“Thomas loves to sing. Can you teach him voice lessons?” I have received this same call many times over the years. Sometimes you can substitute piano in place of the voice request, but the question is essentially the same. After learning the age of the student, I formulate my response based on the student’s personality, the parents and how disciplined I perceive the student and parent to be. Generally---and this is where my opinion comes in, which is solely my opinion---I would start piano lessons around 1st-3rd grade. Voices lessons should start around 8th or 9th grade; puberty and the hormones that activate in the body (especially in the vocal chords) can really play a large part in this! Both necessitate practice at home. If your child is to excel in anything in life, be it soccer, dance, baseball or music, they will need to devote time and energy to it outside of the lesson! Students of anything will be, at best, mediocre without practice.
This week I got another such request and wanted to share my thoughts after 25+ years of leading choirs and in music ministry. First and foremost, I am thrilled when any student is singing and wants to pursue music ministry. It is a tremendous blessing to be involved and to use music as a means to share the love of Christ and have a gift that God uses to touch the hearts of people in unspeakable ways! Music is something that should be studied with an insightful teacher on a weekly basis. My son (who plans to major in music education), Christian's, lessons are once a week and often times twice a week!
Let me attempt to put into words some of the things I've learned and seen that might be of help to you:
1. To succeed in anything and especially music, you have to be willing to practice. I would say at HS level, this would mean a minimum of 3-5 hours a week. Middle School, would mean 2-3 hours a week....split over the course of 7 days. At the college level, this means probably 3-4 hours a day, depending on your instrument. Let me further specify that when I say practice, this is on actual lesson material. Getting distracted and launching off into P/W music or something popular, while fun, does not help the student make forward progress in the art. You have to invest time, energy and brain power. Practicing generally "weeds out" those who like music and singing as a hobby vs. those who want to pursue excellence.
2. Many P/W leaders have studied music very little, if at all. With some this is obvious, others not so much so. Care for the instrument that God gave them (and to those they work with) will also be a "marker".
3. I lead P/W but I am a classically trained musician. These folks are rare birds! Most see it as EITHER classical OR P/W and tend to look down on the other side for various reasons. My view is that God has called me to lead worship....traditional and "contemporary"....and in so doing, how can I offer Him less than my best? How can I dare offer to Him something that cost me nothing---whether it be money, time or energy or all of the above?
4. IF God is leading a student toward such a ministry, my advice is to train classically while continuing to enjoy a VARIETY of music and stay involved in church music. Classical training with a heart for prayer, study and praise is a win/win situation to lead in a variety of environments. I may write a whole ‘nother blog post on just that topic. It’s too big to pursue in just 2-3 sentences.
In looking for a music teacher:
1. Expect to pay $30-50/hour or more for lessons
2. Call First Baptist Churches in small to large towns and ask for referrals for voice lessons. The Baptists have done a better job at music education than all the other churches in the world combined—especially the Methodists. Christian's teacher is a retired Baptist Music Minister. They often have studied music education at the college and graduate level and moonlight as a private teacher.
3. Insist on your student learning music theory, which includes scales, chords, etc. Too often I have seen well-meaning teachers that are high priced musical baby-sitters: students learn 2-3 songs every 6-12 months that requires no work outside their lessons.
If your student wants to study anything, try private or group lessons for 6-9 months. If they like it and take the time to practice without too much prodding, it’s worth it. All students, young and old, go through difficult times where practice feels like more of a grind with no joy at all. Try setting the timer for 30 minutes and practice at least that long; many times the biggest challenge is just getting started! If your student is too busy with multiple activities to practice for one (or possibly all of them), they will never truly be a success. Choose one or two at a time to focus on and pursue with passion! Continuing to chase a dream from your childhood through your son or daughter who has no interest is the equivalent to setting your money on fire. Better yet, just give it to me! J