Parenting Perspective: Music Lessons

April 2, 2010 8:44:22 AM PDT
This may be hard to believe, but when my oldest son, Jason, was a newborn, he would tap his tiny little feet to the music on TV commercials while he nursed. My mother, who learned to play piano by sounding out songs her father would sing to her, said even then that she thought Jason had some natural musical talent.

I hadn't been much of a music student myself. I took piano for a couple of years, but I hated practicing and showed little aptitude. I don't think the flute lessons I took in elementary school lasted three months. My husband had taken piano as a child, but he too disliked practicing. And his father was far more anxious to have him involved in sports than music, so he also quit after a few years.

Luckily, for the Buckman Boys, their grandmother insisted that they have music lessons. When Jason was four, we enrolled him in the Children's Music Workshop at the Settlement Music School in Wynnefield. At the weekly workshops, he learned to keep a beat, play some simple tunes on a xylophone, differentiate high notes from low notes and more. At four, Jason could've started taking Suzuki piano lessons. But he insisted that he wanted to play guitar. Fortunately, Settlement offered Suzuki guitar lessons. He began lessons when he was five, and big enough to hold a half-size guitar.

The Suzuki Method is a way of teaching very young children to play instruments by having them memorize simple tunes, even before they can read. It's very popular for violin students, but is also used for teaching the very young other instruments, including guitar and piano. Jason took to his little guitar immediately, and played "Pomp and Circumstance" as his fellow kindergartners marched in for their "graduation." As a 17-year-old high-school junior, Jason still plays guitar, and is a song leader for his youth group.

Both Billy and Micah, my two younger sons, followed in Jason's footsteps and began in The Children's Music Workshop at Settlement while they were still in preschool. Both began Suzuki piano lessons in kindergarten. Billy added saxophone to his repertoire in elementary school and has played in the band, orchestra and Jazz Bands throughout middle school. He also constantly amazes us with his ability to pick out popular songs, movie and TV themes on the piano, without ever looking a piece of music. Clearly, he got his talent from his Grandmom.

It's not always easy getting the boys to practice. But teaching methods are much better than they were when my husband and I were kids. From the beginning, the boys played songs they knew. And when Billy tired of classical music as he got older, his teacher quickly found a collection of Jazz, Rags and Blues to keep him interested. And they do enjoy taking part in recitals and performance hours. We also encourage the boys to perform in the living room at holidays and family gatherings. They get great positive feedback from their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins for their "talent." To encourage practicing, we try to reward them for doing it and, yes, we sometimes resort to bribery. But really, once it becomes part of their routine, like homework and bathtime, it's not too bad.

Of course, music lessons can be expensive. But Settlement, and many other music schools, offer scholarships. And used instruments can be purchased at significant discounts from websites like Craigslist, eBay and even used instrument shops, like Axe-zactly Music in Hammonton, New Jersey . If you're lucky to live in a school district where lessons are offered, that's also a great way to expose your children to music. In my experience, music lessons pay off in many ways. There is lots of evidence that kids who take music lessons do better in math at school ( .

I really think all three of our boys have gained self-confidence through their abilities to play. Learning new pieces gives them a sense of mastery. Even though the learning process can be frustrating sometimes, they learn the important lesson that by sticking with something and trying again and again, they can conquer a new challenge. And even if they never become professional musicians, that's something I hope they'll remember throughout their lives.