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Fun for Little Drummer Boys and Girls

Teaching kids first to love music helps when formal instrument lessons begin later.


Years ago when the "Mozart Effect" emerged as the latest craze to increase intelligence in babies and young children, parents started positioning CD players with classical music next to cribs in order to give their toddlers a step up on the intelligence ladder.

And while researchers still argue over the actual effect music has on children, you don't have to be a scientist to know that music can calm crying babies, energize tired children and delight youngsters. Just listening to music is a stimulating experience.

But many parents want their kids to have more than just an appreciation of music. Playing music, they say, gives their children self-esteem, helps them learn about the world and teaches them patience and determination.

"Learning music helps kids with their cognitive growth. They need music just like any other school subject," says Debbie Naggy, mother of three children who study music. "Plus, it's a beautiful thing to learn that they will have with them for the rest of their lives."

Naggy started her children on their own music programs when they were 4 and 5 years old, which is just the right age, according to teachers. Young kids are more open to playing and experimenting with music; their hearing is more sensitive and they aren't afraid of making mistakes. It's a good age to instill good playing habits.

At Music Rhapsody School, which has several Southland locations and is one of the area's oldest early-childhood music programs, little tykes are introduced to the rhythm and beat by dancing and moving to myriad percussion sounds. Working with drumming manufacturer Remo, Music Rhapsody uses percussion instruments--such as marimbas, glockenspiels and drums--that are specially designed for young hands.

"Too many parents think music means formal lessons," says Music Rhapsody owner Lynn Kleiner. "But children first need to be able to understand the music and love it. Timing is the basis of good musicianship."

Many parents encourage their kids to "find the beat" at weekly drum circles sponsored by the Remo Percussion Center of North Hollywood. People of all ages--including many families with children and toddlers--come to whack, pound and experiment.

With exotic rhythms pulsing around them, kids excitedly rush to the shelves lined with tambourines, timbales and congas. Along with senior citizens and young adults, kids find a fun, creative environment.

Eight-year-old Sophie Brady comes regularly to the drum circle with her mother. "You're not afraid to play and you don't get stage fright," she says. "[Drumming] makes everyone so happy."

Once those little ones are hooked on music, parents can face a dizzying array of formal choices. Piano or violin? Group or individual lessons? Suzuki method or Yamaha? Finding an appropriate program or teacher is half the journey (see sidebar). The other half may be realizing that a child's music education demands heaping doses of parent participation.

Some programs require parents to take lessons alongside the child, especially if the student is very young. Parental support can take many forms, but music teachers agree that parents hold the key to their child's success.

"Music takes time--it's not a microwave program," says Kimiko Fujita, owner of the Torrance Yamaha Music Center. "We need patient parents who don't push, but encourage and compliment. We need them to not give up even when the student might feel like it."

Sherry Cadow, music teacher at the Colburn School of Performing Arts in downtown L.A., enjoys hearing the creative things parents do to stay active in their child's music education. One mom combined her son's two loves--music and baseball. "For every 10 minutes he practiced, she would go out and throw the baseball to him for 10 minutes," says Cadow. "It was ingenious."

"Parents need to show their enthusiasm for their child's instrument," continues Cadow. "Sit and listen while they practice. Don't criticize. Be their biggest fan."

Above all, Cadow says, be consistent with lessons and practice time.

"If a child is struggling with an instrument or a lesson, 99% of the time it's because of a lack of consistent practice," says Cadow, who's been teaching for 14 years. "It doesn't matter if it's 10 minutes or 30 minutes or 2 minutes. Every day they have to do it, and soon, once they see their progress, they will get excited and want to do it more. Success fires them up. It's the 'I did it!' factor."

But once kids reach their teenage years, keeping that spark alive can be problematic.

Stephanie Kerin's two children have been studying at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music for the past 10 years. Her kids used to be thrilled with lessons, but now outside activities have caught their attention and threaten practice time. "With my daughter, we switched instruments from piano to cello, and that has rejuvenated her," Kerin says. Good teachers also understand the teenage mentality, she says, and will appropriately restructure lessons.

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