3 Things Parents Must Tell Their Children When They Begin a Musical Instrument

By: Tony Mazzocchi

Article originally posted on The Music Parents’ Guide


Hopefully your child will begin a musical instrument through their school music program.  If so, when they bring home their instrument for the first time, it is more than just an exciting day…

 ...It is an opportunity...

 …Perhaps one of the greatest opportunities in your child’s life thus far.


musical instrument
Photo: Victoria Chamberlin, victoriachamberlin.com


If you are like me, you want your kid(s) to complete their K-12 education with far more than factual knowledge and an ability to score well on tests.  You don’t believe that your child’s success in life depends primarily on cognitive skills — the type of intelligence that is measured on IQ tests and such.  You don’t believe that school should be primarily focused on stuffing kids’ brains with as much factual knowledge as possible, but instead is focused on growing skills and mindsets that will last a lifetime.  Psychological traits that include

  • The patience to persist at a tough (and perhaps boring) task;
  • The ability to delay gratification;
  • The curiosity and grit to problem solve;

 …just to name just a few.

 And the musical instrument in your child’s hand could be the key to learning those skills.


You see, your child didn’t receive an instrument with the expectation that they would become a professional musician, just as they did not receive a math book with the expectation of them becoming a mathematician.  But, unlike any other subject, your child has the opportunity to develop some of the most important life skills through learning to play an instrument, and you need to let them know this is the case.

Here are three things parents need to know and be able to express to their child as soon as they begin learning to play a musical instrument:

  • “You are allowed to fail, and you will become better because of your failures.”  

    There are no red pen marks for missed notes in music the way there are on tests — there is nothing to feel bad about when you play something “wrong” in music.  To become skilled at a musical instrument — and to become great at anything — one needs to struggle a little.  In your child’s case, they need to sound bad before they sound good; they need to work on things just beyond what they are capable of in order to get better and smarter, and that means they need to make mistakes.  There is a small gap between what we all are able to do and where we want to be, and focusing on that gap makes us better learners and better people.  Learning a musical instrument allows us to grow from our mistakes.

  • “Hard works trumps talent every single time.” 

    Practicing a skill over and over, the right way, fires circuits in our brains that solidify that skill.  Sure, some people find some skills easier at first than others, but the people who practice that skill daily in order to “burn it” into their brain will always far surpass people who don’t practice enough.  Practicing a musical instrument helps children learn the universal truth that hard work trumps talent.

  • This is a long-term commitment, and we are going to stick with it.”  

    Studies have shown that students who identified that they would play their instrument for longer than one year outperformed students who only committed to one year of playing by up to 400% — practicing the same amount of time if not less!  The ideas and mindsets students bring to their musical instrument study have a direct effect on their success, and it’s the parents’ role to set the tone on the first day by not giving their child an “easy out” to quit.  Make the decision to invest in your child’s music education for at least a few years of their schooling and you will see results.

There are not many subjects taught in school that have the potential to give our children the life skills they need to be successful beyond their school lives.  Our children can learn how to have grit, motivation, problem-solving skills, flexibility, and character during and after their K-12 schooling — and music is the vehicle to teach these skills.


What if we as parents treated music like any other core subject and expected our children to study it for at least 4 or 5 years? What does “success in school” mean to you and your child?


About the author:

2014; CART; CALI; faculty; music, Anthony Mazzocchi, Grammy Nominee

A GRAMMY® nominated music educator, Anthony Mazzocchi has performed as a trombonist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, New Jersey Symphony, San Diego Symphony, San Diego Opera, Riverside Symphony, Key West Symphony, in various Broadway shows and numerous recordings and movie soundtracks.

 Tony has served as faculty or as a frequent guest lecturer at The Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music, New York University, and Mannes College of Music.  He has taught students from K-college, and has served as a district Director of Fine and Performing Arts in the South Orange/Maplewood School District.  Tony has been a consultant for arts organizations throughout the NY/NJ area.

Tony blogs about how to be a successful music parent at The Music Parent’s Guide, and the book by the same name can be bought here.  He has written a method book for music teachers called The Band Director’s Method Book Companion.

 Tony is currently Associate Director of the John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University in New Jersey.  He is also Executive Director of the Kinhaven Summer Music School in Weston, Vermont.  Tony is a clinician for Courtois – Paris.


Interested in reprinting this article? Please review the reprint guidelines.

 Kristen Rencher, Social Media Coordinator. March 30, 2015. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)

  • Sarah

    I like this article. So, what does a parent do when every single practice session ends in tears? Getting them to the piano bench for a 10 min practice is like pulling teeth, and all you get is resistance?? Is it worth the fight and misery to keep going? Or, are some kids just not that musical??

    • tess

      Sara I had the same problem. Don’t give up. the worst thing you could do is quit right now especially after crying session. All that will do is teach him that crying will get him what he wants. Instead show him that crying won’t get him what he wants and he will have to sit there and make him responsible for part of it

      • Helena Munoz Fernandez

        Sarah, maybe the music your child is attempting is a bit too hard, and does not allow the child to feel like he is achieving anything. It also could be the child digging his heels to just refuse to do it, but if the music to be learned is fun and the child likes it and is able to achieve at it, most kids respond well, and even more if the parents are encouraging of their efforts. Ignore the tantrum, commend the effort.

    • Alex Watkins

      I learned in high school that it isn’t to let negative emotions get in the way. It makes practice more frustrating. Also the biggest key to a more efficient practice is a positive practice.

    • Courtney

      I had a student like that. Every time he had to practice he would cry, throw a fit, and before he could practice he slid all over the piano bench in a type of fit. His mother started telling him that he could not do any of the activities he enjoys at home without his ten minutes of practice each day. They set a kitchen time when he began to practice and fairly quickly it became habit. He does his piano practice as part of his homework every day now and then has some free time after. Once he made it habit he started to get much better and move through the book much more quickly. I am proud to say he has not had a fit or cried about practice in a year.

    • Sarah, I would ask your child what type of music they want to play. Maybe they want to learn a popular song but the teacher wants to focus only on classical music. Maybe they are being taught to read music but are having difficulty and are too afraid to say something to the teacher. Maybe they would prefer to play a different instrument. Find out what the reason is behind the resistance by having an open conversation with your daughter.

    • Kerry

      The first question that must be answered is whether the child is truly interested. Whose idea was it to give the child piano lessons? Did the child wish to play a different instrument? Parents should be encouraging and careful about being demanding — especially parents who have participated in music activities themselves. Is there a piano teacher involved? What is the teachers’ recommendation? What is the teachers’ style? Is the child able to have any fun with the piano?

      I just completed a day as the lead clinician for the ATSSB Region 14 Jazz Clinic. One of the things I stressed to my ensemble students that day was to have fun. We worked very hard on the music but we had to have fun and when it stopped being fun, they had to let me know! If music isn’t fun, interest will wane sooner than you can say “dislike”. This is true of all subjects but, the teacher, student, and parents, must be involved in this. While a regular practice time is important, there can be some leeway in the schedule and, there will be days where, for whatever reason, practice just isn’t going to happen. There are also other distractions facing children today. Sports (sometimes parent demanded) and video/computer games are at the top of that list. Combine those with constant standardized testing and kids get burned out very quickly.

      Regardless, the first question I posed is really the most important one. Once you’ve answered that one, the rest of the answers will be much easier to come by

    • Bec

      Sarah, some kids are just not musical. Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t learn though.
      When I read the article and came across this quote: “There are no red pen marks for missed notes in music the way there are on tests — there is nothing to feel bad about when you play something “wrong” in music” It was obviously written by someone who found music relatively easy and enjoyable, and he’s obviously never seen my music book.
      I’m dyslexic and have no sense of rhythm. I struggled learning music and I think my teacher may have had a nervous breakdown trying to teach me. I ended up hating it. I had no trouble sight reading, but I couldn’t get the timing correct. When my teacher finally gave up, I spent the year adapting popular songs I liked to flute I was able to produce music that I liked and as I already knew the tune, I was effectively playing along in my head, so overcame my rhythm difficulties.
      If your little one hates it, maybe see if there’s a reason, music is like any other subject and some kids need more support or need to be taught in a different method.

    • Phillip Marcus

      Maybe it’s the piano your child doesn’t like. Have you ever asked what instrument he/she would like to play? It’s a very personal choice, and one you can’t always make for them.

    • Helena Munoz Fernandez

      Sarah, maybe the music your child is attempting is a bit too hard, and does not allow the child to feel like he is achieving anything. It also could be the child digging his heels to just refuse to do it, but if the music to be learned is fun and the child likes it and is able to achieve at it, most kids respond well, and even more if the parents are encouraging of their efforts. Ignore the tantrum, commend the effort.

  • Great article Tony! These points are so true. I love the first point. Not enough parents sat that to their child in anything, and it’s especially true for music. We don’t learn unless we fail or make mistakes. Thanks for bringing out that point!
    Not placing a time limit for commitment (try it for one year) is really important too because with that time limit, children feel they need to be accomplishing so much right away. (They think they only have a year to prove that they can master this instrument.) When they start to realize that progress sometimes can be slower, they then think that they will never be good at their instrument, especially in only a year, so why bother trying any more and continuing. By stating that learning an instrument is a long term process, it relieves some of the pressure to try to reach unrealistic goals that are set in the child’s mind.

    Perhaps another thing parents can discuss with their child is, “What do you want to achieve in the next month, 3 months, 6 months, etc?” By doing this the parent can set up realistic goals that will motivate their child to practice and continue for longer than a year.
    The problem arises when parents do not have any understanding of what it takes to play an instrument. The advice I would give these parents is to equate playing an instrument with learning any new skill. It will feel overwhelming at first, almost impossible. But, showing your child a system, or process to break down learning into reasonable goals is priceless, and follows Tony’s last though about music providing the life skills that are so necessary for the next generation.

  • Aaron Cooper

    i love it 🙂

  • Tony

    My father (an Italiam immigrant and the hardest working man I know) coming home from work everyday had this same mindset as this article. He knew schooling was important, but he asked me first if I practiced! It made me the drummer I am today!

  • Captain Slog

    I’d LOVE to learn how to play an Instrument. I have a Guitar, CASIO Keyboard, and a Harmonica [Gob Iron] but I can only play them enough to amuse myself. I’ve never had a Lesson so I’m not very good. I enjoy it while I try, though.

    • Set aside time to practice – just an hour or 30 min each day. The internet also has a wealth of resources for learning the technical skills as well, but just DOing it is the best way to learn.

  • wendy sharpe

    I was first told in grade 4 when my son came home and told me he is learning the saxophone. I believe this is important because he decided and to this day he is in grade 10 he practices most days he has done grade 6 exam and grade 3 theory. I gave him a year off exams last year and he discovered jazz and played around. Let them discover what they like also this is about them not you. He loves his saxophone like a girlfriend and we are very blessed he still practices and enjoys learning new things

  • Linda Mae Reeb


  • Sandra Bales

    My daughter tried out four different instruments in the 4th grade — cello, percussion, clarinet & baritone; she chose the baritone. I thought it might be a little much for her tiny body, but I didn’t discourage her from playing it. I’m so glad I didn’t! By the end of 6th grade 1st semester she was encouraged by her band director to advance to a 4-valve euphonium & she did. She is now a freshman in high school playing the euphonium in the school’s top band & in the marching band. She has also joined the jazz band, playing the valve trombone. All of this has peeked her interest in learning more of the brass instruments. She has learned the trumpet & slide trombone; she will play the slide trombone in next years jazz band. My daughter had a few rough early years of childhood & I believe playing an instrument has raised her self-esteem greatly. She has a 3.7 GPA, half of her classes are honors classes, she’s involved in community outreach (KEY club & Youth Action Board) & track. She has chosen 5 colleges already & wants to major in the digital media and minor in music; one of her criteria for college choice is that they have to have a good marching band. I agree that playing a musical instrument does wonders in a child’s life; but you have to let THEM choose which instrument to play.

  • Carly Moore

    My son had his second violin lesson today and I am so sad that he came home to tell me that his band teacher had been frustrated with him and said that he should maybe pick another instrument to try and play. he is nine years old and was very excited about learning to play an instrument. He said he did not want to give up. I wish I knew how to play so I could help him. I just feel a little sad that it was only his second lesson and the band teacher had dismissed him as unable to learn. I have another daughter who has been playing the clarinet for years and seems to have a natural ability at it.

    • susan mcs

      find a good private teacher — don’t rely on the school band teacher, as they only have so many hours in a day. If your child seriously wants to learn violin, it will be worth your while to invest in private lessons. ;0)

    • MippysMom

      If there’s a specialist violin teacher in your area, I highly encourage you to invest in private lessons — yes, invest. A specialist on the instrument can show your child the correct ways of doing things, some “tricks of the trade” to make technical issues easier, and help by playing a wide variety of music. I’m a French horn teacher with 30 years’ experience — and my school band teacher wrote me off too.

  • BL

    When reaching high school, care should be taken when considering marching band. Students with even minor learning difficulties will suffer a negative impact on core course grades during the marching season.