, one of whom is in the Suzuki violin program at UBMS.