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Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/Should I send my son to a singing/drama class?


Dear Clare,
I live in the UK and would appreciate your advice on this topic.
I have a son, born in 2009. Last year, I sent him to a music class for toddlers, where they learned something about music. However, he did not last long and we had to cancel the class because he was very shy. Every time we came to the class, he always refused to enter and I had to do everything to convince him.
Last week, we came to another singing/drama class. This time he seemed to like it although it lasted 90 minutes (30 mins for singing, 30 for drama, and 30 for dancing).
I would like to ask this question:
My long-term view is for my child to begin learning piano at the end of this year when he is 6.
So should we try to keep this singing/drama class until the end of this year? Does it help in any way?
Thank you.

Hello Liam, and thank you for being patient.

Why do you want your son to learn music?  Do you want him to derive lifelong pleasure from it, enjoy a particular genre or a whole variety of genres, find emotional release and refuge in it?  If so you have to let him learn at his own pace, which for the average five-year-old means music and movement - dancing, singing, imaginative movement.  There's so much to learn about listening, recognising, responding to and making up your own music, and the most fundamental way to do that is through your body and your voice.  The most important thing is for the child to have fun - get that right and he becomes eager to learn more, try anything and everything and not be afraid to make mistakes in trying.

So loud alarm bells started ringing when you said you've decided that your son should learn the piano, and if you came to me for lessons I'd turn you down immediately.  My rules for accepting pupils: your son must want to learn himself, which means he has asked you "please may I have lessons?" - mere acquiescence to your edict isn't enough.  He must also be of an age to understand that, although the lessons will be fun and he'll learn at his own pace, he's going to have to work in order to progress, which means daily practice.  You'll need to encourage/remind him to practise and ensure he has uninterrupted quiet to do so, but any attempts to force him or turn the whole practice issue into a battleground are ultimately doomed to failure - he won't progress, he'll give up as soon as he can and he'll never have anything to do with music again.  I've watched that happen so many times and it's heartbreaking.

If a child's musically gifted it's apparent very early.  The vast majority of children aren't, so there's no advantage to starting an instrument before they're physically strong/dexterous/co-ordinated enough to cope with the complication of playing it.  The best age for starting the piano is about 8 or 9, and for a long time I wouldn't take pupils younger than that.  I have taught 5 and 6-year-olds and starting earlier doesn't give them an advantage as it takes so much longer for them to progress.  Bear in mind that on ther piano not only must you use both hands equally and independently, all ten fingers have to be equally strong, and that takes time and a lot of practice.  I've taught adult beginners who really struggled with playing hands together - it's not easy!

So let him carry on with singing/dancing/drama for as long as he wants to and spend time with him listening to as much music, regardless of genre, and as many different instruments as you can.  Learn about the orchestra, go to children's concerts, visit your local music festival to see what other children are doing.  Then wait for him to come to you and demand lessons because he's hooked on ... whatever instrument.

Hope this helps.  

Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting

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Clare Redfarn


All aspects of the academic/theoretical side of music, including harmony, counterpoint, elementary composition, history, harmonic analysis, aural training, sightreading - the lot! Please note I'm not primarily a composer so I can't help with composition beyond what's required for Grade 8 theory or A'level. And don't ask me about psychoacoustics or music psychology as I have no knowledge of, nor interest in, either subject.


57 years as pianist (soloist and accompanist); 42 years as harpsichordist (soloist and continuist); 10 years as violinist and 6 years as bassoonist (youth orchestras/chamber groups); 45 years as piano teacher, coach in performance/interpretation (all ages, instruments and levels) and private tutor (mainly the old O'level, Grade VI+ ABRSM theory/practical musicianship, A'level and undergraduates); 20 years as ballet pianist (Cecchetti syllabus).

Member of Musicians' Union in Britain 1978-1989 and 1991-2009.

I've been writing professionally since I was 20 - too many programme notes to count over the years and a number of articles. Additionally, from 1996-2000 I was a Music Assessor for London Arts and as such regularly wrote critiques of concerts given by recipients of Arts Council funding.

MA in European Cultural Policy & Administration (Warwick University, 1994)
B Mus with Honours (London University, 1977)
Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Administration (City University, 1982)
Licentiate of Royal Academy of Music in Piano Teaching (1976)
Licentiate of Royal Academy of Music in Harpsichord Teaching (1978)

Studied RAM Junior School (1966-74), then as full-time student (1974-78).

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