Jack Tuttle
Performer - Instructor
jack@jacktuttle.com
650/248-4951
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I teach at Gryphon. They are good guys and will treat you right.

What I Expect of the Parents

The single most important determinant in my kid students' success in learning to play an instrument has unquestionably been the support and involvement of the parents. My once-a-week contact with a student isn't enough to develop and sustain their interest in music and children are very reliant on their parents to put all of the elements in place.

Of course this begins with the parents finding them an instrument and a teacher but it certainly doesn't end there. Once lessons are in place and the child is beginning the musical journey there is much more for the parents to do. Here's a list of what I would expect from dedicated parents.

1. Set realistic practice goals and remind them as needed. Okay, there's a fine line between reminding and nagging so parents should be careful how they go about this. The big question is always, "How much should they practice?" This isn't an exact science here - the parents must exercise judgment and wisdom in the matter. For ages 5 to 7, it could mean as short as a few minutes a day, later 15 minutes a day and then 30 minutes. This is more dependent on the kid's maturity than age though. When my mandolin playing son was 6, he was good for 20 minutes a day, 5 or 6 days a week. When my guitar playing son started at 7, I had him play only 2 - 5 minutes a day maybe 5 times a week. Of course, after he learned to get some music out of the guitar he wanted to practice more and more because he was excited about it. At age 11, my daughter upped her practice time on banjo and guitar to 1 or 2 hours a day. Again, she was excited by her progress and she wanted to play more.

2. Make it a positive experience. The old adage, "Practice makes perfect" applies here, but this can take some sensitivity from the parents. The overriding goal must be to keep practicing from feeling too much like drudgery. When my own kids started, I paid close attention to their mood and I'd delay, shorten or even cancel their practice when they were too tired or hungry to effectively practice. There were times when after only a couple of minutes I'd grab their instrument and say "Okay, that's enough for now" when I'd see the frustration build. More important than anything else is to keep frustration to a minimum and keep it as fun as possible. Don't stress over a bad day or a bad week. The great thing about learning as a kid is that they have so much time in front of them. My daughter learned very little in the first nine months and I kept it very low stress. Eventually, she gained confidence, found it to be fun and now she's very proficient.

3. Keep the instrument and lesson sheets or books easily accessible. I always go the extra mile with this. We always leave the instruments out of their cases, hanging on the wall so they're really easy to pick up. When they are in the cases because we've been out with them, I immediately unpack them and hang them up. I also monitor the tuning and make sure they're in tune enough for practicing. With electronic tuners, ($23) even non-musicians can tune instruments. Make sure to have extra picks (if needed) around.

4. Have music playing around the home or in the car as much as possible. If your child is learning to play bluegrass, it's essential that they hear bluegrass as much as possible. Learning music is very similar to learning a language and we learn language much faster when we're immersed in it. Much of what I know about music and bluegrass was never taught to me. It didn't need to be, because I acquired it naturally through listening. Make sure to have a stereo in the living room and use it whenever possible. Don't rely on your child to turn it on. Most kids aren't that proactive. My kids love to play computer games, so when they play I often have bluegrass playing in the background. This does require investing in CDs, but check out local libraries. They often have a number of bluegrass and old-time CDs. Visit my recommended album lists. Also consider satellite radio, which has an all-bluegrass station, or internet radio, especially Pandora as I mention here.

5. Play with them if possible. This can be a huge help. It certainly made the difference for my own kids. Of course if you don't play, make sure to take an interest. Listen to them play, show them off to family and friends. Kids need validation, especially from their parents.

6. Keep them inspired. Take them to concerts, festivals, workshops: anything to get them inspired. How inspiration happens is a total mystery, but almost every musician has a story about how they saw some musician or band that just set them off. It can be very random. Mark O'Connor, the fiddling prodigy, saw Doug Kershaw on TV when he was seven years old. Chris Thile's dad took him (at age 5) to a show because a friend asked him to come and hear a music called "Bluegrass". Now he's the greatest mandolin player ever, at age 22. Others were surrounded by musical parents or had a friend introduce them to the music at a jam. You can't predict when or where it'll happen but you can surely increase the odds that it will. The Redwood Bluegrass Association, which sponsors concerts in Mountain Veiw, has been generous enough to allow all of my students under 18 to attend their shows for free.

7. When they're ready, have them play with others. For most kids in the bluegrass world, this usually means playing with grownups, or traveling long distances to find other kids, but my students are lucky in that I have a fairly successful bluegrass program for kids established right here in Palo Alto. And I do occasionally offer a Kids-Only Bluegrass Jam Class.

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Updated September 23, 2013