Christmas BOGO Sale!

This Christmas, give your loved ones the beautiful gift of music.

Music lessons are an amazing way to touch the hearts of friends or family, providing them with an enjoyable hobby they’ll love year after year.

To make your holiday giving a whole lot easier, we’re having a special promotion this season. When you buy one month of lessons, you’ll get a second month FOR FREE.

Our most generous offer ever, this is our way of saying, “Merry Christmas” to our community. Thank you for your continued love & support.


Merry Christmas

and Happy New Year!


Terms: Use promo code ‘NEWYEARBOGO’ when purchasing music lessons. Promo code may be used for private lessons (piano, guitar, voice, violin, flute, clarinet), group classes (Mom & Baby class, Pre & K class, or Intro to Guitar class), or gift certificates.

Promo code valid for new students only. Family members of current students CAN use this code! Only one free month of lessons per student. Families may use code for multiple students.

Promo code expires January 30, 2016.


Music, and the Extensive Benefits of Training

Contributed by Mallory Livingston, Instructor of Piano & Voice


Art is an intricate part of humanity that is essential to mental, emotional and developmental

welfare, and when absent, devalues and destroys the pieces that collectively brings us together as

mankind. This is visible by studying neuroscience, biology, sociology, psychology, and human interaction,

as well as a plethora of other subjects. A particular art form known to us as Music, has such an

extraordinary effect upon the brain that by restoring the importance of Music in our culture, the effects

would be astonishing; unlocking a perspective on reality yet to be conceptualized in its full extent with

improved cognitive ability, memory, amity, and collaboration, and it would be evident immediately as

well as continuously progressing.


When one learns to play musical instruments some other benefits include an increase in

memory capacity, a refining of time management and organizational skills, enhanced coordination, an

increase in mathematical ability, stress relief, and a healthy fostering of self-expression. It has been

shown that learning a musical instrument can assist in an increased IQ by an average of seven points

with larger strengths in parts of the brain that control hearing, memory and coordination, as well as

keeping many other areas of the bran active (Davis, Lauren). A group of adults, with an age range of 65-

80 were tested, and those with musical backgrounds consisting of at least an hour a day for the majority

of their life were shown to have better scores on word recall, non-verbal memory, and cognitive

flexibility. Thus showing that the positive benefits of musical training can further enhance to the quality

of life even at a more elderly age; consequently shedding light on the importance of adequate study.


Music has also been shown to contribute to the learning of foreign languages as well as

perceiving and understanding the emotions to others. According to Davis, this is due to “the fact that

learning an instrument requires you to learn about tones and scores which increases your ability to store

audio information. Therefore it becomes easier to pick up other languages and have a better verbal

memory in your own language.” Davis goes on to explain that “parts of your brain that control motor

skills actually grow and become more active. By reading musical notes on a page, your brain must

convert that note into specific motor patterns while also controlling breathing and rhythm as well. Also

for most instruments, you have to be able to have your fingers and/or limbs each performing different

tasks simultaneously.” Instrumental training requires remarkable dedication and intellect. One cannot

simply play, but must go through the process of learning, in turn, strengthening both physical and

mental stimulation. There have been many studies on music’s effect on school work, social interactions,

and behavior (La Voie JC) showing the many positive outcomes. While Brown’s study was being

conducted, one finding found that children as young as 15 months showed significant signs of

improvement when they were involved in music programs. On average, children’s IQ increased by three

points more than non-musically trained children after one year of study, and students in elementary

schools with well-rounded, superior music programs scored on average 22% higher on English test

scores and 20% higher on math test scores, regardless of the school district. Children with musical

training show “music instruction has improved sound discrimination and fine motor tasks,” as well as

these musical skills coming into handy when “solving multistep problems one would encounter in

architecture, engineering, math, art, gaming, and especially working with computers” (Brown, Laura).


Music is also good for general health. Music can act as a form of therapy, reducing blood

pressure, assisting in Attention Deficit Disorder, insomnia and depression. Not to mention the physical

exercise. For example, 90 minutes of drumming can burn up to 500 calories (Davis). Music also requires

discipline, responsibility and perseverance as well as patience and focus. Children learn many skills and

principals that can carry over to other subjects and in general better there life. Preparing children and

adolescence with musical training better prepares them for the future to come in almost all aspects of



Hence, with all of the obvious benefits of music study and practice, what is holding you back

from bettering your life as well? Who is to say that you are, or are not, a musician. You are a human,

therefore, you should Music.



Brown, Laura Lewis. “The Benefits of Music Education.” N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.

Cole, Diane. “Your Aging Brain Will Be in Better Shape If You’ve Taken Music Lessons.” National

Geographic. N.p., 3 Jan. 2014. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.

Davis, Lauren. “10 Good Reasons To Learn A Musical Instrument (It’s Not Too Late!).” WXRT. N.p., 5 Nov.

2013. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.

George Hicks. “CommonHealth.” CommonHealth RSS. George Hicks, 17 July 2014. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.

La Voie JC, Collins BR. Effect of youth culture music on high school students’ academic performance. J

Youth Adolesc.1975;4 (1):57– 65, Accessed December 4, 2014.

Q & A: How can I help my toddler become musical?

Our question today comes from Juliano, who’s wondering how he can help his toddler start learning to play the piano and develop musicality.

Dear Northwest School of Music,

My name is Juliano and I have a 1.5 years old daughter.
I read your article and it was very helpful.
I want to teach my daughter to become musical and learn to play piano, and I would like your hints regarding books for such age.
If you can help me, it will be much appreciated.

Thank you

Hi Juliano,

Thanks so much for your feedback. It’s great to hear that you want to help your daughter learn to play music! She’ll be far ahead of most people if you start this early with her.
For a child that young, you don’t need to start with books. Here’s three things you can do to help her become musical and start learning to play the piano:
1. Fill your home with music. Listen different kinds of music throughout the day, in the car, and when you put her down to sleep. Classical is the best, but variety is important as well.
2. Take the time to interact musically with your child. Sit down at the piano with her and experiment playing the black keys or the white keys, soft and loud, high notes and low notes, etc. Turn on some music and dance to the beat! Find (or make) some rhythm instruments and play along to music. Sing along too!
3. Find a local music class your child can be a part of. Your child needs to see other people making music as well to understand the significance and joy that music has to offer. Get out of the house, find a class and have some fun! Most local music schools offer music exploratory classes for toddlers.
When your child is 3 or 4, you can start focusing in more on the piano. She can begin taking private or group piano lessons, and I’d recommend the Music for Little Mozarts piano book series for you to work with her at home.
Hope this helped!
Gillian Perkins

Guitar Program Interview

with Instructor Manny Martinez

Guitar Teacher Manny Martinez

Mr. Martinez is the head guitar instructor at Northwest School of Music. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with his bachelor’s degree in Guitar Performance from Berklee College of Music. He’s had over 15 years of professional teaching experience and is a regular performer and recording artist.

How would you describe your teaching style?

M. Martinez: I believe in providing a comfortable and low stress atmosphere while motivating the student to exceed even their own expectations. Generally I will begin lessons by teaching a series of well known songs in popular genres that tackle multiple basic techniques.

What is it about your approach that encourages your students to thrive?

M. Martinez: Providing a friendly and low stress atmosphere is key. I make sure to be extremely patient and move at a pace that is comfortable for the student. However, this is carefully balanced with my motivational attitude, which is something that is contagious to students. I manage to push students to their limit without being overbearing.

That sounds great, but are you sure it works?

M. Martinez: I have used this approach to lessons with hundreds of students. Many have gone on to be accepted into top music colleges, be accepted into all county and all state jazz bands, and become members of nationally touring bands. The approach works.

Wow, that’s great! So what does this approach look like during the first month of lessons?

M. Martinez: Even from the first lesson, the student is playing legitimate, well known songs. After about 4 lessons, I ask the student to make a list of 5-10 songs they would like to learn. I start to incorporate the songs the student would like to learn, along with the techniques and other content that I incorporate. (This includes reading, right hand finger picking as well as techniques to use the guitar pick, basic chord vocabulary, and a whole lot more).

How do you stand out in your field?

I think the main difference between me and other guitar teachers is my intense determination to become a better musician myself. Now more than ever I am practicing intensely to move up the ladder in the guitar and music world. I am an active performer, and deliver a style and level of guitar playing that is not typical to this town.

How do you see your dedication impacting your students?

My determination and passion to improve my own abilities is something that is contagious to students. Many guitar teachers are simply going through the motions. They will assign the next page in the book, have everyone play the same songs, and not put much work into their own playing. I am the opposite. I tailor my lessons to be specific to each student and their goals, while making sure all students receive a basic foundation in the basics.

Finally, we asked Mr. Martinez to give us an overview of what the first two years of guitar lessons look like for most students:

M. Martinez: Of course, this varies from student to student, depending on their goals.

The first 2-3 months – The first few lessons cover basic techniques, chords, tablature, and reading. The student will learn basic chords in the context of classic songs by artists like Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, America, Nirvana, Deep Purple, and many other well known artists. Within 4-6 weeks, we can incorporate songs that the student requests, as long as they are the appropriate skill level. All genres are welcome. During this 2-3 months we will begin working out of the Christopher Parkening Guitar method for learning to read standard notation (although, adult students will have the option as to whether or not they want to learn to read standard notation at this point). Guitar pick techniques will be focused on, as well as right hand finger picking. There will also be focus on playing single note riffs from classic songs by bands like Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and many great rock and pop bands. This as well is an area where students can request songs that are in the appropriate skill level.

3-6 months – During this time is where we start to get into some tougher chords, including barre chords. We continue to use classic songs, and at this point can incorporate songs that the student requests at a regular basis. Left hand techniques including hammer on’s and pull off’s become an area of focus. Right hand finger picking, in the styles of classical and folk are also an area of focus. The use of the guitar pick with the right hand continues to be an area of focus as well. We continue in the Parkening book (Unless an adult student that is not interested in reading) and may introduce supplementary reading material as well.

6-12 months – At this point the songs we use will become a bit more difficult. Songs like Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin), Sultans of Swing (Dire Straits), Hysteria (Muse) as an example. Students begin to work on learning the guitar solos from classic songs, which is generally the most difficult part of the song.  I also introduce the Pentatonic scale, which is the most commonly used scale by Guitar Players to improvise guitar solos. This will be an ongoing process from here on out, and generally is seen as the most fun part of these lessons. The student will basically learn to use this scale to be able to improvise their own guitar solos. We also continue to develop our chord vocabulary and work on our guitar pick techniques as well as right hand finger picking techniques. During this time of course, students can request songs to learn. But at this point, many beginner songs that the student wants to learn can often be learned on their own because of their knowledge of the basics.

1-2 years – Throughout the first year there will be many references to music theory and discussion of basic principles like major scales and chord constructions. But it is typically around the 1 year mark where this becomes a major focus. I begin to show the student devices to learn and memorize all 12 major scales and begin to discuss modes. We will also begin to focus on chord construction, and now be able to understand why every chord in the student’s chord vocabulary is called what it is called. We begin to understand the relationship between the chords and the major scales, and are able to use this information to determine which pentatonic scales and modes can be used to improvise over various chords progressions. With a foundation in music theory, and solid guitar technique, this opens the door to a large variety of concepts that can be studied from here on out, including the introduction of Jazz music, which applies the technique and theory that has been learned.


Does Musical Diversity Matter?


You’ve probably heard that listening to or playing music has certain cognitive effects. Music can help you relax, or help you focus while you study. Listening to it can even help to increase your IQ score! Playing music helps develop fine motor skills, coordination, focus, and attention span. Practicing anything consistently also develops certain character traits, like perseverance, tenacity, and diligence.


However, something you may not have heard before is the idea that listening to and playing different types or styles of music can have different effects on your body, mind and even spirit. We aren’t just talking about fast and slow music here– music of different styles, whether from different eras or different cultures, actually alters your brain waves in different ways, affecting how your mind works, and your mood (even your hormone productions). If you’re practicing the music yourself, then these different styles of music are also going to test your physical capabilities in a variety of manners, pushing you to new challenges and achievements.


A new study from Northwestern University focuses on what they call ‘bimusicality.’ The author, Patrick Wong, specializes in how the brain processes sound. Bimusicality is the same idea as if someone were bilingual. It just means that they grew up listening to two very different styles of music. Interestingly, Wong found that bimusicality had significant cognitive effects, far greater than most would have expected.

Wong recruited people who grew up listening primarily to Western popular music. And then he selected another group of people — Indian Americans– who grew up listening to both Western music and the traditional music of India.

Wong had his subjects use a dial to indicate the amount of tension they felt in the music.

People tend to report that foreign music has more tension. But the people who grew up with both Western and Indian music felt low degrees of tension with both types of music. They were equally at home listening to either genre.

Wong called these people ‘bimusicals.’

The study participants listened to the music inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, so Wong could track their brain activity.

“If you are bimusical, you tend to engage a larger network of the brain when you listen to the two kinds of music,” Wong said.

He concluded that people who had grown up with both Indian and Western music had a more elaborate brain system for listening than those who grew up with just Western music. Wong’s bimusicals engaged more areas of their brain when listening to music. He says bimusicals looped in not only the auditory areas of the brain, but also its emotional region.

That led Wong to hypothesize that bimusicals may need to engage the emotional part of the brain to differentiate the two types of music.

Wong isn’t saying that only bimusical people experience music emotionally. We all do that. It’s more that bimusicals may tap into that region of the brain in order to toggle between multiple musical styles.

So does the bimusical brain behave similarly to the bilingual brain?

Gigi Luk, who studies bilingual learning at Harvard, has observed signs of enhancements in the brains of people who grow up with two verbal languages.

“We found a better performance [among bilinguals] in what we call executive functions,” Luk said.

Executive function tasks involve things like planning, problem solving, and multitasking. “We see this advantage across the lifespan from young children to older adults,” she says.

Bilingualism has clear differences from Wong’s bimusicalism. For one thing, speaking a language is more active and involved than listening to music.

Still, Luk isn’t surprised by Wong’s findings. She believes that all that switching, whether between languages or musical cultures, leaves a physiological impact.

“Our experiences, whether they’re musical or linguistic, actually shape our brain and give us a qualitative difference in brain networks,” she said.

There’s still much more to learn about just how that qualitative difference plays out in the bimusical brain. But Wong believes his research opens a door.

“This is telling us that perhaps being bicultural might change our biology in a fundamental way,” Wong said.

But does that give the bimusical, bicultural mind the same sort of cognitive edge as the bilingual mind? That’s for a future study.


Make Time for Everything Your Child Wants to Do

Salem Oregon flute lessons at Northwest School of Music

flute playing

While at first your kids are content to pick daisies and play with sticks, it seems like before you know it they are full of ambitions you never could have expected. They want to be ballerinas, play the violin, and be on the t-ball team?? It really can be quite overwhelming. In fact, even doing one extracurricular activity well can be quite a challenge, when you’re considering school and work schedules as well. Here’s a plan for how you can help your child participate in as many things as reasonably possible. But keep in mind, this is different for every child and every family. For some, with a little careful juggling, four different activities might be able to be balanced, however, for others, it is best to just stay with one or two, and focus on quality over quantity.

1.   Help them decide what things are most important

There are thousands of different activities your child might potentially participate in, and obviously it’s impossible for them to do everything. Now, there’s some things you’ve automatically written off the list… you probably aren’t planning to send your child as a foreign exchange student to the Amazon, for example. Aaaand…. you aren’t stressing about what your child might be missing out on if he did go to the Amazon, right? You’ve just accepted that it’s something that has too great a cost (money, time, and your child’s safety), so you’ve written it off the list and move on. Now it’s your job to help your child do the same. Have a talk with them about everything they are interested in, and what activities they consider the most important. From there, just start with their biggest goal– once you get into the groove, you might be ready to try a second activity.

2.   Help them understand that to do those things, they’ll have to give up other, extra things

Now, your child might wonder why she can’t just try all her interests at once. Help her understand that every time you add something new to your plate, something else gets pushed off the backend. So, maybe he wants to join the soccer team, but that will mean he would have to get up earlier to do his homework in the mornings before school (thus losing sleep), or maybe she wants to take an art class, so you should point out that if you pay for the class, you won’t have as much money for new clothes.

3.   Learn how to multitask

Once you’ve determined exactly what activities you will and won’t be doing, it’s time to put some brain power into figuring out what you can do while you wait. Because there will be some waiting that will happen. Maybe you can get some reading time in while your daughter’s at ballet practice, or perhaps you can answer your emails while your son has his cello lesson. While your son is practicing at home, maybe you can’t watch tv (too distracting), but perhaps you could get the dishes done, and then enjoy a show with him after you’ve both completed your tasks.

4.   Do things with your child

One of the most significant things you may be trying to fit into your schedule– and keep there– is spending quality time with your child and family. The good news is, this doesn’t have to be a struggle! They very activities you are fighting against can actually be great ways to fit “together” time into your schedule. Some activities you might do with you child– such as an art or music class. Others, you might be able to help out– consider volunteering to help out the soccer coach.

When your child is practicing, or doing their homework for an extracurricular activity, that time doesn’t have to be lost either. Most kids LOVE to have a listening ear while they practice their songs. If your daughter is painting a picture, you certainly could join her. But also consider that you don’t both have to do the same activity. While your child does their homework, you could probably fold the laundry or fit in some bodyweight exercises.

5.   Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep & good nutrition

However many activities your family decides is the right number, never put your child’s health or happiness at risk. Make sure that plenty of time is scheduled (and enforced) for quality sleep (and know that being busy during the day can actually help your child sleep well). Don’t make yourself so busy that McDonald’s is the only option– always leave enough time to prepare some real food together, sit down at the table, and join hands together.

How to Help Your Child Learn Piano

black and white piano student

At Northwest School of Music, one of the most common questions our teachers field from parents is: How can I help my child at home?

As a parent, you know that your child is learning many new concepts each week when they attend their piano lesson. However, you probably also realize that if they neglect those skills for the other six days of the week then they won’t be making very much progress. Here are several ways to help you child have an enjoyable, successful experience learning to play the piano.


  1. Provide a Great Practice Space

Help your child practice (and get the most out of practicing) by creating a space for them to relax and focus in. A great practice space has a good quality instrument that is tuned and in good repair. The practice area should also be neat and free from distractions, such as TV, playing children, talking people, clutter or toys. The practice area should be focused on the instrument and practicing, so your child can focus on the task at hand.


  1. Help Establish a Routine

One of the most common reasons children tell their teachers that they didn’t practice is, “I forgot.” Help your child create a practice routine, so that their subconscious mind will remind them for you! After your child has developed a habit of practicing, you won’t need to keep reminding them! This will make for more consistency of practicing, and of course will also help to improve your relationship with your child. At first, establishing the practicing routine will require a bit of work and diligence. During the first month, you and your child will have to be vigilant about consistently practicing at exactly the same time every single day. While you might think that practicing every day is not essential (and your piano teacher will likely even tell you that 5 or 6 days a week is plenty), the great majority of students find that it is actually easier to practice every single day than just some days. The reason for this is the power of habit. Things you do every day are easier to remember to do and you get better at them faster, which makes the practice more satisfying. The good news is– practice sessions can be shorter when they happen everyday! During the first month, it’s okay if many of the practice sessions are only 10-15 minutes long. The important part is establishing the habit.


  1. Stay Informed

It’s difficult to help your child if you don’t know what they are supposed to be working on. Listen to what the piano teacher tells you, read your child’s assignment, and ask about anything you don’t understand. Don’t just know what your child should do, understand how they are supposed to do it.

  1. Gentle Reminders

During the week, watch your child practice (sometimes directly, sometimes out of the corner of your eye). If you see or hear your child practicing incorrectly, gently remind them what the piano teacher’s instructions were. Try not to do this too frequently, but remember that you are helping your child by saving them from bad practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes permanent. Whatever your child practices is what they will learn– help your child avoid practicing wrong notes or bad posture.


  1. Hands off!

While your child will benefit from some guidance and correction, it’s also very important that they own their music. Let them decide what order to practice their songs; have them read their assignments on some days; let them figure things out on their own! Being involved and guiding your child is great. Correcting your child when they are wrong is helpful. Telling them the answers is not. Forcing your child to do it your way is not going to teach them to enjoy the music. Let your child experience the music how they enjoy it and connect with it themselves.


  1. Stay Positive!

When communicating with your child about their practice and progress, make sure to keep your feedback positive. For every one negative thing you need to say (to steer them in the right direction), be sure you balance it out with at least two positive things. “Good tempo, Johnny! I think that note was supposed to be a G– how about you try that phrase of music again, with the correct note? You are sitting up so nice and tall!”


  1. Lead by Example

If you act like piano isn’t important, your child will get the message and won’t be motivated to practice or succeed. Show your child the value of music by making time for them to practice, listening to their new song with interest, cheering on their accomplishments, and finding joy in music yourself. I have a student whose mom provides a great example of this. Every week, after her daughter’s piano lesson is over, she comes in to the room and gets instructions about the daughter’s assignment. After a quick goodbye to me, she then turns to her daughter and enthusiastically asks, “Can I hear your new songs?” Her daughter is always delighted and very excited to show off to her mom. Those 10 minutes her mom takes to listen to her daughter’s new songs help the daughter stay interested in those pieces for a whole week of practice.


  1. Offer to Help

Ask your child what you can do to help them improve. Give them some ideas to get this started. Here’s a few things you can offer to do:


  • (If your child is young) Point to the notes as they play
  • Listen to them name the notes aloud
  • Help them pick small sections to practice
  • Do flashcards to improve their music reading skills
  • Time them as they name the notes or do flashcards!
  • Listen to them for fun
  • Listen to them, and tell them if you find any wrong notes
  • Try the song yourself! (Maybe just for laughs 🙂
  • Ask them to teach you how to clap the rhythm, read the music, or play the melody


  1. Integrate Music

Music shouldn’t just happen during piano practice or lessons. Music should be a fun, all the time thing! Every math student at some point says, “When will I ever use this in real life?” Don’t let that be a question your child has about piano! Listen to music as you do the chores or drive in the car; go to concerts on the weekends (there are lots of free, community concerts available); sing in the shower; learn an instrument yourself! Play and sing with friends for fun.


  1. Listen to Your Child

After “I forgot” the runner up most common reason children don’t practice is because they are lonely. They might not admit it; they might not even know it– but why would your child want to go do “work” (practicing) by them self, when they could be hanging out with your or their friends? The simple act of listening to your child practice shows them that you care about them and shows them that you value their music. Listening to your child gives them the companionship that they crave and shows them your love. Nothing is more motivating than love.

The Best Age to Start Piano Lessons

Piano Lessons in Salem, Oregon at Northwest School of Music

FAQs - Young Piano Student - NWSM

There is no magic age at which all children are suddenly ready to start piano lessons. Children develop at different rates, and many different factors affect how they develop musically. Some children can begin at surprisingly young ages– the Mozarts of the world. While Northwest School of Music technically accepts students starting at age three, we have occasionally had reason to start students on the piano when only two and a half.

On the other hand some students are not ready to start until later than you might think. Some children have no interest until age ten, and some have very short attention spans until age eight.

One of the factors that strongly influences when a child will be ready to begin formal piano lessons is what classes they take while very young. Many music schools offer music readiness or pre-piano classes, where children of very young ages can learn the fundamentals of music– such as rhythm, pitch, and familiar tunes– through enjoyable music & movement activities. Starting as a babe in their mother’s arms, children can experience the wonderful world of music long before they are consciously able to “study” piano. The amazing thing about these early development classes is that children absorb each of the aspects of music on a subconscious level that helps them to develop into truly musical individuals who can FEEL the music. Many students who start young learn perfect pitch, and all develop strong rhythmic sense. Keeping a beat is easy!

Aside from classes, there are also many activities and practices you can incorporate into your home life to help your child be ready for formal piano lessons. Please see our previous article “How to Raise a Musical Child” for guidance on what you can do at home, including specific activities you will be able to engage your child with.

Most children are ready to start piano lessons between ages 3 and 5. Here are some specific skills to look for that indicate readiness:

  • Ability to independently wiggle fingers
  • Able to recognize letters A, B, C, D, E, F, G
  • Able to recognize numbers 1 – 5
  • Can count to 10
  • Able to listen & obey simple instructions (e.g. “clap your hands” “pat your head” “touch your nose”)

Once your child is able to do each of the above actions at a basic level, the will be able to start piano lessons. Keep in mind that they don’t have to do these skills perfectly when they start– these skills will be emphasized and reinforced during their lessons. Most children who start at any age 3 – 9 cannot independently wiggle their fingers very well at all, however, after just two or three lessons, the fine motor skills of most child greatly improve and they are able to move each finger independently with ease.

Another thing to keep in mind when determining your child’s readiness is WHAT they are ready for. Some children may be ready for group lessons long before they could start private lessons, or vice versa. Group lessons are good if your child is more active, whereas private lessons might be better if your child is more focused.

What is the best age to start, you ask? The best age is the age at which your child is ready. Children who start younger generally progress more slowly at first, but later on the benefits of those early lessons really shows, as those children tend to be the most musical. If your child isn’t ready yet though, that is all right. Children who start older (and adults as well!) still do just fine, and tend to get more immediate satisfaction than the young ones do. Whenever your child is ready, be there to support and encourage them as they dive into the new adventures of music.

Helping Your Child Choose the Best Instrument


If your child is showing interest in music, you’ll definitely want to help them pursue that endeavor! Maybe, though, you’re not quite sure what instrument they should learn to play. You just know that your 4 year old won’t stop singing Mary Had a Little Lamb, your 6 year old is fascinated with listening to his cousin play piano, and your 12 year old talks obsessively about starting a rock band.


So you look into lessons and programs… and quickly begin to feel overwhelmed by the number of choices. You mean there’s more than one type of guitar? (acoustic, electric, bass, classical, and more) There are several styles of piano? (classical, popular, and jazz, to name just a few) Not to mention countless band and orchestra instruments… what is a bassoon anyway? Here’s a quick rundown of some of the different types of instruments, with those that beginners often start with bolded:

Piano: classical, popular, jazz

Guitar: acoustic, electric, bass, classical, rock, blues, country

Drums: snare, bongo

Voice: classical, contemporary, jazz, country, rock

Strings: violin, viola, cello, double bass

Woodwinds: flute, saxophone, clarinet, oboe, soprano saxophone, bassoon, piccolo

Brass: trumpet, french horn, euphonium, tuba

Other Fretted Strings: ukulele, mandolin, banjo


So how do you even narrow down the list? Let’s start with your child’s age and readiness– because it doesn’t matter how much your 3 year old wants to play the Tuba, he simply isn’t large enough and hasn’t enough lung capacity to make it practical. String instruments come in smaller sizes to accommodate younger children, but most other instruments do not.

If your child is very young (5 or under), he’ll be quite limited in his options. However, he could easily begin classical piano, voice, violin, or ukulele. There are also many music readiness classes available for small children, in which they get to experiment and learn about several small, simple instruments (including “instruments” such as maracas, bongo drums, clappers, and xylophones). If your child is a bit older, perhaps 6 – 8, it would also be possible for them to learn popular piano, acoustic or electric guitar, snare drum, viola, cello, double bass, mandolin, and possibly trumpet. If your child is 9+ there are few limits.


After determining what is practically possible in terms of size and difficulty, you should then consider what your child is interested in (of course, you certainly could take these steps in reverse order, but if you determine that your 4 year old is destined to play the tuba, you may just need to put that off for a few years). You can start with simple observation– what instruments does your child show preference for? Do they love to watch people singing on TV? Do they spend hours tinkering at the piano? Or perhaps they are fascinated by their grandpa’s guitar.

Even if your child seems very interested in a particular instrument, you still might go on to the second part of this step, which is to ask them if they have a specific interest, or if there’s an instrument they’d like to learn. Because, your child might be playing the piano because it’s the only instrument around, when really they dream of being a cellist. At any rate, do a little research, and figure out what your child really wants.


If your child is open to several possibilities, or doesn’t know what they want, then a good way to decide what they should study is to consider your own preference. Now, certainly you don’t want to be negatively projecting on your child, or imagining your desires are theirs; and just because you dream of your child playing first chair violin with the New York Philharmonic doesn’t mean that they necessarily should, or that that would make them as happy as you feel it would make you.

However, if your child expresses that she has equal interest in learning trumpet and flute, and you feel that flute would be much easier to listen to– especially for the first year or so– there’s no reason you can’t suggest to her that, personally, you’d prefer the flute. Neither would there be anything wrong with confiding in your son that when you were his age you really wanted to learn to play the piano, but never got the chance.


Now that you’ve really narrowed down the list, there’s a few more practical considerations that must be made. How large is the instrument? Your 13 year old daughter might be big enough to play the double bass, but that doesn’t mean your two bedroom apartment is necessarily able to support its presence.

Is the instrument readily available? If you live 200 miles from a major city, and your child thinks they might be interested in trying out a soprano saxophone… and the local music store doesn’t have one to rent… well, maybe you should try a different instrument, at least to start. Keep in mind that most players of the more unusual instruments didn’t start with that instrument originally. For example, most soprano sax players start with an alto sax, many viola players started on violin, and a lot of euphonium players started with the french horn or trumpet.

You also should consider the cost. Instruments vary widely in price. Generally, the smaller and more common instruments are less expensive (think violin, piano, guitar, and, of course, voice) at least for a starter instrument, whereas larger and more unusual instruments are generally much more. The most common starter instruments are occasionally even given away, they are so plenty. However, if you have been the fortunate recipient of an instrument, you’ll want to check with a music teacher or tuner before you begin to learn on it, to insure that it’s sufficient and won’t encourage any bad playing habits or frustrations. This is a time when you may want to look that gift horse in the mouth… or at least check under the saddle for any burrs before you climb on. (Best for beginners to not get bucked off the first time; most students find that to be discouraging.)


Finally, you should consider the availability and cost of instruction for whatever instrument you and your child are considering. The size of city you live in generally dictates the availability and variety of teachers available (again, a little country town probably doesn’t have a soprano sax teacher– but it is always possible). Lessons tend to be somewhat more expensive in larger cities, but there are also many more options, and teachers experience greater competition.


It is vital to consider each of the above points prior to selecting an instrument. However, above all else, your child must be interested in, and genuinely like the end choice. If you don’t have their interest, your efforts will more than likely come to naught.


How to Get the Most Out of Your Piano Lessons

piano lesson

Since you’re spending your time and money on high-quality piano lessons, presumably you want to get as much out of the instruction as you can. Here are a few ideas to help you get the most value out of your piano lessons.


Come Prepared

Before you arrive, prepare yourself– gather your thoughts, consider any questions you have for your teacher, and spend a few minutes thinking about what you hope to get out of your lesson.

Be sure to bring along any materials you need, or that might be helpful. This includes pieces of music you are currently practicing, as well as those that you are interested in learning in the near future. You might also consider bringing a CD of a piece you are interested in. Your teacher can likely obtain the sheet music for you, or even help you find a piece of music that sounds similar, but is more appropriate for your skill level.

Clear your mind– take care of any tasks or situations that might distract you during your lesson, so that you can be fully focused.


Be Focused At Your Lesson

Since you’ve already taken care of everything at home, this should be relatively easy to do. Stay engaged with your teacher, asking questions whenever something is not clear.

Pause before you play each piece so that you are able to really give it your best.

If you receive your lessons at home, do whatever you can to minimize distractions. Close doors, and ask family members to be quiet or in a different part of the house. Provide adequate lighting so that it is easy for you to stay alert and focused.


Ask Questions At Your Lesson

Your teacher wants you to fully understand her instructions. If something isn’t clear, or is confusing, ask! You’ll find your teacher very willing to give explanation. Make sure you understand what songs you should be practicing, as well as how to play the songs correctly. Ask how often and for how long your teacher recommends for you to practice. Ask if there’s anything you should do differently from last week.


Make Sure Everyone Involved Understands the Weekly Assignments

If the student is a child, it is imperative that both the parent and the child fully understand the weekly assignments. Children need help understanding, remembering, and being motivated to practice their songs during the week. Without parental guidance, children often forget to practice, or practice the wrong songs. Children need someone to help keep them accountable, and to remind them to review their assignment throughout the week. Parent should also make sure they know how they can best help their child (and how they should avoid trying to help).


Practice Consistently!

This one is probably obvious, but to get the full value of your lessons, you will need to practice. If you don’t practice, you’ll be improving one day each week. If you practice, you can be improving up to seven days each week. It makes a big difference! It is not an exaggeration to say that students who practice daily progress seven times faster than their peers who do not practice. However many days per week you make time to effectively practice, that completely dictates how quickly you’ll progress.


Practice the Right Exercises and Songs

Playing the piano is fun, but if you aren’t careful to practice the correct pieces, then you won’t see the improvement that you hope to. Practicing the pieces you teacher instructs you to will insure that you are practicing material that is both at your correct level, and also that you are developing the skills you need to advance to the next level. LISTEN to your teacher at your lesson, and REVIEW your assignment several times during the week so that you stay on track.


Practice Correctly

Practice doesn’t make perfect– practice makes PERMANENT. Whatever you practice will become a habit. If you “practice” wrong notes, than you’ll develop a habit of playing those wrong notes. Be sure to play your songs as carefully as possible, right from the start. Practicing should not start off sounding ugly and eventually becoming more and more beautiful. Practice should start off SLOWLY and beautiful, and gradually become faster (and beautiful), until the pieces are able to be played at the correct speed and in completion. Start by playing small sections slowly. Gradually increase the speed and string longer and longer sections together.


Review Your Assignments

Don’t just trust your memory! Several times (even daily) throughout the week, refer back to your written assignment to review what and how you are supposed to be practicing. Do not just read the titles of each of the pieces to make sure you’re covering them all– actually read the individual notes you teacher wrote about what you need to improve.


Complete Bookwork

Did you teacher assign you any pages in a theory or activity book? If so, make sure that you complete these during the week, before your next lesson. Failure to do so will mean that you’ll have to spend valuable lesson time filling in blanks, when you could be progressing to the next song, or learning how to improve the songs you are currently practicing. Complete the workbook pages during the week, so that when you come to your lesson your teacher can quickly check it, and you’ll have time to discuss anything you didn’t understand, with plenty of time still left for your songs.


Work Ahead

If you really want to get the most out of your lessons, then work ahead! SO MUCH lesson time is wasted on slow sightreading of new songs. Imagine what would happen if you did that at home before you came to your lesson! There would be much more time for your teacher to help you improve your pieces and develop new skills. By simply sightreading the next piece in each of your books before you come to your lesson each week, you would get around 50% more out of each lesson, and progress significantly faster.