What, when, how? A parent’s guide to Music Lessons

Practice time!As a parent, children of school age can prove to be incredibly expensive and sometimes some very expensive hobbies can turn out to be quickly forgotten pastimes.  With the ever growing bills, it can be tempting to either discourage and look at buying a cheap guitar and hope it gets forgotten about to avoid the costs of lessons or search online for that once in a life-time deal.

The first thing to remember is that playing any brass instrument can be a little bit noisy and uncontrolled initially and it may take a week or so of lessons to get a fairly good sounding tune that you recognise!

The Instrument

There are a number of options with this and it is possible to get a very good deal on different websites, including eBay.  However, it is important to make sure you look out for a number of issues that could make a seemingly good bargain turn out to be an absolute nightmare.

If you are looking for a valved instrument, check pictures for dents in important places.  The bell section is not crucial for the overall sound of the trumpet even though it may look quite unsightly.  It is also fairly easy to get these removed.  If there are any dents on the valve casings, however small, these may well make the instrument completely unusable.

For the trombone, it is absolutely crucial to aim to get a dent free slide that is able to move easily.  If it is a bit sticky it may well just need some maintenance, but it could be a sign of other issues.

Always ask for additional pictures and any further details if you are buying online, and if at all possible try and see it before you pay.  Take someone that you trust or know like a local brass teacher, or the person you intend to have lessons with.

Practice time!There are some fantastic retailers that sell second-hand instruments that are reconditioned.  Although this comes at a price, the piece of mind may well be worth the additional outlay.

There are a number of student instruments available from new, but the same advice for trying them out before paying exists.  It is very easy to get two brand new instruments of exactly the same make and model, but they can be very different to play.

Additional Equipment

Important equipment to begin with includes the following essential items:

1)   Valve oil or slide cream (usually comes with the instrument if bought new) and Vaseline for the instrument slides.

2)   A cleaning cloth (usually comes with the instrument if bought new).

3)   A good tutor book that has been recommended by a good teacher, and a collapsible music stand.

4)   A notebook for your teacher to write in when you have your lesson.

5)   A good teacher!

Additional items that can be bought include things like a practice mute, a straight mute, a particular brand of valve oil or slide cream and additional music books.


This is often a real problem and very often may be the cause of lots of arguments and disagreements, particularly in the summer when it is sunny and warm.

It is important to remember that most people will have a fairly similar learning curve when they begin to play an instrument.  At the start when everything is new and exciting, it is possible to make really good progress very quickly.  This will usually slow down and may well feel like it has stopped altogether.  You may then notice a drop and all of a sudden there will be some rapid progress again.  This is to be expected and is completely normal!


At the start practicing may well not be an issue as everything is new and exciting, but this will often become more of a problem as things start to slow down.  It is at this point that everybody could need some support.  It is sometimes a little tricky to support a somewhat reluctant child and this can be a real time of stress.  The best way of approaching this is to insist on little and often.

It is very tempting to try and get someone to keep working at a problem until it is fixed and this can often be completely unproductive.  At the time when a student has reached a plateau the best advice is to work on the difficulty for a short amount of time and then work on more enjoyable, relaxing stuff that is just fun to play.  This may stop that feeling of frustration or loss of confidence that can lead to some students wanting to give up before they have really even started.

bad-gastein-113848_640When starting a brass instrument, it is far better to aim for just 10 minutes or so a day (or every other day) and to help the student to focus on every achievement.  This will help to grow confidence and may well build in ways of working around problems or difficulties encountered at a later stage.

Please, however, be as honest as possible and if something is not working or doesn’t sound quite right it is important to say.  There is nothing worse, or more misleading (even potentially damaging) than false praise.

Get a Teacher

This will be the most expensive part of learning an instrument but is well worth it.  There are a number of ways of cutting the costs and this can include learning in groups, joining an ensemble that offers tuition (this is very common in brass banding), learning via Skype or through investigating any bursaries or assistance offered from your local schools or Music Hub.

It is important to get a teacher that the student can relate to and can work with.  Never be afraid to change teacher if things are not working out – the teacher should be professional in these circumstances and although they may not like losing a particular student, it is important to follow your gut instinct and do what is right for the student concerned.

Get involved!

Most importantly, join an ensemble.  This can be a county group, school group, brass band, wind band or orchestra.  Playing in an ensemble can help to give a real purpose to all of the time spent on practice, or provide that necessary motivation should a concert be coming up.

If there are no local groups, speak with your teacher and it should be possible to set an ensemble up from the students that they teach.

What issues have you faced with either your children or students practicing and how did you overcome these problems?

Have you had a child want to quit because it got a bit tricky and apparently it is no longer any fun?  How did you work around those problems?

Good luck!

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