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Investing in music lessons

Children's music lessons can bring sweet harmony or family discord into your home. The difference will likely come from how carefully you choose your child's music teacher and course of study.

"The biggest mistake parents make is to treat music lessons as a commodity," says Alan Merriam, president of Oakville, Ont.-based Merriam School of Music.

With his background as a pianist and head of the 25-year-old school and its 3,000 young students, Merriam cautions parents of would-be music students that it's important to "spend the time right at the beginning to research."

"Don't go for the cheapest music lessons or those that are merely convenient in terms of location," he advises.

Instead, he says, look for the highest quality teacher you can find and a program that inspires and engages your child.

Quality costs
"This will mean paying more than you perhaps want, and it will most likely mean driving farther than you want, but it's essential if you want to have the best results for your child," says Merriam.

That said costs can range from $25 per hour at one local east-end Toronto music school to $100 per hour at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

The payoff of a musical education
Jennifer Snow, academic officer and executive director of the Conservatory's examination division, has spent her life as a musician and music educator. "I believe every child is a good candidate for music lessons," she says. "Music is a fundamental aspect of who we are as humans."

The benefits of music lessons are well-documented in terms of brain development and links to higher academic achievements. Beyond this, however, music teaches children discipline, focus, teamwork and deferred gratification since it takes time before seeing tangible payoff.

Getting started
Merriam says the questions parents ask him most often are ‘When should my child start music lessons?' and ‘How can I find a good teacher?'

As for when to start, Merriam advises "as early as possible."

Snow agrees that exposure to music at the very earliest age is desirable. "With very young children you want movement and music together, such as offered in a 'Mommy and Me' program. Once the child is school age, they can begin learning an instrument. Some methods, such as Suzuki [which focuses on creating the right environment for children learning music], start with strings at a very young age."

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-- Posted July 2, 2012
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