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Tap Your Child's Musical Talent

Most kids seem determined to dodge music lessons...but then again, most adults who squirmed out of learning to play an instrument really regret it. So we had to wonder: What's the best way to introduce your child to music lessons - and keep him motivated to continue?

First, foster your youngster's music appreciation by exposing him to live and recorded music, recommends Lewis P. Lipsitt, Ph.D., research professor of psychology at Brown University. "If your child likes listening to music or singing," he says, "present the lessons as an extension of the fun he or she already has with music."

Ages 7 to 9 are ideal for starting children on an instrument, says Caroline Brandenberger, artistic director of the Lawrence Arts Academy in Appleton, WI. Music has its own language and mathematical structure, and youngsters who are already reading and mastering similar concepts in school can pick it up more easily, she explains. The benefits go beyond being able to make music: Lessons have been shown to improve everything from math to social skills.

Which Instrument?

Familiarize your child with different kinds of instruments so he can decide what appeals to him, suggests Sandra Guerard, Ph.D., associate professor and coordinator of music education at Virginia Commonwealth University. Piano is the most popular instrument to start with; studying it will provide a solid foundation in music theory and notation. Stringed instruments like the violin are favorites with this age group, too, because they come in small, manageable sizes. If your child rarely sits still, opt for an instrument that he can practice while walking around, or try drums, Lipsitt advises. And since kids can fall in and out of love with instruments easily, consider renting first. Many music stores and some schools offer this option.

Finding a Teacher

If your child's school has a music program, ask the director to recommend a private teacher, or contact local music schools (often part of university music departments) for referrals. A weekly one-hour lesson can cost anywhere from $30 to $75. A candidate's experience teaching children is as important as her professional training or credentials as a musician. Call parents of current or former students and ask about the teacher's approach to make sure that her personality is a good match for your child's.

Practice, Practice!

Set a regular practice schedule and location, but be flexible about adapting the routine as needed. In the beginning, experts say, practice ten minutes, twice a day, though many kids may be up for only one session. Slowly work up to one or two 20- to 30-minute sessions a day, five to seven days a week.

If your youngster gets stuck during practice and you lack the musical expertise to help, call her teacher or have your child write a note about it to bring to the next lesson.

What if your kid insists she wants to quit? She might just be trying to avoid practicing — common among kids this age, who'd rather be playing or watching TV — so don't give in too soon. Also, a piece of music takes months to learn, and it can be hard to be patient and wait for the payoff. Recognize your child's progress with occasional rewards (see "Motivation Secrets"). But don't force lessons if after a year or more your child is truly not interested in continuing, says Brandenberger. "Even if they don't play an instrument, kids can still enjoy music in their lives," she asserts.