Have you ever noticed that your kids tend to copy the things that you do? Yep, those little ones want to be just like you. When you sit down and read each day, your kids are learning that reading is something that is important. When you get up to exercise, it becomes something your kids believe they should do daily. This is true for any number of behaviors, such as going to church, eating healthy food, or whatever. But, what about playing an instrument?
In my many years of teaching music and chatting with parents, I have observed that many moms and dads want their kids to play an instrument, but don’t necessarily take the time to do it themselves. Of course, there are the few parents that play a musical instrument at home regularly. But overall, I have found that many parents usually fit into one of the following categories. The first group used to play an instrument, but hasn’t played in many years. The second group wants their kids to play, but doesn’t take or have the time to learn it themselves.
Using reading as an example, kids who read with their parents and have enjoyable reading experiences when little, are far more likely to continue reading as adults (Baker et al, 1997). Likewise, parents that play an instrument for fun with their children seem more likely to have kids that will keep making music as they grow. But, what if you don’t play an instrument? How do you give this experience to your child?
The answer simple, you should learn to play a musical instrument and let your kids see you do it.
You're Never Too Old To Learn an Instrument
That is right, you can learn an instrument at any age. Now, when you start you have to accept that you're going to be terrible. Think of a 30 year old trying to learn to ride a bike, it's going to be like that. You'll stumble and fall, but with time you'll get better.
The best rule is to start simple and play music that you love. Look, if you try to learn music that you don’t like, you will not be as motivated to practice (this is also true for your kids). But, if you have always wanted to learn a Beatles tune, then learn a Beatles tune. I’d like to use the Beatles song Eleanor Rigby as an example. This is a great tune that has two main chords, C Major and E Minor. It can be learned in a manner of minutes on ukulele or guitar. Plus, it is super fun to play.
Play any time Anywhere
Using reading habits as an example, I keep a book with me or have a book on stand by in iBooks. I read just about everywhere, when I’m waiting in the car, in line at the grocery store, or on the train. Making music is similar. You can play any time and it doesn’t need to be for long, just a few minutes here or there makes a huge impact. I grab my guitar after breakfast, when I’m sitting on the couch, I’ll even wake my kids up with an annoying song, like Baby Shark. I also drum just about everywhere and on just about every thing. You may think, that sounds annoying, but my kids join in and we have a blast. Basically, just play whenever you can.
Keep Instruments Readily Available
In my own study of how self-taught musicians learn (Owens, 2017), most of the participants had their instruments in their living room or hanging on a wall. Why, because it served as a reminder to grab an instrument and play. If you leave an instrument sitting on the sofa, I guarantee one of your kids will pick it up and start playing with it. Oh yeah, so will you.
Playing an Instrument Again
If you used to play an instrument, you can pick up your old horn, guitar, or violin and start playing again. The foundation is there. But, there are other instruments too. You don’t have to play the same instrument that you did when you were younger. If you used to play oboe and now you want to sing and play songs with your little ones; well, try guitar, piano, or ukulele. Of course, if you still like your old instrument, give it a go.
Unlike the beginning musician, you already have musical chops. So, a lot of your skills will transfer to your new instrument. I am a drummer, but I have spent a lot of time learning to play the guitar. Playing chords with funky rhythms is a strong point for me; however, quick melodies are something I need to work on.
Your Kids Need to See You Make Music
Just like eating right, your kids need to see you make music if you wan them to do it too. If making music daily is a regular part of your life, then your kids will follow suit. If you show the value of making music in your home, then your kids will also see the value and probably keep making music for life.
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John Owens, Ph.D. is the author of Music at Home: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Musically Insightful Kids. Check out his upcoming books, articles, and courses at johnowensmusic.com.
Baker, L., Sher, D., & Mackler, K. (1997). Home and family influence on motivations for reading. Educational Psychologist 32(2), 69-82.
Owens, J. (2017). Power chords, blast beats, and accordions: Understanding informal learning in the lives of community college musicians.