If you want your child to truly appreciate music — and by music, I mean RAWK — you will need to find an alternate to the likes of Gymboree and its ilk. But what options do you have? If you have an older kid and you live in a larger city, you could send them to a School of Rock or Rock Camp. But for younger tots, families outside of major metro areas, or families on a budget (like most of us!), why not consider your own school of rock taught in your home by none other than yourself. After all, as parents, we ARE the child’s first teachers. And who knows, maybe you’ll start a family band to rival The Carter Family.
Now, before you let your children loose with a Slayer riff, let them become familiar with their instruments. It is important to let them become comfortable touching, holding, and banging without regard to what they are playing. Let them haul it around the house, take it in the car, even put it under their pillow (as long as their head is not also on said pillow); all without any pressure to actually make music. Once they feel as akin to the instruments as their bunny wunny, they will be more likely to take the lead in learning to play music. With this empowerment, comes enthusiasm and enthusiasm makes a great partner with the patience they will need to persevere.
If you happened to play in band in high school, you just might remember playing classic rock hits like “Smoke on the Water.” What did that mean to you? Nothing, or less than nothing, is probably more like it. So teach your child songs that they like to sing. If you are blasting X, The XX, or The Ex in the car every day, that might be a good place to start. If they are rocking to Christina Aguilera, just go with it. If your child is passionate about the music that they are learning, that will help immensely on pushing back any struggles that you might have along the way.
When you do focus on an instrument, pick something small that your kid can play like a ukulele or a small piano. Keeping the scale small helps so that they are not overwhelmed by the sheer weightiness of the thing. And please, do yourself and your child a favor and invest in good equipment. Quality pieces can be fixed if they break, whereas the cheap stuff is just disposable. And, if, in the end, your kid hates playing (hey, it happens sometimes), you can always sell a nice instrument for close to what you paid originally.
If you are at a loss as to what instrument to begin with, consider building a foundation with the piano. As boring as it may seem, it is a great way to teach your child to play melody and harmony, as well as how to keep rhythm, all at the same time. Great starters are the little two-octave Schoenhut tabletop pianos. You can spice it up later with an electric keyboard and really get the party started. But if your child needs to rock on the guitar straight away, Schoenhut also makes a sweet 6-string variety, and there are many small “traveler” guitars on the market that are perfect kid-sized instruments. If you have a little Riot Girl on your hands, they even have a model in pink!
Once you are ready to launch into some lessons, keep it simple with one suggestion at a time to help them keep it going. A coaching session will be more effective than a chalkboard lesson. You may want to start with a Suzuki Method-style curriculum that focuses more on listening to the instrument and mimicking the teacher than reading sheet music and memorizing scales. And remember to join in: a nice duet of “The Piano Has Been Drinking <juice, of course>,” is a nice way to break things up. Now, there is some sheer memorization that goes with it, but even that can be a game with color coding for notes and the like. Keep it light and fun and they won’t even notice that they have been sitting for a half an hour. But most important, let your child lead and be a little composer; you never know, they may come up with their own punk rock anthem that Steve Albini would be proud of.