Your Local School District
You'll never get to fine-tune the details
of your child's music education if your
district doesn't have adequate offerings
to begin with. Go to school board meetings,
read the newspaper and know your district
budget. If you find something lacking,
get involved&endash;and if your community
has school budget votes, make sure to take
First and foremost, every student in your
school district should have access to music
if he or she wants it. The district should
have adopted a written music curriculum
based on established local, state or national
standards; the courses should be taught
by qualified teachers; and there should
be adequate facilities for the district's
It's important to know whether your district's
music program is fully funded, or whether
teachers and students have to engage in
fundraising activities. You should try
to gauge the overall degree of administrative
support for the program, as well as parent,
student and community support.
Finally, it's vital that students at all
levels of the district have the chance
to explore a variety of musical styles,
and that there are sufficient opportunities
for them to perform before their parents
and the public.
Students in elementary school should receive
about 90 minutes of music instruction each
week. As a parent, you should check to
see whether this time is spent in active
pursuits such as singing and playing instruments
in addition to passive listening.
At home, set up a special place for your
child to play, and establish a regular
time for playing music. Be involved: ask
your child to explain what he or she is
learning, and offer plenty of praise. Take
your child to see professional musicians
at work, especially ones that play the
same instrument. And never react negatively
to your child's attempts to make music.
It can be hard!
These young students should have an opportunity
to try creating their own music, and they
should receive instruction in the basics
of music notation. The school should have
extracurricular performing groups for
kids who want to join them.
Students in middle school should be able
to begin learning band or orchestral instruments,
or choral music. A general music class
should be part of every student's regular
school schedule required of all students
through grade 8, and schools that don't
use block scheduling should have at least
eight periods in a day to ensure that the
time spent on music is sufficient.
Home practice should take on some structure.
Consult with your child's teacher on an
appropriate routine: a certain number of
minutes devoted to warmup, fun pieces,
difficult pieces, and technical work such
as scales. As your children age, they will
be able to spend more time concentrating
on difficult work without interruption.
The routine can include pre-set goals,
and you and your child can keep a journal
to record progress.
As in elementary school, there should
be school instruction in a variety of musical
styles, and there should be adequate facilities,
equipment and performance opportunities
for students who want to participate.
In high school, bands, orchestras and
choral groups should be available as credit-bearing
courses during the regular academic day.
So should courses in music theory, music
appreciation, general music and guitar
and keyboard study. Look for your child
to begin amassing more technical ability,
and make sure that the time spent in home
practice reflects his or her increasing
ability to concentrate on difficult lessons.
In addition to adequate equipment and
facilities, the school should allow participating
students to spend time in music competitions,
travel to special events and related fundraising
Private Music Education
If your child takes part in private lessons,
make sure the instructor makes you feel
welcome to observe, and make sure the lessons
take place at an appropriate place and
time. Watch to see how comfortable your
child is with the teacher. The teacher
you choose should belong to one or more
professional organizations, and you should
check the teacher's credentials in the
particular area of music - jazz or classical,
for example - that your child wants to
As with school music classes, it's important
that participating kids get a chance to
perform, and not just at an obligatory
end-of-year recital: look for a program
whose students participate in community
events or have the opportunity to audition
for solos. Older students should be able
to engage in friendly music competitions,
or at least be rated in their musical areas
by qualified teachers.
It may surprise parents that good sheet
music can be expensive&endash;the music
for a course of study may cost as much
as several of the lessons. Rest assured
that it's an investment that will be important
in your child's progress. Make sure the
teacher assigns music of lasting quality,
not just pieces that are currently popular.
If your child is taking vocal lessons,
expect him or her to learn a variety of
styles, and look for instruction that includes
singing in German or Italian as well as
English. Older students who take college-level
music courses should be taught by full
professors, not graduate students.
"Some parents don't have a lot of
musical knowledge themselves, but that's
no reason to surrender such an important
part of your child's upbringing to 'experts,'" Mahlmann
concludes. "Even if you've never played
a note, you can still decide to make a
difference in your child's introduction
to the world of music. In that respect,
music is no different from math, English
or any other core subject."