I Teach Guitar. So Shouldn’t my Preschoolers be Taking Music Lessons?

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

I’d like to start this blog with a big hashtag, along with the word “hypocrite. I’ve been teaching kids ages 6 and older how to play guitar for 13 years. Today, a handful of them are virtuosos, and one of them got so good by age 17 that I hired her for my band. I’m a decent player, but a good music teacher. And I know how to inspire kids to want to play their hearts out.

But my own children, you ask? The ones who are 3 and 4.5 and love to toy around with  multiple guitars, drum sets, and other shakable and non-shakable instruments in my home?

They’ve never taken a music class.

Usually when I tell this to other moms, the first question out of their mouth — naturally! — is “why?” After all, I’ve taught “mommy & me” music classes to crawlers and 2-year-olds, and those little ones have thoroughly enjoyed the experiences (I’m judging mostly by how happy they seem). I’ve also taught 4-year-olds how to strum ukuleles, and every year, I teach a free class at each of my sons’ preschools.

The benefits of early music lessons are numerous: kids who take music lessons tend to perform better academically, and have better patience and self esteem, too.

In addition, most of the little kids I know who take early music lessons in their Pre-K years seem to get a lot out of the experience.

Given all this, shouldn’t it be an obvious decision to enroll my little ones in a music class, especially since I can reinforce the lessons they learn at home?

Perhaps. But not yet.

For one, music classes for young toddlers aren’t instrument-specific. Most classes just expose them to different kinds of instruments, and have singalong type games. My kids already get these types of games and songs in gym class, and on occasion in preschool.

I didn’t have music classes myself, other than a weekly music class that everyone took at my elementary school. Neither did a lot of talented musicians — at least not until they were potty trained or in grade school. By then, their brains were better able to absorb more information, and they cultivated a true desire to learn.

Interestingly, you don’t need music lessons to be interested in music. For me, the opposite is true: after being denied as a child, I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could when I turned 18 and wanted to play guitar (to be like all cool kids). Of course, I wish my parents took some initiative and insisted I learn some kind of instrument when I was 8 or 9 (and I definitely will enroll my kids in some kind of music lesson or program before then).

Then there’s the cost. Classes are expensive. My kids are restless, too. If I want my kids to expend energy, I feel like I get more bang for my buck by enrolling them in something physical, like swimming or soccer. It lets them get their kicks out so they aren’t climbing on me when I want to do story time and put them to bed.

I’m definitely planning on trying piano lessons, or perhaps guitar or drums, when my older son turns 5. And I definitely thinks he likes watching other musicians perform (as does my soon-to-be-3-year-old). Playing music changed my life, and I hope my kids follow in my footsteps.

However, if you, like me, don’t enroll your kid in a toddler music class, no need to feel badly. They’re not missing too much. As long as you do something with your preschoolers— whether that’s going to the museum or playing in the back yard — you’re on the right track.

— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

After-School Rockstars: Music Mama Wendy Mitchell’s Best Advice on Finding the Right Lessons for Your Kids

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Rocker moms and dads who want to start their budding Taylor Swift, Bob Dylan, or Ludwig van Beethoven on music lessons — but have no clue on what to do first — should meet Wendy Mitchell of Ridgefield, Conn.

In addition to playing bass and singing in various original and cover bands with her longtime husband Chris, she’s simultaneously raised three (3!) music-minded kids and held down multiple theater-teacher roles (she’s also battled a rare form of breast cancer, while barely missing a beat).

Recently, Wendy was tapped as the director for national music school Bach to Rock’s newest Ridgefield, Conn., location. In this role, she oversees the music program for the school, which, like its name, offers guided instruction and performance opportunities for most major instruments — guitar, keys, violin, bass, drums, etc.

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Wendy Mitchell at the mixing board

With the back-to-school activity sign-up insanity is in full swing, Wendy sat down with Rockmommy to talk about encouraging music-minded kids to thrive, what to look for in a teacher, and how to make practice fun.

Rockmommy: As a musician and mother of 3 — two of whom are talented musicians in their own right — how did you encourage your children in the arts at a young age?

Wendy Mitchell: Immersion— they were surrounded by music from the womb (I used to listen to classical and jazz when I was pregnant and put headphones on my belly to soothe them) so it was only natural for them to love it from the beginning. When my son was two he used to climb into the cabinet to play the pots and pans with the wooden spoon so we got him a small drum set when he was about 4 or 5 and he hasn’t stopped playing since.

Rockmommy: There are so many options for kids today, in terms of music and activities. What factors should you consider when trying to figure out the best option for your child (e.g., age, their attention span and whether it warrants private lessons, etc.)?

Wendy Mitchell: Each child’s personality and learning style is different so there is no cookie cutter formula for all kids. The best program to is one that enables your child to thrive, to feel comfortable, safe and valued, and of course one that’s fun. Music lessons shouldn’t be a chore or something they dread— music education should be a place where kids can come to express themselves creatively. As far as attention span goes, for little ones (toddlers), a program that engages their mind and body is one that will capture their interest and help them to learn the basics of music.

Rockmommy: What are some of the “signs” that your preschooler or young child might benefit from an after-school music program? And how do you decide which one (e.g., guitar, piano, voice/chorus, etc.)?

Wendy Mitchell: If your child is always tapping, moving, fidgeting and humming, chances are they would benefit from getting all that rhythm inside out. To figure out which instrument works best, keep in mind the size and shape of their hands and what they’re able to manipulate. For example, a five-year-old’s hands aren’t big enough to fit around the neck of a standard size guitar. Start him/her off on a 3/4-size guitar from your local music store and see how they like it. For kids age 5 to 6 we generally recommend our Kids & Keys program which allows children to reach the piano on their level (literally — it’s a shorter height). This teaches them the notes of the piano, scales and chords and basic rhythm patterns in a fun and interactive way that reaches them on their level. Kids are given a head set for part of the lessons and learn to match pitches and notes by playing a fun computer game..

Rockmommy: It’s been said that children need instructors who possess similar personalities, or enthusiasm. When hiring instructors, what qualities do you look for?

Wendy Mitchell: MUST love kids. PERIOD. Kids (and parents) can sense when a teacher is amazingly talented but hates their job. It’s hard to fake having fun when teaching kids music. We only hire teachers who are not only qualified but truly have a love and a passion for teaching and helping kids express themselves creatively through music.

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Wendy Mitchell, playing bass with one of her bands.

Rockmommy: Sometimes finances can be a challenge for parents — and the cost of activities can add up. How do you know if a music program or activity is worth the investment (e.g., it has to have great teachers with experience and references, etc.)?

Wendy Mitchell: You get what you pay for. If another music school’s prices are much cheaper than the “going rate” there”s probably a reason why. All of our teachers are not only qualified and come from the top music colleges form around the country but they’re also background checked across a national registry. Parents will know when a music program is worth the investment after they’ve seen progress and excitement in their child in that they want to go to their lessons and look forward to it.

Rockmommy: If your child becomes disinterested after one or two lessons, how can you encourage them to stick it out for at least a few more weeks?

Wendy Mitchell: Learning to finish what they started is a valuable lesson to learn in any aspect in life, especially when they’re young. If we allow our children to quit after things don’t go their way they will want to quit everything— from sports, to jobs, to good habits.

Rockmommy: Often times, parents expect teachers to work miracles — but if a kid doesn’t practice on his/her own, that can affect results. Given this, what advice would you offer parents?

Wendy Mitchell: I’d say that a parent has to be on board and follow what the music teacher suggests in order to get the most our of the program. All parties must be on the same page.

Rockmommy: How do you encourage children to excel at music, while not putting too much pressure on them?

Wendy Mitchell: Practice, practice, practice! Michael Jordan, Arianna Grande, Gabby Douglas or any star athlete or performer didn’t get to where they are without hard work, dedication, and practice at their craft.

— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.