Music an instrumental foundation for success

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Involving children in the decision about which instrument they will learn will make them more likely to stick with it.

Involving children in the decision about which instrument they will learn will make them more likely to stick with it.

Your child does not have to become a world-famous concert pianist to benefit from learning a musical instrument.

A child who studies music constantly over a period of time often does better in school academically and socially, according to executive director of the Music Council of Australia Dr Richard Letts.

He said kids who study music from an early age can do better at a range of subjects, and learn there are rewards from hard work, practice and discipline. Playing an instrument helps develop their creative thinking and motor skills, they become more active listeners and it can enhance their health, wellbeing and stamina.

"The earlier a child ... comes to grips with music, the more the brain growth will be influenced. It sets them up for life," Dr Letts said.

When choosing your child’s instrument, seek advice from the school’s music teacher, engage with musical friends, attend concerts, and visit music shops and let children sample instruments to see what they gravitate to. 

Take into account your child’s age and size. A piano is not small but its ease of use makes it a popular first choice for very young beginners. A small violin is quite suitable for a younger child but larger stringed instruments such as the viola, cello or double bass are more suitable as your child grows. Check whether your child’s instrument is available in smaller sizes while they ‘grow into’ a larger one.

Also consider the instrument’s ‘portability’. A child can easily walk a flute to school, but if he or she plays the cello, for instance, and normally rides a bike to school, will you drive them on music lesson days?

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Beware of your child taking up an instrument simply because it is the only one available at school, or because the local concert band needs an oboe player, for instance. If your child can’t stand the sound of the instrument or feels like he or she was railroaded into a particular choice it may be difficult to sustain his or her motivation.

A less tangible but particularly important factor when it comes to your child sticking with an instrument is the image of the instrument itself. The child who is embarrassed to carry a French horn onto the bus may grow to resent the instrument, while he or she might not need any prompting at all to practise the electric guitar or drums. That said, keep in mind how compatible the latter is in a household with babies or where loud sounds are not appreciated.

If you child is passionate about learning an instrument and the upfront cost is not within your budget, consider renting it from his or her school, buying secondhand or using an affordable payment plan. Don’t spend a lot of money on their first instrument – be sure your son or daughter is committed to regular practice once the initial novelty has worn off.

Buying a grand piano or Stradivarius violin for your child’s first instrument may be going overboard, but do keep in mind ongoing costs such as lessons, replacement guitar strings or clarinet reeds and sheet music.