In­vest­ing in af­ford­able mu­sic lessons for your chil­dren

Some things to know about lo­cat­ing a teacher, costs for time and sup­plies, and more

Simcoe Reformer - - LIFE - Alexan­dra Ol­son

NEW YOR K — An­dolina Col­lado didn’t know where to start when her young daugh­ter asked for vi­o­lin lessons. She asked ev­ery­one she saw car­ry­ing an in­stru­ment in her neigh­bour­hood if they knew of af­ford­able lessons. Fi­nally, one man pointed her to a church where Whin Mu­sic Project of­fers slid­ingscale tu­ition based on in­come.

Her daugh­ter, Anmy, thrived in vi­o­lin and soon wanted to learn pi­ano. Whin teach­ers pointed her to the Mu­sicLink Foun­da­tion, which pairs mo­ti­vated stu­dents from low­in­come fam­i­lies with mu­sic teach­ers will­ing to give lessons at a dis­count. At age eight, Anmy wrote to Mu­sicLink to ask if some­body who spoke Span­ish could con­tact her mother. Julie We­gener, co-or­di­na­tor for Mu­sicLink, was so moved she de­cided on the spot to teach Anmy her­self.

Col­lado isn’t the only par­ent who has watched in­stru­ment-tot­ing strangers and won­dered how to en­ter that world.

Pri­vate lessons are be­yond the reach of many fam­i­lies and even mu­sic pro­grams at public schools can come at a price. Stu­dents in el­e­men­tary, mid­dle and high school can ex­pect to pay at least $300 in in­stru­ment rental or re­lated costs, ac­cord­ing to the Back­pack In­dex, an an­nual study of the cost of school sup­plies and fees.

Be­fore plung­ing into mu­sic lessons, it helps to ex­plore the land­scape.

Have re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions

It’s ex­tremely un­likely your child is the next Yo-Yo Ma, but that’s no rea­son not to put him or her in lessons. Your child’s first pi­ano class could be the first step to a schol­ar­ship at a pres­ti­gious mu­sic school or the start of a life­long hobby. Ask your­self if you’re OK with ei­ther pos­si­bil­ity be­cause chances are the go­ing will get tough af­ter the novelty wears off.

Go in for the long-haul. An­thony Maz­zochhi, as­so­ciate direc­tor of the John J. Cali School of Mu­sic at Montclair State Uni­ver­sity, sug­gests giv­ing it a go for two years or so be­fore con­tem­plat­ing quit­ting. He sug­gests pri­or­i­tiz­ing daily prac­tice like math home­work. With the big pic­ture in mind, a few strug­gles over prac­tice won’t seem like signs your in­vest­ment is go­ing down the drain.

In­volve the child in your de­ci­sion

It helps if you don’t just drop an un­sus­pect­ing six-year-old in pi­ano lessons. Let your child ex­plore dif­fer­ent in­stru­ments first. Try the li­brary or lo­cal park for free con­certs and sing-a-longs. Maz­zochhi, who runs the web­site mu­sic­par­ents­guide.com , sug­gests watch­ing YouTube videos of mas­ter per­for­mances. He ad­vises search­ing for mu­sic stores that of­fer “pet­ting ses­sions” for chil­dren to hold and try out in­stru­ments.

Take the time to find a good teacher

A good place to start is to seek out a na­tional mu­sic teacher or­ga­ni­za­tion, which of­fers a “FindA-Teacher” search func­tion and tips on what to look for, says Sue Wege, direc­tor of co-or­di­na­tors for Mu­sicLink. (In Canada, search for the Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of Mu­sic Teach­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tions, cfmta.org, or any of its provin­cial coun­ter­parts; in the U.S., look for the Mu­sic Teacher Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion, mtna.org)

Try to get a trial les­son and in­ter­view. Sites such as MTNA usu­ally of­fer a list of ques­tions to ask, in­clud­ing whether the teacher of­fers per­for­mance op­por­tu­ni­ties that can be im­por­tant for mo­ti­vat­ing chil­dren.

Look for teach­ers who are plugged into the mu­sic scene and can pro­vide fun op­por­tu­ni­ties for chil­dren.

Rent or buy, used or new?

There are pit­falls when it comes buy­ing used or cheap in­stru­ments. A good rule of thumb is to con­sult with your child’s mu­sic teacher be­fore turn­ing to the likes of Craigslist or Ki­jiji.

Sax­o­phone player Ge­orge Shelby, a Los An­ge­les mu­si­cian who had re­cently toured with Phil Collins and cre­ated the Yamaha-spon­sored web­site mu­si­calin-- stru­mentchoices. com, rec­om­mends stick­ing with rep­utable mu­sic stores for rentals and used in­stru­ments. While that might be pricier than go­ing on­line, the in­stru­ment will come with a qual­ity guar­an­tee.

It is pos­si­ble to find qual­ity in­stru­ments on sites like eBay but Shelby urges buy­ers to bring a tech­ni­cian to check it out.

Many deal­ers also of­fer rent-to­buy op­tions. Let your child know he gets to keep the in­stru­ment if he prac­tices ev­ery day.

Re­search, reach out, speak up

On the fence about pri­vate lessons? There’s no rush. Find out how

good your school’s pro­gram is by con­tact­ing your lo­cal school, col­lege or uni­ver­sity. It might be enough to sup­ple­ment that pro­gram with lessons ev­ery other week. Group lessons are also a more af­ford­able op­tion, or seek­ing a grad­u­ate stu­dent who teaches at a dis­count.

Plan for the costs of a school mu­sic pro­gram

Be­cause of fees, mu­sic is one of the three ar­eas — along with sports and field trips — where low-in­come stu­dents get left out, ac­cord­ing to Dale Erquiaga, pres­i­dent and CEO of Com­mu­ni­ties in Schools. He urges low-in­come fam­i­lies to ask school of­fi­cials about fee waivers or seek out a com­mu­nity co-or­di­na­tor for help. Reach out to par­ents of older chil­dren about hand-medown in­stru­ments, un­ex­pected costs and money-sav­ing tips.

Bebeto matthews/ AP

Julie We­gener, cen­tre, a mu­sic teacher with the Mu­sicLink Foun­da­tion, her stu­dent Anmy Paulino Col­lado, left, and Anmy’s mom, An­dolina Col­lado, as they fin­ish a mu­sic ses­sion, in New York.

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