Mom of two young musicians shares advice for encouraging kids’ talent without squelching their passion.
My husband and sons are all musicians. People often ask me how I encourage my kids to practice their instruments daily and enjoy their musical talents without squelching their personal passion for music. If you believe your child might have an interest in music, here are seven tips for you:
1. Recognize an inner desire.
I don’t believe you can force passion and talent on your children. My kids have always had an innate desire to play music. When spoons become drumsticks and paper-towel rolls become horns, you’ll know. (But be careful what you wish for, because all those thousands of dollars of lessons add up, and then you might end up with a young adult who wants to major in music.)
2. Provide access to music.
From the radio to concerts, we have always thought it important for our children to have access to music. We’ve taken our sons to hear concerts from bluegrass to rock to classical. I made sure their preschool had a music program and a music teacher came twice a week. We also always had many kinds of instruments around the house (the piano has been a favorite). We also listen to every kind of music and expose them to all genres, including my husband’s unfortunate favorite of heavy metal.
3. Find good teachers.
Our older son, Ryan, started piano lessons at 5. He instantly connected with his first teacher and worked hard for her. The next year, a group violin program began at Ryan’s school and he said he wanted to try it. The group lessons sounded like nails scratching on a chalk board and cats dying. It was painful.
One day the teacher pulled me aside and said Ryan had a good ear and we should consider private lessons. So we did. Ryan adored this teacher, too, and once again worked hard for her. She had so much patience. We realized how important it was for him to have one-on-one time with a good teacher with whom he really connected.
4. Be patient.
Practices, rehearsals and recitals were rough for the first year or so. We were constantly reminding our son to practice, and it wasn’t fun to hear him play. But then all of a sudden something clicked. We weren’t begging him to practice or setting timers to make him practice for 30 minutes. He wanted to play. He started improvising his own songs, playing Mario Bros. tunes from his video games and imitating his favorite bands, Cold Play and Green Day.
5. Find your child a youth orchestra or children’s choir to join.
We learned that Nashville has several youth orchestras and children’s choirs in which to participate. Ryan ended up singing in one of the local children’s choirs 3rd through 6th grade. Later he auditioned for a youth orchestra and played with them through 12th. Joining a group of young musicians helped solidify his love of playing music. In his more rigorous high school years, we found a more advanced strings teacher.
6. Encourage experimentation with different instruments.
Experimenting with different instruments keeps it interesting. Ryan started drum lessons and auditioned for the high school band and played with several kid rock bands during high school. He plays the mandolin occasionally as well as the bass guitar, too. He auditioned for his college orchestra and was placed, after having spent the summer playing self-arranged tunes on the violin with his younger brother on the cello at the Nashville Farmers’ Market.
The musical path for our second son, Michael, was much more streamlined than his brother’s. He always loved music, but had no interest in taking lessons until he was in the 5th grade, when he began playing the cello in his school strings program. Since then, he’s not stopped playing his instruments daily. They comfort him and are an incredible creative outlet.
7. Celebrate the accomplishments.
Whether our sons made it through a rough week of rehearsals before a school concert or simply practiced on a regular basis without being reminded all week, we have always celebrated the successes as a family. Celebrating for us might include milkshakes after recitals, accolades after the concert, a new bow or case for a new school year or merely encouragement for learning a challenging song. The boys love when they are rewarded for their musical progress. They also find comfort and peace in their music and ultimately, that is the best reward of all.
When I started this journey with my children, I had no idea music would be such an integral part of our lives. But here we are, with many concerts and recitals both behind us and to come. I wouldn’t trade it for the world!
This post was written by Lisa Dunaway, the wife of a bass player, a mother of two musicians and a lover of music and theater. Lisa has performed in musicals and plays for years and is a member of the VUMC Strategic Marketing team.