So here you are, your child has picked a band instrument to learn to play and it’s in the house. What should you as the parent do now?
Parents worry that their child won’t stick with the instrument. The answer to this worry is so what if they don’t? They’re kids, they may like it or they may hate it. It’s allowed! A wise boss of mine once said “Education is never wasted.” Therefore, don’t consider it as money you threw away. I’m always amazed what kids learn, seemingly when they’re paying no attention at all.
Here are some suggestions to help your sanity and some know-how to handle situations that are perfectly normal but won’t seem so to you.
Encourage (okay, STRONGLY encourage) your child to play the instrument for at least a year. Nearly every student wants to quit after two or three months because they’re not seeing the progress they wanted, which was instant brilliance, and it feels like it’s just going too tough to learn. Not everything can be done like food in a microwave – a valuable lesson by itself for a child.
It really is nearly irresistible to most parents and children, but please DON’T put the instrument together “just to see” before the child has had the first lesson. Every type of instrument has been known to suffer from this very event so learn from generations of parents before you – DON’T DO IT! Don’t risk adding a repair bill on to the cost of the instrument right at the start.
Okay, now your child has had the first lesson and is home to practice. Expect ugly noises to come from your child and the instrument. That’s just the way it is! It takes time to learn all the techniques needed to produce a good sound. The dogs and cats may run and hide and you may want to hide with them! Do pick a time when your neighbors are not watching their favorite show, especially if you are in an apartment.
Do NOT make fun of your child and the noises. Always be supportive.
Do NOT allow younger or older children to make fun of your beginning student. This is just the worst thing that can happen.
You may also hear long periods of silence from your child’s practice room at the beginning. If they are learning the clarinet, it takes a while to get fast putting that instrument together correctly! Sometimes, the child is afraid to make those ugly noises too. Be supportive, be patient. Do let you child practice with a classmate who is learning the same instrument. They can be lots of moral support for each other but don’t let them play each other’s instruments!
If something on the instrument gets stuck, do NOT take any tools to the instrument. Get help from your band director because a lot of expensive damage is done to instruments by well-meaning parents. You may have to help your child get the instrument to school since it won’t fit back in the case if something is stuck.
Here’s a suggestion for you. If I practiced the piano or the clarinet right after dinner, my mother would wash the dishes instead of making me do them. I thought I was “getting away with something.” I actually thought that for years, duh! But in reality, she was getting what she wanted for the price of doing a few dishes and no whining or pleading to practice was needed.
Now, if the other children in your home make fun of your beginning student, it suddenly becomes THEIR job to do the dishes that night. Whining and complaining about this simply results in more chores being added or more nights of doing dishes. On the other hand, if they say something encouraging (yes, REALLY encouraging with no faces) to the practicing student, they get some of their “dish” time taken away. It can be an encouragement to ALL your children to learn an instrument!
Some parents decide to learn the instrument right along with their children. Not a bad idea but I’d encourage you to wait until the child feels a little more at home with the instrument himself, say three to four months or so. That way, he can feel as though he’s really “teaching” you. It’s reinforcement for the child to “teach” and to get that little feeling of superiority about knowing something Mom or Dad doesn’t know.
I do NOT recommend allowing your child to teach your other children. The instrument can be easily broken in this kind of exchange and I’ve just never seen it turn very well at all.
I will be writing more suggestions for the individual instruments…. flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, percussion, French horn, piano, orchestra instruments, and guitar. Some care and cleaning instructions will be included, just so you know what to expect. I’ll also give some information about how long your beginning student should practice.
If you have a special question, you may ask it via a comment below.