One of the most common questions I receive from parents is “what is the right instrument for my child to start lessons?” Although many opt for the piano, since one or both parents took piano lessons as a child, or perhaps there is already a piano at home or an easy to acquire keyboard they’ve been eyeing online--in a best case scenario, the child would explore a variety of age and size-appropriate instruments before settling on one particular instrument.
I believe there is a “right” instrument out there for all children. Some children display a very clear preference for a particular sound after hearing it just a few times. When children attend concerts, watch music videos with their parents, or listen to their favorite songs, parents can activate a deep curiosity and keen awareness of sound by asking their children questions like which sound they like best and what instrument makes that sound. After the instrument is identified, parents can help their children learn more about the instrument by doing a little research on its origins, materials used to make the instrument, and the musical traditions associated with the instrument. This helps ignite more excitement and lays a good foundation for the relationship the child will embark on with their soon-to-be instrument.
If the instrument selected happens to be something they can try out in person, then a visit to a local music store would be a good next step. Many music stores carry a variety of string, wind, brass and percussion instruments for children to test out. Some music schools even offer “instrument petting zoos” where children can try out a variety of instruments in a fun and family friendly environment.
While it can be tempting to choose any instrument, parents do have to consider age and size-appropriateness.
For children ages 5-10, string instruments are great choices. The violin, ukulele and child-sized guitar are wonderful instruments that are easy to carry and are for the most part, easily accessible. If your child is set on a larger string instrument such as the cello, you will be able to find these instruments for rent at a luthier’s shop, as they specialize in higher quality string instruments. Just do remind your child that carrying this bulkier instrument is a responsibility that will require a bigger commitment in the long run. Lastly, it is a very good idea to rent at this early stage, since stringed instruments need to fit the child’s arm length. Children size up anywhere from every 1-2 years until they reach the “full-sized (largest) version of the string instrument. Your child may also choose to switch to an entirely different instrument altogether--with renting, you have more flexibility to transition to another instrument.
Once children hit ages 11 and above, their bodies are developed enough to explore wind and brass instruments. Here as well, it is best to rent an instrument at the early stages of learning before making a longer term commitment.
Other instruments like the voice (our first instrument!) and percussion are also suitable for younger children. And of course the piano--the most popular instrument that children study--is always a great way to get started.
Lastly, do keep in mind that your child may change their preference early or later on in the course of their musical education. This is not unusual and it can actually lead to a firmer commitment and deeper relationship with the instrument (or two!) that your child eventually chooses. Sometimes, as children grow their musical affinities change and it is healthy to explore interest in different instruments. In the end, every instrument provides a child ample, unique learning opportunities. They will benefit as long as they do their best!
With COVID still on the rise here in the United States and in many other parts of the world, the fear, social isolation and anxiety that children are experiencing today is staggering. This “once-in-a-generation” event can have societal ramifications for years to come. According to this Time magazine article, “Nobody is immune to the stress that comes with a pandemic and related quarantining. Children, however, may be at particular risk. Living in a universe that is already out of their control, they can become especially shaken when the verities they count on to give the world order–the rituals in their lives, the very day-to-dayness of living–get blown to bits.”
Fortunately, there are ways to not only maintain many of the precious rituals that make up daily life, but to actively cultivate ones that enhance wellness. Without a doubt, the ritual that has sustained me through the various trials and tribulations that we all experience as children and into adulthood has been my relationship to music.
My own story goes back to the Iran-Iraq war, a long and deadly conflict that ravaged these two nations for over eight years in the 1980’s. For the first three years of my life, I lived in Tehran, where the love and strength of family, strong ties with neighbors and the energy of a large capital city was my first conception of home. As we experienced nightly blackouts during bombing raids in this fearful and difficult time, my family still made sure I got to dance and enjoy music, as all children need and deserve, especially in the face of stress and uncertainty. As much as I still remember the sounds of war, what I remember more viscerally are the sounds of makeshift drums (pots and pans), the singing voices of my mother and aunts, and the rhythmic clapping of many kind strangers who helped raise feelings of joy on the multi-day bus ride we took to Turkey to apply for an American visa.
We eventually did end up emigrating to the United States, my new home, where I had my first chance to play an instrument. I will never forget the excitement I felt as I explored the 88 keys of the piano at a campus community center where my father was studying. Or the time I got to bring my very own violin home from school. In those moments, the world around me became the background for a world I was creating from the thoughts, feelings, and dreams living inside of me. This feeling of creative expression and exploration was profound, and it’s something I turn to as much as I can, especially during more challenging periods of life.
Drawing from my own experiences of childhood music-making, it came as no surprise when I read the myriad health benefits of music. According to this article published by Harvard Medical School, “music can reduce the stress response” and even help reduce “depression and pain.” Music is also a powerful force in helping relieve social isolation and prolonging life expectancy. In a study conducted in Sweden, regular concertgoers had a 1.5x longer life expectancy than their counterparts who didn’t partake in such cultural offerings.
My wish for all children is to tap into their inner well of creativity when they need it most. Having a daily musical practice is a ritual that ignites so many different dimensions of one’s self: from the intellectual, to the emotional, the physical, and for many, even the spiritual dimensions. It is an activity so holistic that it is one of the few things we as humans do that fires both hemispheres of our brains. And when we share our music with others, whether through a mini-zoom recital, an impromptu outdoor music performance, or a solo meant for none other than the child who has created it, we are all benefitting.
At Nurture Music School, we believe that through kindness, patience and creativity, we can bring music to the lives of children in a way that lasts a lifetime. Sign up for a lesson today and receive a complimentary 15 minute zoom consultation prior to your first lesson.
Last March, when it became clear that we would have to take serious measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, I immediately made the decision to transition all my music students to online lessons. I personally had some reservations around how the online format would affect students' learning. Would it be less engaging? Would it be harder to correct physical aspects of playing, such as posture and bow hold? Would children be able to follow instructions easily? These were just a few of the many questions that regularly preoccupied my mind and heart in those uncertain first days of shelter in place.
Eight months into the pandemic, few would have guessed that we would still be meeting online for our lessons. To my (and my students' parents!) relief, online lessons have proven to be not only engaging, effective and fun, but a source of weekly consistency and creative expression for the many children who continue to make excellent progress in the face of unprecedented challenges.
Here are just a few of the unexpected benefits of online lessons:
Online lessons retain a strong level of personal connection. Unlike remote classrooms where 20 or more students vye for a single teacher’s attention, one-on-one online lessons grant the child uninterrupted attention from the teacher. The teacher-student relationship I had with my students prior to COVID has only strengthened as we continue diving ever more deeply into the beautiful world of music in this often destabilizing and confusing time for children.
Online lessons boost independence and accountability. When students take online lessons, they learn to take more control over their own learning. Whether they browse through digital notes of what to practice, review videos and audio recordings of difficult passages that their teacher made, or simply learn to show up on their own for a zoom appointment (that’s right parents--no more driving your kids around for after-school activities!), they feel an enhanced sense of independence as they easily access digital tools and resources to thrive musically. And with the advent of ever-improving technology, I was relieved that I could still see and hear everything I needed to help my students with things related to posture and position.
Online lessons are convenient in more ways than one. Besides saving parents commute time and gas money, online lessons allow students to take lessons from wherever they have a good internet connection and their instrument. I’ve had some very committed students take their keyboards and violins to vacation rentals where they would not only continue their lessons with me, but also keep up their strong level of practice.
Online lessons are fun and dynamic. From making music for GIF animations, to sharing improvisations and videos, at Nurture Music School we make sure to balance the fundamentals with your child’s unique musical voice. When children express themselves in this way, they are more motivated to apply their skills and aim even higher.
Sign up for a lesson today and get a free 15 minute zoom consultation to help you get your device and child positioned properly to get the most out of online lessons.