Ensuring the Best for Our Kids
Like so many other aspects of your child’s life, the quality of his or her music education rests ultimately in your hands. However, it can be a daunting responsibility. Not every parent is an expert in music or in teaching methods.
The most important thing is to insist on personal involvement,” says Dr. John J. Mahlmann, executive director of MENC: The National Association for Music Education. “You can take part in your child’s homework, get to know his or her teachers, and participate in the community decision-making process that determines what resources will be available.”
Your child’s decision regarding what instrument to study may have far-reaching effects on his or her enjoyment, success and eagerness to continue. You can help by making it a process of inquiry and explanation
Find out what kinds of sounds your child enjoys making and hearing,” Mahlmann says. “Let him or her try out a variety of instruments, and ask your child’s teacher what instruments would be best suited to his or her size and facial structure.”
Taken from MENC’s publications, the following are some guidelines for parents who seek personal engagement in their child’s appreciation of music:
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 part.
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 music program.
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 organized
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 activities.
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 study.
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.”