Home > Brandenburg, Children, Education, Music > Toward Your Children Growing Up to Be Excellent Musicians

Toward Your Children Growing Up to Be Excellent Musicians

August 13, 2008

I’ve often got a chuckle out of the titles of Kaiser’s “Toward” books—Toward an Old Testament Theology, Toward Rediscovering the Old Testament, Toward Old Testament Ethics, Toward an Exegetical Theology. You get the picture. Who can go wrong with a title that starts with “Toward.” If someone ever criticizes the content, you have a built-in defense. “I never said I would cover the subject, just toward the subject.” “Well, I stand corrected.” After reading this essay, your children may not grow up to be excellent musicians, but this will help them toward that goal. I think the “toward” title will also excuse the random nature of this post. I’m not going to try to give you any kind of chronological sequence with this. I’m going to move into a kind of stream of consciousness and you will have to organize my outline into a preferred order on your own.

Have Them in a New Testament Church

If your children grow up in the right kind of church, they will be singing three or four times a week in church services. Early on they will be hearing good tunes and reading notes.

Sing During Family Devotions

Music will become more important if you sing at home. If you want worship to be important to your children, then it will be something you’ll do at home. Moses commanded the parents to sing his song in Deuteronomy 34. God expects families to sing. People will who are filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-19). Your family will become fully informed that praising God is for everywhere. If you don’t sing at home, you’ll leave the worship for the antiseptic confines of church and easily cause your children to disrespect this important activity.

Listen At Home to the Kind of Music You Want Your Children to Play

Be serious about the music you play at home. It should be thoughtful, skilled, and great. You will find some of this among hymn work that is done for Mp3 or CD. You can find plenty of classical music like this. A good way for them to develop the right taste is to give them that taste. One of the best ways to keep from bad music is to fill your life up with good music.

Start Them on Piano

I’m not dogmatic on this, but the piano is your base instrument. I have four children and they’ll each be a different kind of piano player with varied abilities and work intensity and efficiency. Piano has no wind requirements. On the piano, each child can learn the basics of notation, musical language, and theory. Playing notes will no longer be foreign.

Some are against teaching boys piano, because it is too feminine. I respect this as a possibility. Actually, I think that harp is more effeminate than the piano and we all know who played the harp. Piano is a rather indoor type of activity and you will want your sons out getting their hands dirty and straining their muscles with some hard labor. This will not clash with playing the piano. If our men are to be the worship leaders, that is, the leaders of church worship, they need to know music and knowing piano is a great start.

Talk About What Instrument Each Will Play

Early on start talking about the instruments each could play. You tell each of them what the possibilities are. If you have the right kind of music playing around the house and in church, you won’t have them thinking about the trap set or the electric guitar.

I think that certain instruments are more feminine. With all due respect to James Galway, the fife and drums of the War for Independence, and the Army Band, you better be very sure if you let your son play the flute. That should be a consideration, that is, make sure that the instrument fits the child to some degree.

We evaluated each of our children and made the choice for them. When you do this, they will be expecting to get started. You can start talking about how great a player that you think they’ll be.

Get the Best Teachers

I think that the teaching makes the biggest difference as to the quality of your children’s playing. You are going to pay for the best teachers, but you really do get what you pay for. Why even start out on your journey if you aren’t expecting a great ending? It took us awhile to land the string teacher we needed for our oldest daughter, but we finally found a Russian who was once concertmaster for a Soviet Opera. Our daughters go each Monday and Thursday for a half hour each. They progress rapidly.

My son started with a wonderful woman trombonist at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts. She graduated from Northwestern and gave him a great beginning. For the last two years he has taken from a master teacher, who has helped him go even further, but for much more money.

You will be better off hiring someone who has played well himself, a professional. He also should be able to teach. Those names will surface in your area once you start researching. We like “old-school.” Old school doesn’t pamper children in the lessons. He has expectations from them and will apply pressure. I like to know that my teacher wants something great from me.

My wife started all of our children off on piano, because she is excellent with the fundamentals and enforcing them. When each of them reaches a certain level, he will go to a teacher we pay for lessons. There are many piano teachers out there. You want to be careful just settling on one. Monitor their progress closely and have improvement that you expect. Communicate that to the teacher. If you are not satisfied, you should look into others. The better teacher may be more expensive.

Have a System for Enforcing Practice

I’m going to spend a whole post on this one, but this will make the greatest difference in your children’s musical excellence. Most kids don’t want to practice. You have a great purpose that you believe in, so you must enforce their practice. There is a new philosophy that travels around in secular circles first and now in Christian ones, that is, “it’s got to be fun for the child.” That philosophy is resulting in less music and less skilled music. It hasn’t seemed to affect every culture. The Asians don’t seem to have adopted that “fun strategy” as a whole.

In that separate post, I will tell you how we have enforced practice. I start hearing music practiced every morning at 6:00am. That goes until we leave for school. Then I hear it after school until late in the evening. There is almost always an instrument being played at our house. One hint here. Own a few timers.

Get the Children in Groups

As soon as your children are able, it is good to get them playing in an orchestra or chamber group. They will like playing more, which will help them practice better. Most kids love being in an orchestra. It is fun collaborating with others to make something very nice. We also have this in our church services. Our kids open their instrument cases, get tuned up, and go to the platform every week to play for the Lord in church. This brings more participation and more excellence in music.

Our kids have also benefited from further evaluation of their talents with an orchestra. In each case, the child must audition. Then each plays for his seating. He will be judged each time and given comments. You’ll get a second opinion on how far your child is going. In addition you’ll get the conductor/music director, an assistant conductor, and then coaches. A chamber quartet sits as artists-in-residence at one of our orchestras. The coaches are often some of the best instrument teachers around.

Recitals and Contests

Recitals will put them under pressure when they play. They should be regularly doing solo work in recitals. The contests are even better. We have a contest every year at our own school. We bring in professional players as judges to make comments. Then we have organized a regional contest with another Christian school (the school of Dave Mallinak). They perform more times with further scrutiny and with the encouragement of other young people around them. They can better understand where they stand if they do some comparison with other people.

Our orchestras have concerto contests every year. Dozens enter the contest and they are judged by other professionals. Whoever wins the competition will play his solo with the full orchestra in the last concert of the year.

Make Sure They Have an Instrument

We rented the violins to begin. We bought an inexpensive trombone on Ebay to begin. We got a very old piano for free and we had it repaired for 300 dollars. Now we own a very nice, professional trombone. We own one very, very nice violin and another very nice violin. Only one is now renting, the youngest. Once your children start getting good, you will see the need to buying and maintaining very good instruments. You will hear the difference in the quality.

The Interest and Support of You as a Parent

I love listening to my children play and compete. I love driving them to their lessons. I love shelling out the cash. I love hearing their progress. I love what it has done for our worship of the Lord. I love hearing them practice.

By being at everything and loving it, you will help your children. This isn’t hard for me, because I do love it. Your love must translate also into recognizing when poor practice is being done for various reasons and doing your best to correct it. I’ll tell you more about how to show interest and support in other posts.

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I’ll be in North Carolina in a couple of weeks speaking at this conference. Take a look at it over at my blog. If you are around and have the time, come over or down or up to be with us.

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  1. Gary Johnson
    August 14, 2008 at 8:24 am

    I am in agreement with this topic, I have four girls all playing at least one instrument, 2 playing in all church services, and a couple of recitals each year, the youngest age 4 has played piano at the nursing home service.
    Just adding a thought concerning the piano and masculinity, King David played the stringed instrument. Maybe for some it is good to soften them up a bit. I understand, many young boys don’t have a lot of opportunity to be out tearing up the woods etc., but I started on the piano at age 10 and it was the only “soft” part of my upbringing. I think it is very important for pastors to understand music. An ability to accompany congregational singing would be a good level to strive for before entering the pastorate. Therefore the piano is worthy of learning.
    Just some thoughts.

  2. August 14, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    I agree Bro. Johnson and good to hear. Some don’t like the word “soft” but I understand what you are saying. Gentle is another word for it. It calms a boy down somewhat, makes him sit and think a lot.

  3. August 19, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    Yeah, but I let my boy play piano once and he turned into a girl!! How do I know he turned into a girl? I looked in there and he was playing the piano!!

    Just kidding, my son started piano at the end of last year. He’s also working on trumpet and we are looking for a good teacher for him.

  4. August 19, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    Jason, I have to laugh (or at least smile) at your comment. I think you’re reasoning in a circular fashion 🙂 Just make sure he doesn’t turn into Liberace. …you remember him and the smashed golden piano, right.

  5. Ethan Lamoreaux
    September 3, 2008 at 1:12 am

    Personally, I see very few instruments that aren’t appropriate for either sex. Traditions are a funny thing… I remember thinking as a child that piano and organ were for women, but it turns out it was just because I only ever saw women playing in church. Since then I’ve learned that some of the best pianists and organists are men, just as some of the best cooks are male chefs. As for manly instruments, I think the organ is a good one to consider. When you have to control multiple manuals, a pedalboard, swell shoe, and stop controls, it gets very complicated and in fact takes a great deal of physical endurance to pull off a complex piece. When played well, the organ provides some of the most amazing music, and is a valuable asset to use for worship of our Lord. I think the organ, especially the entirely acoustical instrument known as the pipe organ, gets far too little attention in today’s fundamental churches.

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