What should parents consider before letting their children learn a second (or third!) instrument

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I’ve had this conversation numerous times in the last few weeks. Students are looking at taking up a second or third instrument. Sometimes it’s at the suggestion of the parent, and sometimes it’s influence from other places. Regardless, there are a number of things to consider before adding in another instrument.

  1. What other activities is the student involved in? List them out, even on paper. Go through the schedule for each day to make sure you haven’t missed anything. List all Tutors, clubs, sports, after school or co curricular activities, music lessons and homework time. Include everything that happens on the weekends too, including family time or religious commitments. For each instrument, make sure to add 20-60min of practice time each day, depending on the student’s level and goals.
  2. How much time in a week does the student have to “just be a kid”? Companies are complaining that their employees lack the ability to think creatively and “out of the box”. One of those reasons is that those people who are just joining the workforce had less “unstructured” time as a child…. less time to develop imagination, less time to learn to entertain themselves, less time to “just be a kid”. These days, I recommend that my families make sure to schedule that time in too.
  3. Why do you want/need an additional instrument? If it is for university purposes, a second or third instrument doesn’t often help a student enter university, unless it is for a specific programme. Universities today are wanting well rounded students – a balance of sport, arts, academics and community service. If it is for a school ensemble, there can be huge benefits to that, if the student has balance in the rest of their life.
  4. Is the new instrument in the same instrument family as the instrument already being worked on? If so, the transition is easier as many skills just transfer over, for example, Violin to Cello.  If not, there will be a new set of skills to learn, as in the transition from Piano to Clarinet. The principles of western music are the same for any instrument. All instruments read the same notation, usually in either treble or bass clef.
  5. Will the student be continuing on the current instrument or switching to a new one? It is not a good idea for a student to “bounce” from instrument to instrument, except in certain circumstances. When they only learn the rudiments of an instrument before switching to another one, they do not become proficient at anything, and any skills learnt are quickly forgotten.

To sum up, it’s all about balance. If a student really wants to take up an additional instrument, they may need to give up another activity to maintain the balance in their life. This is a serious conversation that needs to be had with both parents and the students involved. Playing an instrument should never be the sole decision of either party, rather it is something that needs to be discussed and negotiated. The parent will need to support the student through the frustrations of learning an instrument, remind them (constantly) to practice and source out the appropriate ensemble or teacher. The student has to go through the physical discomfort that comes with learning an instrument, and all of the (potentially) boring practice time. If they don’t enjoy it, there will be many battles fought between parent and student.

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