So let’s assume that everyone hires great staff, is passionate about what they do, has a great facility in a great location, is the best at what they do, and loves teaching…well of course they do…that’s marketing and honestly why would anyone say anything else? So, then what – how do you choose the best music school? Below are a few things to consider when choosing and a bit about how Music and Play approaches things…

1. HOW YOUNG IS TOO YOUNG – STARTING AT THE RIGHT AGE

Adults can start any instrument at any time. As an adult, success is based on how willing an adult is to commit to practicing. For children, it is not so much age that is a determiner but rather the program and the approach to the instruction. There are many studies that support the approach that sooner is better – not only for the development of their musicality but also for babies’ brain development and a variety of other developmental benefits. The following are guidelines we utilize to help our students to be successful in their music education.

Group Music Classes – parented and unparented (ages 6 months – 11 years old)
We recommend our Music Pups®, Music Cats®, Music Adventures and Keyboard Adventures: The Safari™ programs which provide our students with a firm foundation in music basics. This foundation is invaluable in their transition to private lessons (on any instrument) should they wish. We do not recommend private lessons to children under the age of 6 as we have found and believe that students learn more effectively through the multi-disciplinary programming of the programs listed above.

Private Piano
At Music and Play, 6 years old is the youngest age that we start children in private piano lessons, however we only recommend privates at this age if the family is unable to commit to The Safari group classes (as we have found that young beginning students have better success in the group class). By the age of 7 or 8 children have begun to develop longer attention spans and can handle the intensity and focus needed for a private lesson. Students under 6 should enrol in our Safari piano-based classes.

Private Guitar – Acoustic, Electric and Bass
8 years old is the earliest we recommend for guitar lessons. Guitar playing requires a fair amount of pressure on the fingertips from pressing on the strings. Children under 8 generally have small hands and may find playing uncomfortable thus making regular practicing more difficult even with half or three-quarter size instruments. Bass guitar students are generally 10 years old and older.

Private Voice Lessons
For children 8 and under, we have a youth ShowChoir program that teaches students how to use their voices properly in a fun, relaxed group environment. For students 9 and up, private vocal lessons help students to build on the physical nature of proper singing (breathing techniques, development of the vocal chords and lung capacity) that the younger body is generally not yet ready for and allows them to work on a variety of repertoire suitable to develop their voices. Not all students will be ready physiologically ready by the age of 9 however; the age of 12 is a great time to begin private voice. Teachers will make student specific recommendations; please trust our training and experience in this.

Private Woodwinds: Flute, Saxophone, Clarinet, etc.
Due to the lung capacity needed and the size of the instruments, we recommend that most woodwind beginners are 9 and older.

Private Brass: Trumpet, Trombone, etc.
Playing brass instruments requires physical exertion and lung power. 9 years and older is a good time to start brass instruments.

2. TAKE LESSONS IN A PROFESSIONAL TEACHING ENVIRONMENT

Learning music is not just a matter of having a qualified teacher, but also having an environment that is focused on music education. For the same reason that we send our students to school to learn, in a professional music school environment a student cannot be distracted by TV, pets, ringing phones, siblings etc. With only 30 minutes to one hour of lesson time per week, a professional school environment will produce better results as the focus at that time is on learning music and contributing to the class. Students in a school environment also grow by getting to experience and interact with peers who are at different levels and by being exposed to a variety of musical instruments – and in an integrated arts school there are even greater benefits available. In a music school, the lessons are not just a hobby or sideline for the teacher but a responsibility which is taken very seriously.

3. MAKE PRACTICING EASIER

As with anything, improving in music takes practice. One of the main difficulties with music lessons is the perceived drudgery of practicing and the fight between parents and students to practice at least 5 times a week. Here are some ways to make practicing easier:

Time
Set the same time every day to practice so it becomes part of a routine or habit. Generally the earlier in the day the practicing can occur, the less reminding is required by parents to get the child to practice. Choose the time together with your child, then make it a non-negotiable part of your routine. “I’ll do it later” usually ends up with not doing it at all.

Repetition
We use this method quite often when setting practice schedules for beginners. For a young child, 20 or 30 minutes seems like an eternity – for everyone. Instead of setting a time limit, we use the concept of repetition. For example, practice this piece four times every day, and this scale five times a day. The child then does not pay attention to the amount of time they are practicing their instrument, but knows by what number they are on how close they are to being finished, and in many cases, they will actually practice longer and with better results.

Rewards
This works very well for both children and adult students. Some adults reward themselves with a cappuccino after a successful week of practicing – or after a successful week of their children’s practicing. Parents can help encourage their children to practice by granting them occasional rewards for successful practicing. Remember that praise tends to be the most coveted award; there just is no substitute for a pat on the back for a job well done. The gift of your time – spending uninterrupted one-on-one time with your child – can be the best reward of all. Sometimes we have a week with little practicing, but we all need the occasional break and there’s always next week!

4. KNOW WHO THE TEACHERS ARE

Do you know who the owners and teachers in the studio are – can you go online and find out about who will be teaching your kids? Do the owners, if it’s a commercial school, know about music? Have they taught or performed professionally or do they have the credentials required to appropriately address the needs of your student? It is all to easy to find people willing to teach out of their homes and to fill some of their downtime, but it is all the more difficult to secure quality teachers with the required credentials and who embody the goals of a music studio.

5. USE RECOGNIZED TEACHING MATERIALS

There are some excellent materials developed by professional music educators made for students in a variety of situations. For example, for private piano there are books for very young beginners, books for adult students that have never played before and books that can start you learning and playing at any level you are comfortable with. These materials have been thoroughly researched and are continually upgraded and improved to make learning easier. These materials ensure that no important part of learning the instrument can inadvertently be left out. Our teachers are well versed in the appropriate materials to use and can help our students choose the books that are best suited to their skill development, no matter what the instrument or desired musical direction.

For our group classes, we use the Music Pups program for ages 0-3, our own specialized Music Adventures program for ages 3-4 and the new Keyboard Adventures: The Safari curriculum for 4-11 year olds. Our beginner private piano students use Faber and Faber books and move into Conservatory Canada or Royal Conservatory of Music books when they are ready, though teachers may also recommend other repertoire books. Brass, wind and string students use materials recommended by their teachers for their specific age and level.

And most importantly…

6. HAVE FUN!

Music should be something that you should and can enjoy for a lifetime. Try not to put unrealistic expectations on yourself or your children to learn too quickly. Everyone learns at a different pace and the key is to be able to enjoy the journey. At Music and Play we believe that quality music education can, and should, be fun!