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How to get the most out of your child's music lessons and dance classes.

Getting the most out of your music lessons

These guidelines will help you to have a successful, rewarding experience learning an instrument. These are practical tips that we have discovered from our experience over the years teaching hundreds of students.

1. HOW YOUNG IS TOO YOUNG - STARTING AT THE RIGHT AGE

Adults can start any instrument at any time. Their success is based on how willing an adult is to commit to practicing. We teach many beginner students in their 60’s and 70’s.

For children, starting at the right age is a key element to the success of their lessons. Some people will tell you “the sooner the better”, but this attitude can actually backfire and become a negative result. If a child is put into lessons too soon they may feel overwhelmed and frustrated and want to stop lessons. The last thing you want to do is turn a child off music just because they had one unpleasant experience which could have been prevented. Sometimes if the child waits a year to start lessons their progress can be much faster. Children who are older than the suggested earliest starting age usually do very well. The following are guidelines we have found to be successful in determining how young a child can start taking music lessons.

3 - 4 Years Old

If a pre-schooler has a keen desire and wants to start music, a group preschool music class will give them a good foundation in music basics which will be helpful in later private lessons. At this age, private lessons generally do not work as the child has not yet experienced the formal learning environment of kindergarten or school and learns more effectively through the game oriented preschool environment.

Piano/Keyboard

At our school 5 years old is the youngest age that we start children in private piano lessons. At this age they have begun to develop longer attention spans and can retain material with ease.

Guitar - Acoustic, Electric and Bass

6 years old is the earliest we recommend for guitar lessons. Guitar playing requires a fair amount of pressure on the fingertips from pressing on the strings. Children under 6 generally have small hands and may find playing uncomfortable. Bass guitar students generally are 8 years old and older.

Voice Lessons

10 years old is recommended as the youngest age for private vocal lessons. Due to the physical nature of voice lessons (proper breathing techniques, development of the vocal chords and lung capacity), the younger body is generally not yet ready for the rigors of vocal technique. If you are interested in voice lessons for younger than 10 years of age, let us know and we may be able to develop another vocal class.

Drums

The average age of our youngest drum student is 8. This varies greatly depending on the size of the child. They have to be able to reach both the pedals and the cymbals.

Flute, Clarinet & Saxophone

Due to lung capacity (and in the case of the saxophone the size of the instrument), we recommend that most woodwind beginners are 9 and older.

Violin

We accept violin students from the age of 5. Some teachers will start children as young as 3, but experience has shown us the most productive learning occurs when the beginner is 5 or older.

Trumpet

The trumpet requires physical exertion and lung power. 9 years and older is a good time to start the trumpet.

2. INSIST ON PRIVATE LESSONS WHEN LEARNING A SPECIFIC INSTRUMENT

Group classes work well for preschool music programs and theory lessons. However, when actually learning how to play an instrument, private lessons are far superior. In private lessons it is hard to miss anything, and each student can learn at their own pace. This means the teacher does not have to teach a class at a middle of the road level, but has the time and focus to work on the individual student’s strengths and weaknesses. For that lesson period, the student is the primary focus of the teacher. The teachers also enjoy this as they do not have to divide their attention between 5 - 10 students at a time and can help the student be the best they can be.

3. TAKE LESSONS IN A PROFESSIONAL TEACHING ENVIRONMENT

Learning music is not just a matter of having a qualified teacher, but also having an environment that is focused on music education. In a professional school environment a student cannot be distracted by television, pets, ringing phones, siblings or anything else. With only half to one hour of lesson time per week, a professional school environment can produce better results because the only focus at that time is learning music. Students in a school environment are also motivated by hearing peers who are at different levels and by being exposed to a variety of musical instruments. In a music school, the lessons are not just a hobby or sideline for the teacher but a responsibility which is taken very seriously.

4. MAKE PRACTICING EASIER

As with anything, improving in music takes practice. One of the main problems with music lessons is the drudgery of practicing and the fight between parents and students to practice every day. Here are some ways to make practicing easier:

Time

Set the same time every day to practice so it becomes part of a routine or habit. This works particularly well for children. Generally the earlier in the day the practicing can occur, the less reminding is required by parents to get the child to practice.

Repetition

We use this method quite often when setting practice schedules for beginners. For a young child 20 or 30 minutes seems like an eternity. Instead of setting a time frame, we use repetition. For example, practice this piece 4 times every day, and this scale 5 times a day. The child then does not pay attention to the amount of time they are practicing their instrument, but knows if they are on repetition number 3 they are almost finished.

Rewards

This works very well for both children and adult students. Some adults reward themselves with a cappuccino after a successful week of practicing. Parents can encourage children to practice by granting them occasional rewards for successful practicing. In our school we reward young children for a successful week of practicing with stars and stickers on their work. Praise tends to be the most coveted award - there just is no substitute for a pat on the back for a job well done. Sometimes we all have a week with little practicing, in that case there is always next week.

5. USE RECOGNIZED TEACHING MATERIALS

There are some excellent materials developed by professional music educators that are made for students in a variety of situations. For example in piano, there are books for very young beginners, and books for adult students that have never played before. There are books that can start you at a level you are comfortable with. These materials have been researched and are continually upgraded and improved to make learning easier. These materials ensure that no important part of learning the instrument can inadvertently be left out. If you ever have to move to a different part of the country, qualified teachers and institutions will recognize the materials and be able to smoothly continue from where the previous teacher left off.

Most Importantly . . .

HAVE FUN!!
Music should be something that you enjoy for a lifetime. So, try not to put unrealistic expectations on yourself or your children to learn too quickly. Everyone learns at a different pace and the key is to be able to enjoy the journey.

 

Getting the most out of your dance classes: 4 things every parent should know before choosing a dance studio

If most dance studios seem to have qualified, friendly teachers, experience teaching children and a big show at the end of the year, aren’t they all pretty much the same? Does it really matter which place you decide to enroll at? Yes. There are four main things that can make a huge difference in the quality of instruction your child receives, the amount of extra work and hassles the parents must deal with and the overall enjoyment and satisfaction of being involved with a dance program. Here are four things that every parent should consider before deciding on a dance studio for their child:

 

1. WHAT TYPE OF DANCE FLOOR IS USED?

Dance is a very physical activity that requires a lot of jumping, which can put stress on bones and joints. Most dance footwear does not provide any cushioning or support, so the shock of dance movement can place a lot of pressure on the knees and back of a dancer. The best way to prevent against potential injury is by choosing a studio with a professional “floating floor”. A floating floor is a dance floor that rests on a system of high-density foam, to absorb the shock of jumping. A high-density foam base is superior to a “sprung” floor, which usually consists of a wood structure built on the regular floor.

The top layer of the dance floor is also an important factor. A vinyl composite “Marley” floor is accepted worldwide as the best surface layer for recreational to professional dance. Facilities such as the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the Royal Academy of Dance in London, England, and Riverdance - The Touring Show, all use Marley floors as their dance surface. A Marley floor allows dancers to slide, with a degree of “controlled slip", but is not slippery so there is less risk of slips and falls. Very few studios use professional Marley floors because of the expense involved, and usually opt for a regular floor tile for a studio floor.   Our studio has a  floating floor that has over 700 high density foam blocks under the floor surface and a Marley top surface that is imported from England. Our special floor helps reduce the risk of injuries and allow students to dance longer without getting tired.

2. WHAT IS THE SIZE OF THE CLASS?

If the dance class has fewer students in it each student will receive more personalized attention, learn more and have more fun. With younger students it is easier for a teacher to maintain control over the class and make sure each student understands the concepts and instructions. Our smaller class sizes make sure that no fundamental concepts are being missed. A smaller class size also allows our teachers to ensure that students are not developing bad habits or improper technique.

Our studio limits all of our classes (ages 7 and up) to a maximum of just 12 students per class. With our pre-dance classes (ages 3 - 6) we limit all of our classes to a maximum of just 8 students per class.

3. WHAT KIND OF QUALIFICATIONS DO THE INSTRUCTORS HAVE?

All of our dance instructors are highly qualified and have university training.  At a minimum we require our instructors to have acquired a bachelors degree in Dance, while some of our instructors also have graduate level education in addition to professional performance experience.  This allows our academy to offer a broad range of dance formats for students of all ages and levels while also ensuring our students are learning the correct movements and developing the right habits to reduce the risk of injury. 

4. CAN I GET IMMEDIATE ASSISTANCE AND CUSTOMER SERVICE?

In many studios the teacher or the studio owner conducts classes and does the administration. By trying to do two jobs at once, the class may suffer as the teacher has to use class time for customer service issues, or the studio may have no customer service available while the teacher is in a class. To have a good experience it is important to choose a studio that can assist you with details like costumes or schedules, even if a teacher is occupied in a class. Our studio has office staff on hand during all regular class times, so you can get immediate assistance.