Choosing the Wrong Instrument Can Halt Music Classes

Many homeschooling parents are afraid – afraid that their child will come to the conclusion they did as a child: That music is not much fun, I can’t play the instrument well, lessons are boring – I quit.

Parents don’t want their child to go through these experiences – but they want them to learn a musical instrument.  They realize that their parents spent a lot of good money on their lessons, but they quit.  And everyone agrees it was a waste of time and money.

So with their own children, they attempt to reduce the financial risk of providing music lessons for their children.  They do this by doing two things:

  • They find the cheapest teacher in town;
  • They buy the cheapest instrument they can find.

Here, I'm interested in the second point, cheap instruments. They might find a hand-me-down violin that’s been around for decades.  The strings are worn, the pegs can't be moved easily, the bow is missing half its hairs; anyway, there's no rosin for the bow and no chin-rest.  It hasn't been played in years.  But this is Little Mary’s starting instrument.

For parents who choose piano, the financial risks are higher because a piano costs more to buy.  Never mind.  Someone has an old one that just needs dusting, it hasn’t been tuned for 45 years, the ivory is cracked or completely missing.  And some of the keys don’t work anyway.  They stick after you press them down, and you have to pull them up in order to use that note again.

Now I understand the cost saving.  But it is also necessary to admit these instruments sound awful.  They sound awful to adults, they sound awful to the teacher – and they will sound awful to the child as well.  And they are no fun to play at all.  There's no possibility of the sound of the instrument getting the child excited.

No matter, say the parents.  When my child display a real interest in music, we’ll get him something better.

Except that day never arrives.  Little Mary or Little Albert never do take to music.  They  know they’re on a horrible instrument.  Why persevere.  Mom and Dad don't care enough to get me a good instrument.

If you want your children to succeed at music, make sure they have an instrument that is in tune, or that can be tuned, and in the case of string or wind instruments, have bows and reeds that are top condition.  They need to hear and make for themselves, musical sounds that are a reasonable quality, and you cannot get reasonable quality off a bad instrument. Then your child will know you care enough to insist they have something better.  Put them with a good teacher and they'll do well.

It does not cost the homeschooling family a fortune to have a reasonable instrument.  It just needs a commitment to quality education and quality music in the homeschool.


Ian Hodge, Ph.D, lives in East Lansing, MI.  A musician and business consultant, he is the creator of ReadWritePlay.com – a self-teaching creative music program that teaches students how to read and write music from the beginning.

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