It’s holiday time, and you want to encourage your child to continue practicing and performing on their instrument. Maybe your child really enjoys their instrument and wants to improve their performance. Here’s a few ideas to spark their interest.

1. It’s never too soon to get a Tuner….   One of the most important aspects of a good tone quality is being in tune. A performer can play all the right notes and rhythms, but if he/she is noticeably out of tune, the performance falls flat (no pun intended!). Korg is a great brand for tuners. I still have my combination tuner/metronome DTM-12 that I bought in 1984!!! It still works great and I use it all the time.  You can purchase a new chromatic tuner for $15 – $25 depending upon the features you want. Some other brands are Seiko, Boss and Matrix. There are even some tuners that can clip onto the instrument for more accurate readings, like the Peterson TP-3 Clip-On, or the more sophisticated StroboClip SC-1 for advanced players, and the Snark SN-11.

2. Gotta feel the beat…with a metronome… One of the most common criticisms of young performers is that they do not play their pieces with steadiness of rhythms.  That means that they tend to make one beat notes sound as long as half beat notes. Feeling the big and small beats is crucial for any performer, and having a quality metronome will help.  (This is especially important for percussionists. From Day One, any drummer should be practicing with a metronome.)
There are many choices for metronomes, whether electronic or old style. Remember that big, wooden, triangle-shaped metronome that had the “arm” that moved back and forth to click the beat? They are still around and still very popular.  Korg, Seiko and Matrix are all good brands.  Boss Dr. Beat Metronomes are very popular for percussionists because they offer a variety of meters and beat patterns. You can save money and buy a combination Metronome/Tuner, which would be a great gift. Korg (DM-50) continues to make these, as well as Peterson (BodyBeat Wireless Pulsating Metronome).

3. It’s a pain in the neck to have to keep assembling instruments, so why not get an Instrument Stand so your child can just assemble the mouthpiece (and reed) and play?…. Many young woodwind students don’t practice because they hate spending the time assembling and taking apart the instrument. If you purchase a quality instrument stand, and store the instrument in a safe place away from younger siblings, pets and excessive heat, cold or moisture, this can solve that problem. Some great brands are Hercules (which makes stands for single and multiple instruments), K&M (which makes stands that are portable and fit in the bell of the instrument) and On Stage.

4. Popular Song and Movie Theme Music Books can really motivate your child to practice more because they are playing songs they know and like. Most local music stores have these for all the instruments, or you can look online at one of my favorite sheet music retailers, http://www.jwpepper.com.  Just be sure to get books that have CD’s of the music with an instrumentalist playing the songs. Many of the songs and movie themes have very advanced rhythms and harmonies. Listening to the recording many times and following along with the notation will allow for learning and feeling new rhythms and meters, and hearing more complex harmonies.

5. Time to get creative, with a little improv…. One of the best ways of knowing if a musician understands music is if he/she can create or improvise their own music. (Improvisation can be in any style, it does not have to be just jazz.) A great introduction to jazz improvisation is the use of the Jamey Aebersold series of improvisation books. Volume 1 is an introduction, but there is a lot of advanced reading in the first part of the book. Volume 24 has all the major and minor scales with some fun background tracks. This would be a better start for the youngest musicians, provided that they can at least play 1 – 2 scales. This book will motivate students to practice more scales because the tracks are really cool to play along with, and it will develop their ears to hear more complex harmonies. Jamey Aebersold Jazz Books

In a future blog, I’ll discuss some great software programs you can purchase that will elevate your child’s performance to all new levels.

Action Steps:

  1. Assess the performance level of your young musician. (Very beginner, Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced)
  2. Do they need motivation to practice? Think about song books and the Jamey Aebersold series.
  3. Do they need basic tools to help improve their playing? Think about tuners, metronomes or combinations.
  4. Do they not want to practice because instrument set-up takes too long? Purchase a quality instrument stand.
  5. You can get some great gifts for under $50 at the Woodwind and Brasswind online store. Here's a link: Great Gift Ideas Under $50 at wwbw.com!
  6. If you think of any other great gift ideas, write them in the Comments section below…
  7. Please Like and Share this article with your friends!