Exposure is another key part of the process. And you can do this long before a child is old enough to take up an instrument: Play music in your house. Comment on what instrument is being played and what style of music you’re listening to in the car. Take your child to the symphony or other concerts. Some music schools and shops host instrument “petting zoos.” These are a great way for kids to get fun, hands-on exposure to instruments.
“And make sure your kid’s school has a good music program,” advises Blakeslee. “Since a lot of parents know only that music in school is a good thing but not how to evaluate a program, we have created some guidelines on our site (www.menc.org)”
Managing your own expectations might be a good idea too. You will have to accept that your child will want to quit playing—maybe not right away but almost certainly at some point. “This is a tough call,” offers Blakeslee. “But don’t quit at the first request. Forge ahead and see if your child has just hit a rough patch she needs help getting through or if she really wants to stop. Or maybe you just need to switch teachers. If you can get your kid to keep playing through middle school, so she has developed some proficiency, then at least she can easily take it up again if she quits.”
And don’t be stunned when you find that you have to police practicing, drag your little virtuoso kicking and screaming to lessons, and bring all the parenting skills you apply to brushing teeth, going to bed, and doing homework to this task. This is normal. Take the long view. And don’t think that ordering your child to practice will do the job. This is an undertaking for both of you. You will have to sit there and walk her through practicing for quite a while. A child of seven, for example, is too young to command, “Go to your room and practice!”
Set High Expectations
“Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to set the expectation that your child will learn music," says Blakeslee. "Kids complain about going to school and beg to quit but they know they can’t. So they go. If you can create the same expectation for music, you will very likely succeed in raising a musician.”
None of this explains my brother, of course. No one walked him through practicing or dragged him to lessons. He even bought his own guitar out of his paper route money. My mother says she was stunned one day when he was eight to hear him play Moon River on my father’s piano because he’d never had a lesson. I can’t help but imagine that I’d be naming him—instead of the violinist Yehudi Menuin—as an example of a world-class virtuoso if someone had nurtured his talent along the way.