How to Raise a Musician Part 2
The subject matter of this blog edition has been weighing heavily on my mind of late. I have been playing guitar for nineteen years (I began at age 6). I also have 14 years of experience as a private music instructor. In those many years, I have taught quite a large number of students, many of whom were children. I have also had many discussions over the years with fellow music instructors about teaching children. Those conversations, combined with my personal experiences growing up as a young musician, plus my observations from a music instructor’s perspective, along with the application of some simple Biblical principles to this subject, have led me to point out seven recommendations about raising a young musician that are extremely important for your child’s success in music and beyond. (This blog post is part 2 of a 2 part series and gives my final four recommendations. To read my first three recommendations, check out: “How to Raise a Musician Part 1.”)
This is a most neglected function, I’m afraid, in most homes, but it is absolutely essential to your child’s success as a musician. In fact, if I as a musician were to look back and point to the one reason that influenced me the most to learn to play guitar, it would be that my parents allowed me to choose the instrument I wanted to play and then held me accountable to practice and improve on the instrument after they bought it for me. They had the wisdom to nurture my desire to play guitar by not only providing me with the instrument, but by also requiring that I be responsible both for taking care of my instrument and making sure I got in my practice times even at the age of six. Children will try your parental resolve on this issue, but you must stay strong in requiring them to be responsible. Remember, you are helping them more at this critical stage of their music development than in any other. They will thank you one day. Requiring responsibility in their music learning will actually carry over into other areas of their life. They learn not to quit, to persevere, to have determination, and in the end to reap the rewards–and you will get to reap those rewards with them!
A great tool for helping your child’s drive to improve as a musician is to reward them–in other words, give your child something to shoot for, musically speaking. My father used a simple but effective incentive that was very successful with me. He always told me growing up that if I kept striving to better myself as a player, he would buy me better instruments. I worked hard, and he kept his promise by buying me three different guitars between the ages of 11 and 18. Keeping the proverbial carrot of nicer and better instruments in front of your child can do wonders for boosting their musical drive. I discovered during this time as a child that as I improved and got better instruments, it fueled my desire to a whole new level. I began to develop a love for music that has only continued to grow. I began practicing for hours a day because I just couldn’t get enough.
If you want your child to achieve his/her highest potential of musicianship, then you must give constructive criticism when needed. The worst thing you can do is swell their ego by telling them how perfect they are. Be balanced. If they play something very well, congratulate them on doing a good job and then encourage them to strive for the next level. Remind them periodically that you never “arrive” as a musician. We can always improve. If they struggle some, encourage them to keep working. Assure them that you are confident that they can and will get it right with a lot of hard work and practice. If they don’t do a good job because they have been tardy with their practice, let them know that you expect them to do better and hold them accountable.
Point them to serving the Lord with their talents. Children are very impressionable. They are easily influenced by what they see and hear. Have you ever noticed that you don’t have to teach a child to do wrong? They just naturally do wrong things. Proverbs 22:15 says, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child.” You do have to teach them to do right, however, and part of that instruction is to give them good direction throughout their musical journey. People often bemoan the fact that when their child progressed to an advanced or even professional skill level, they went out and used their talent for the world and not for God. But when a person uses their musical talents in this way, they are really just doing what is natural from a worldly standpoint–that is, to do the wrong thing. You must teach them the importance of rightly using their talents. Protect your children from music and lyrics that aren’t wholesome. Instill in them the desire to serve the Lord with their musical ability. Use their musical journey as just another way to bring them closer to Jesus Christ.