The Foundation Level, is the most important stage (as with any other course) of music lessons on any instrument, whether it’s the piano, violin, guitar, drums, voice, etc. This is the stage where habits, technical skills, musical knowledge are developed and established that will be used later on at the Advanced Level. Because this is the most important stage of music lessons, it is only right for parents to know what their child should be learning and what to expect from the lessons so they can help their child succeed.
Sadly, what happens oftentimes is that lesson after lesson, the student and the teacher sit through the piece with the only goal of playing it to completion. Sometimes, students quit before that even happens. The truth is, there are other music skills that must be developed - many other things that should go on in an instrumental music lesson. Whether your child aims to be a professional musician or not, it is only fair that he/she gets the most excellent training.
Good musicians are expected to possess excellent musical skills in the following areas which are named individually, but which are all actually intertwined. It is better to think of them as the strands of a thick rope. The stronger these strands, the stronger the rope.
Musical Skills Your Child Must Develop To Be A Complete Musician
1. Aural - involves skills in listening to musical aspects such as rhythm, melody, etc.
2. Technique - involves the physical skills of actually manipulating the instrument to produce a musical sound.
3. Interpretation & Style - involves the ability to play various styles of music (it could be Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Contemporary, Jazzy, etc.)
4. Theoretical Knowledge - an understanding of notation, pitch durations and all musical elements
5. Sight-reading - the ability to play any music at first sight
6. Memory Work - the ability to play music from memory
7. Performance - the ability to play music for an audience
From the very first music lesson, work should be started in these areas even for just a few minutes. Basic exercises to enhance listening, reading, (each one of the above) can be done at 5 minutes or less in every lesson, building up gradually to more advanced exercises. Good teachers will incorporate these in every lesson.
Given the many musical aspects to develop (as listed above), you might now be asking yourself:
Can i really help my child at home? If so, how?
The answer is, YES! You can help your child at home even if you are not a musician.
Before I proceed with the HOW, there are a few basic things that parents must always keep in mind to avoid/lessen/eliminate frustrations:
1. Children learn at different paces. Do not compare your child with another child. Do not talk negatively about your child.
2. Children do not always demonstrate what they already know. It is best to keep doing the activities/ assignments without the expectation that your child will always readily demonstrate what they know to you or to the teacher at all times. Just keep going/ doing the assignments.
3. Children learn through different means - visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc. If a particular activity is not working to get the concept understood, try different ways of presenting it.
4. Good nutrition plays an important part in children’s ability to learn. Numerous studies have been conducted in this area.
5. Children learn best with established routines. Make it a habit of playing or doing the musical activities/assignments daily.
Why am I so confident that you can help your child at home even if you’re not a musician?
It is because the things required of you at the Foundation Level are very basic. You do not have to be a musician to do the following.
1. Set the Environment.
- Get a portable CD player (good quality speakers) and provide a musical background for your child. It can be played softly while your child is playing with his toys, etc. At least 1-2 hours daily of quality music played in the background will help develop your child’s ear for music.
- Provide your child with a good quality instrument to start with.
A lot of parents make the mistake of thinking they will buy a good instrument once they see an interest in their child. But having a bad instrument to start with is the very demotivating for a child beginning lessons. He/she will not be able to replicate the good sounds heard during lessons with the teacher, or the sounds heard on the quality CD player.
- Do not watch TV (if it’s in the same rooom as the piano), talk loudly, or create distractions while your child is practising on his/her instrument. I had a student whose parents liked to watch TV in the same room while she practised! Needless to say, the student was demotivated by this and wanted to quit.
-Bring your child to concerts, recitals, musicals, plays, theatre, art exhibitions to expose them to the arts.
2. Provide Encouragement
- While setting the environment is one form of encouragement, it is also best to offer words of encouragement, especially when your child is working on a difficult part of a piece. Give praise when due, especially after overcoming difficulties.
- Sit with your child when they practise at home.
- Always read through their assignments. Know what is expected of them to practice for the week.
3. Sit in the Lessons But Do Not Interfere
- If parents want their child to make fast and good progress, it is important for them (or at least, one of them) to always sit in the lessons and take note of what their child needs to do at home - such as the teacher’s intstructions on technique, practising, etc. This is strongly encouraged at the Foundation Level. Only referring to the teacher’s written assignments in the child’s notebook is not enough as playing a musical instrument or singing is a physical thing. Sometimes, words cannot exactly describe what needs to be done.
- While parents are encouraged to sit in the lessons, it is best however not to interfere with the lesson. Sometimes parents cannot help but interfere when their child is trying out a particular technique and cannot get it - some want to do it for the child, some even answer the teacher’s questions for the child,etc. Parents are encouraged to observe and take down notes, but not to interfere. Any matter of concern may be discussed privately with the teacher after the lesson or at another appropriate time agreed by both the teacher and the parent/s.
4. Send Your Child For Lessons Regularly (Weekly)
- Enrolling your child for music lessons means making a commitment to attend regularly (typically once-a-week, though some do come for twice-a-week lessons or more). Basically, do your best to not miss the regularity of weekly lessons.
- Playing a musical instrument is a skill that needs daily physical practice. Lessons are normally conducted only one day a week. The rest of the week is meant to be spent on practising new concepts learnt through physical practice. If your child misses that one lesson for the week, he/she is actually missing 7 days of mastering new concept/s.
5. Make Your Child a Part of a Peer Group With the Same Interests
- Learning a musical instrument on an individual basis is sometimes a lonely task. Research shows evidence that children are in one way or another, more motivated to practise and learn when part of a group.
- If the teacher provides group lessons, make sure your child attends that one too. If not, why not make a suggestion or initiate group practice sessions with other parents?
6. Acquire Good Quality Recordings (especially the Pieces That Your Child is Learning)
- No matter how simple-sounding it is to you (Mary Had A Little Lamb, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, etc), it is important that your child gets the opportunity to hear/listen to a good quality of sound on the same instrument that he/she is learning. If a recording of the piece is unavailable, purchase a good quality recorder and request for the teacher to play it for you while you record it.
7. Maintain Good & Open Communication Lines with Your Child’s Teacher
- Always communicate - ask if anything is not clear, state your expectations and whether these are relevant/appropriate at your child’s current level, discuss your aims/ goals, etc. with your child’s teacher.
by Sharon Jusay
Questions, comments and suggestions for topics are welcome. Please drop a line or two. :)
(Source: how parents can help their children succeed in music)