Starting your child on music: Your daughter hates the violin. Get over it.

By Anna Tham

Like any new parent, I entertained my own “delusions of grandeur” during my daughter’s early childhood. I’d dream of her making a scientific discovery, becoming a celebrated author, or performing one of Paganini’s Caprices to a standing ovation.

That last one was particularly enduring when I began thinking about sending her to music lessons. Projecting our ambitions onto our kids is common and often manifests in our eagerness to put our kids through enrichment classes.

With music we become anxious about which programme, which instrument, which school, which teacher? We start comparing course content, fees, and teaching methods. We see what other parents are doing and we feel like jumping on that bandwagon too.

But before we limit ourselves to what’s popular or what others tell us is good, why not think about what’s suitable for your child; an individual with his own preferences, personality, character, and learning style. You’ll find that it’s not a case of ‘one-size fits-all’.

Was it your child himself who has asked to learn?

It’s a good sign when they articulate their choices. That means they are at the very least attracted to, and curious about music. Sometimes, that interest lasts –my daughter is now 11 and still drumming away– and sometimes we have to accept that it doesn’t.

At four years old my daughter pestered us for drum lessons. I like to think that our music sessions with cheap toy instruments helped piqued her interest.

I did secretly wish she’d chosen the violin. But that was my dream. We should know better than to live our dreams through our children.

Compulsion breeds resistance or worse still, resentment, so let him have a go at whatever instrument he chooses. If he doesn’t know, expose him to as many as possible. Go for free trial classes for an instrument or a music-and-movement class. Let him have a feel of the activity, the teacher, and the other students if it’s a group class.

Choose an instrument or music programme that your child enjoys and is comfortable with. Don’t force him to pursue what you alone think is good for him.

Think about your objectives

Is it music appreciation, general knowledge, or mastering a specific instrument that you want her to gain from music lessons? It’d be great if it was all of the above but don’t forget that learning music also develops social skills; instils discipline, commitment, responsibility, self-confidence, and teaches teamwork.

It aids younger children develop their sensory, motor and coordination skills, and even in learning a language. In the article Born to Sing: How Music Enriches Children’s Language Development, Ann Gadzikowski writes that language learning is enhanced when children experience the rhythm of music.

Look at how your child can learn and develop through music with the right perspective; not simply because it is another item to add to your must-do list in the rat race of life.

Consider what’s practical; there are no rules.

If an older child chooses an instrument, you’ll need to consider if it’s practical and suitable for him physically. A petite child may not be able to carry a large cello case by herself let alone play the instrument. Some wind instruments require suitable lip structure, and facial strength, while others require larger hands or more dexterity to play.

Also, do not stereotype, follow trends or be influenced by others. There is no rule that says every child must start at age three, or with the piano or violin, or if a particular instrument is more suited for a boy or girl.  

If your child is special, can the programme, instrument and teaching method cater to her needs? How will it benefit her? Would it be a challenge for the both of you? Or would she be bored because she is exceptionally gifted?

What is your budget? Are you ready to spend on fees or the instrument? There’s no need to buy an instrument immediately if you can make-do with one of average quality. You can upgrade later when your child progresses and shows deeper commitment.

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Is the location of the music school convenient, are you able to send or make arrangements for your child to travel there? Or would you prefer a teacher that makes house calls?

Choose a programme or instrument suitable for your child considering all aspects of readiness, and how much you are willing to invest in time and money. Balance these considerations instead of going with what’s popular or convenient.

‘Audition’ the teachers as they ‘audition’ your kid

Some of us may have encountered the knuckle-knocking-sadist of a piano teacher in our childhood. Avoid them at all costs. Why subject your kid to abuse? A good teacher should should be able to relate to children and treat them with respect.

Before enrolling my daughter into a music education programme, we attended trial classes in two schools that offered the same programme. The contents of the content and methods were identical. The only difference was the teacher, and the kids in the group classes. In the end we opted for the one with the teacher to which my daughter responded well.

It always helps when the child likes the teacher. Weren’t we more open to listening and learning from a teacher we liked when we were in school?

Choose a teacher that your child can responds positively to. It may be difficult to determine if that teacher is ideal from just one trial class so let your instincts and better judgment guide you.


The School at Jaya One