Peabody Johns Hopkins University Magazine

Helping Parents Know the Score

Helping Parents Know the Score

Book - survival guide

If only the secret to producing a child who loves playing musical instruments was just that: a secret waiting to be shared and tapped. Author Amy Nathan knows it’s much more complicated.

“There’s never one right way when it comes to kids,” says Nathan. “You really have to be tuned in to your child and what the child wants from music, and then just be flexible and open to lots of different ways of doing it.”

It’s a philosophy reflected throughout her new book, The Music Parents’ Survival Guide. While researching the guide, Nathan consulted more than 150 parents who shared their experiences and advice on what does and doesn’t work when raising a child to love music. She interviewed numerous members of the Peabody Institute faculty, including Preparatory String Department Chair Rebecca Henry, Preparatory Voice Department Chair Elysabeth Muscat, and Preparatory Brass and Winds Department Chair Larry Williams. Also, Preparatory composition teacher Judah Adashi suggested parents of some of his students to interview.

The book’s tips for parents start from the moment they first notice a child’s interest in music. For instance, exposing children to firsthand demonstrations can help them choose an instrument, as can listening to fun compositions like Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, she notes. Once children select an instrument, the book recommends they stick with it for six months before making a switch—because every instrument seems hard at first.

Nathan encourages parents to see this first instrument as a trial run and not to get discouraged if children don’t continue playing it. “Parents may feel, ‘Oh, we’ve wasted all this money on early instruction,’” says Nathan. “But actually, the children have learned a great deal about music and musicality. It’s not a lost experience.”

Three whole chapters are devoted to the most difficult issue surrounding musical children: getting them to practice. For young children, awarding stickers to fill in a practice chart can help. Some parents reward their kids with money or “coupons” they can put toward a toy or clothes; or they grant time on the computer for the same number of minutes practiced. Still others avoid rewards to focus instead on teaching personal responsibility.

Sometimes it’s more effective to help the child accomplish a particular task, instead of looking only at the time.

“If the teacher wanted you to do this one sort of maneuver on your instrument and you achieve it, that’s great you have a little ‘win,’” says Nathan. “You’re focusing more on what you’re doing than on some arbitrary number of minutes.”

Nathan decided to write The Music Parents’ Survival Guide after hearing from a woman who wished there was such a guide to help her with her children studying music. Nathan could relate; when she raised her two musically inclined sons, she and her husband struggled for several years to fine-tune their music education.

“I certainly could have used this book’s guidance,” she says.

— Sarah Richards