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After high school band class one morning, I heard some girls talking about a cute saxophone player. I knew who they were talking about but that was the first day I really noticed him. Fifteen years later, that cute saxophone player is my husband and father to my three kids. It’s hard to believe that some of the most amazing parts of my life started with high school band class!
Taking music lessons, first piano and then guitar, has added so much to my life over the years. As a child and teenager, music helped me learn to set goals, work toward those goals and face the fear of performing in front of a group of people. The aspect of music I enjoyed the most as a young person was the relationships I developed. Some of my best friendships (and my marriage) were developed through the common interest of playing music. Beyond my personal experience, there is a large amount of research on the benefits of children learning music.
I want my kids to have the chance to experience the personal and relational benefits that being involved in music can bring to their lives. When my kids were infants and toddlers I focused on exposing them to music through singing and allowing them to play with kid friendly instruments. I have also always allowed them to play on the real piano, as long as they did not get too rough. With my oldest son I debated about when to start him in private music lessons. Here are a few things I learned about how to decide if your child is ready for music lessons and how to inspire your child to practice.
Let them get started with formal education before putting them in private lessons. My son did not go to daycare or preschool, so his first exposure to a structured learning environment was kindergarten. Even for kids who did go to preschool, kindergarten is a big adjustment. It is tiring because there are new things to get used to, so starting music lessons and kindergarten at the same time might be overwhelming. I also found that having some reading skills is very helpful for learning music. At the very least, it is important for children to be able to recognize and identify letters to help them in the process of learning to read music. I started my son in private piano lessons during his second semester of kindergarten and that worked for him. He was used to the idea and role of a teacher and he knew how to read on a basic level. I think that is the earliest a child should start, with few exceptions. I plan on starting my other two children a little later, in first or second grade.
Consider their emotional maturity before starting private lessons. Private music lessons can help children develop many important life skills such as discipline and goal setting. However, children need the ability to think ahead in order to realize the importance of practicing. When children are very young, they live completely in the moment and do not have the ability to understand that their actions now can impact things later. As they mature, children start to understand the concept of cause and effect to varying degrees. If children start private music lessons without fully understanding the benefits of practicing, getting in practices may become a battle.
My son is at the point now, in second grade, where he fully understands that practicing today is how he becomes a better piano player tomorrow. He likes piano lessons and he loves his teacher. However, there are weeks when he does not get in his four practices. He is the type of kid that likes to see evidence of his progress, so I have been trying to think of a way to give him a visual reminder of where he is on his practice schedule. I was recently in my local Brookshire’s (I’m always in Brookshire’s trying to rack up YourPoints so I can save on gas) and I noticed that the bottle of Coca-Cola Zero™ I was about to buy had the song lyrics ‘takin’ care of business’ printed on it. The music notes reminded me of my son and got me thinking about ways I could get him to ‘takin’ care of’ his practices. I decided to make him a practice box to hold his music and prominently display his total practices for the week and inspire him to reach his practice goal.
I asked my son to help make the practice box so it would be more meaningful to him. I wanted to use music written out in his handwriting to decorate the practice box. I drew out a staff for him and he filled in the time signature, notes and anything else he thought needed to be added.
When he was done, I took the paper and scanned it into my computer as a photo. Once it was a photo on my computer, I was able to edit it like any other picture. I was inspired by the fun “Share a Coke and a Song” bottles to add a very colorful background. When I originally found the “Share a Coke and a Song” bottles, I couldn’t help but turn each bottle around and look at the different lyrics. On one of the bottles, I noticed some song lyrics I didn’t recognize, so I used my Shazam app on my phone to discover the song. Then, I went over to the Coca-Cola™ website to find out what other songs they were using on the bottles. I read that part of their goal in choosing lyrics was to be fun and uplifting. I love that sentiment and decided to use it as inspiration to use fun colors on the practice box.
Once I got the music staff exactly how I wanted it, I gathered up my supplies so I could get to work. I bought a plain magazine file and printed off enough music staffs to cover it completely. I printed off six staffs on 11X14 paper. Other supplies I used include a small chalk board to display the practice number for the week, permanent mounting squares, chalk, chalk holder, scissors, adhesive, and a clear drying sealer.
I cut out the staffs and started attaching them to the magazine file with the adhesive. I did not try to make the staffs meet up in any certain way or look uniform at all. I cut the pieces into different sizes and attached them to the file. Once the magazine file was covered, I put a coat of clear sealer over the entire practice box to protect the paper.
Once the sealer was dry, I attached the chalkboard to the front of the practice box with permanent mounting squares. The chalkboard is there so my son can write down the number of times he has practiced for the current week. I put a little tin bucket full of chalk beside the practice box for easy access.
Once everything was finished, I displayed the practice box on the piano. Now my son will easily see how many times he has practiced when he walks into the living room.
If you’re looking for the fun Coke Zero “Share a Coke and a Song” bottles, I found them near the checkout of my local Brookshire’s. As I mentioned before, I couldn’t help but turn each bottle around to look at the different lyrics. It was fun and inspiring to see music used in such an unexpected way! Next time you’re in Brookshire’s, check out the new Coke Zero bottles and see how many of the songs you can identify-you can always use your Shazam app if you get stumped!