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Frequently Asked Questions about

Music Education

Am I too old to take up music?

The idea that if you haven’t learned to play an instrument or read music by a certain age then you will never be able to is a myth. No one is too old to make music. Certainly young people absorb instruction more quickly – and sometimes more easily – than adults. But mature students have the advantages of greater concentration and a genuine interest in learning music for its own sake. There are two important considerations mature students should keep in mind, however:

  1. Adults simply have less time on their hands than young people, and getting the most out of your music lessons takes regular practice. Will you have time to do his?
  2. Mature students should also have realistic expectations about what they can do. While you may not be able to make a career out of music, you can certainly become an accomplished instrumentalist or singer. We have had many mature students who had given up their instruments years before, returned to music study at the New School and achieved Grade 8 or diploma level.

Is my child too young?

Although children’s natural responsiveness to – and appreciation of – music can and should be encouraged from birth, instrumental tuition should not be given until a child has the concentration for lessons and a genuine desire to learn an instrument. Children not yet old enough to begin formal instrumental tuition – or who haven’t yet got a clear idea of what they want to learn – begin at the New School with Music for Me, our graded pre-instrumental programme (ages 3-6). Children are introduced to the elements of music, to a variety of musical styles and to some of the myriad instruments that make music. Afterwards, children can go on to our Introducing Guitar for Children, Introducing Piano/Keyboard for Children or Introducing Violin for Children or  courses (ages 6-8), take ‘partner’ or small group lessons with other children interested in the same instrument, take private (one-to-one) lessons, or perhaps wait for a little while until they are ready for further tuition.

What instrument would best for me / my child?

Every instrument (including voice) has its own unique rewards and difficulties. And although some instruments are easier to play initially, in the end no instrument is easier or more difficult to play well than any other. Perhaps a better question to ask is: What instrument have you / has your child always wanted to play (regardless of what you feel might be the ‘best’ for you)? Another question to ask is: What style of music do you listen to and enjoy?

Is learning to read music a necessary part of learning to play an instrument or sing?

We believe that music reading is an extraordinarily valuable skill for any musician to have, regardless of the music genre/style within which he or she is working. For example, although traditional music is generally learned by ear, music reading also gives the traditional musician easy access to many thousands of tunes collected over the years. Learning to read music is also far easier than many people realise. Our Music Fundamentals and Sight Singing Made Easy courses provide thorough foundations in music reading for instrumental and voice students in just ten weeks.

How long will it take?

The simple answer is: That all depends on you. In other words, the greater your effort and commitment, the more rapid your progress. But the truth is that no one ever fully ‘learns’ an instrument. Every teacher in our school is still learning, the finest performers in the world are still learning, and anyone who feels he or she has learned everything is simply mistaken. This is not to suggest that learning to play an instrument or sing is impossibly difficult, or that it will be a long time before you’ll be able to make real music for yourself and others. For example, our Introducing Courses (in 5-string banjo, bodhrán, guitar, harmonica, Irish fiddle, piano/keyboard, singing, tin whistle, ukulele, violin and world drumming) are designed to provide ‘foundation’ tuition – enough to get you playing and enjoying your instrument – in just ten weeks. You can stop at the end with real skill under your belt, but there will always be more to learn.

What length of private lesson is best?

The right length of a private lesson depends on a combination of the student’s level and the amount of time he or she is willing to devote to practice every week. Generally, a 30-minute lesson is adequate for beginning to early-intermediate students of any age – although even beginners will benefit from longer lessons if they are putting in regular practice. As the student develops her/his skills, longer lessons give teacher and student more time to spend on increasingly subtle aspects of musicianship – as well as theory in some cases.

Is there more to learning music than lessons and practice?

Yes! A music education should ideally consist of four basic elements:

  1. Developing your technique through lessons and practice.
  2. Developing your musical understanding not only through lessons and related courses (theory, musicianship, history), but also by ‘educating your ears’ (listening carefully to other performers and critically to yourself).
  3. Developing your practical musicianship by playing or singing with others. For example, we offer monthly Trad Slow Sessions on Friday evenings, and we have a Flute Ensemble, a Jazz Blues Ensemble Workshop, two Jazz Ensembles and our Sing Your Heart Out Choir and Sing & Swing Jazz Choir.
  4. Developing your confidence by playing in front of others. Friday Casual Concerts take place once a month in the school, and our annual End-of-Year Concert takes place in the National Concert Hall. (See School Concerts for more information.)

Not only does music learning outside the context of lessons and practice develop a more rounded musician; it also makes music a lot more fun.

Will I / my child receive a certificate or other qualification?

In classical, jazz, and more recently in traditional and popular music, the only widely recognised qualification for instrumentalists and singers is the graded examination. Students wishing to make careers of music generally pass through eight graded examinations measuring musicianship, technique and theoretical knowledge before going on to take a teacher’s or performer’s diploma exam. The best known exam boards in Ireland are the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (Associated Board or ABRSM for short), the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Trinity College of Music, the London College of Music and Rockschool. New School teachers can prepare students for exams with any of these boards. (See Frequently Asked Questions about Music Grade Exams  and/or Grade  Exam Syllabi by Instrument for more information.) Grade exams are a useful way of measuring musical progress, but they are not the only way – and they are not for everyone. We prefer to leave the decision of whether or not to follow the ‘exam path’ up to teacher and student, or teacher and parent.

What are the benefits of learning to play an instrument or sing?

There are many, both musical and non-musical. For a very brief summary, see Twelve Benefits of Music Learning.

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