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Advice From a Music Parent: Help Them Succeed!

I love talking with other parents about their kids and the creative things they do. In fact, it seems that everyone has a story to tell – even about their own passions for music or the arts. I’m always learning something new that will help me with my parenting journey and I wanted to share the fruits of a recent conversation I had with dedicated music mom Julie Harrison-Mullany of Weston, Massachusetts. She offered the following advice for nurturing happy young musicians in your own family:

  1. Don’t let them get stuck playing one instrument. Encourage them if they’re getting tired of the flute, for instance, to try guitar lessons. Let them switch around as much as they like.
  2. Encourage them to play different styles of music. In her own words “most music education in schools is geared toward classical, which I love, but it can become boring for kids. Let them try rock!”
  3. Don’t micro-manage practice time or lesson time. Let them have their own relationship with their music teacher. “Kids don’t need their parent breathing down their neck. Check in with the teacher once in a while.”
  4. Finally, let the style of music or instrument be their choice…not your choice!”

Julie and her husband Terry have found multiple ways to support their creative kids, really making it a priority for their family. But neither of them are musicians. Julie is Senior Vice President, Gibson Sotheby’s International and Terry is Executive Director, J. P. Morgan Private Bank. Terry coaches youth basketball and baseball and is on the Presidents Council of Providence College and on the Board of the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra. (BYSO).

“You’re very resourceful,” I said to Julie over coffee in a recent interview. “I have to be!” she replied and she believes this. To her, it’s not a choice -supporting your children’s interests is what you’re supposed to do as a parent.

Like when her older son James wanted to try film school. Julie “Googled” the subject and found the New York Film Academy summer film camp right at Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Or when James joined the high school A Capella Group, the Town Criers this year as a sophomore. Singing complicated harmonies was new for him. Mom quietly asked if he would like a singing coach to help him with his skills. James considered and then agreed to the lessons, but according to Julie “he still wasn’t sure about it. That is, until he saw his beautiful, young voice coach who not only sings A Capella but also beat-boxes!”

Also a drummer, James’ music interests started in the fourth grade when he played the xylophone in the school band. “He also played the cymbals because he was tall,” Julie added not really sure whether there was any other reason for this pairing. But it was the school’s percussion teacher, Dan Foote, “who took an interest in James and worked with him on the drums.” After individual drum lessons, James started an indie band with his friends, known as No Promises. “It became social fun for him. The boys were bonding as a group and they enjoyed playing whatever music they wanted.” (The band is writing and recording original songs – view No Promises here.)

Julie acknowledges that studying music provides more benefits to her children than just fun; she supports the research that shows “music goes with math. It translates into higher math scores.” But encouraging her three children to pursue music education is a balancing act.  Her younger twins Jack and Terry take piano, trumpet, saxophone, guitar and voice lessons. “There is a fine line when it comes to suggesting that they take lessons or try new instruments. I try to keep the suggestions low key or tell them what I would do in a certain situation.”

The ability for their parents to provide financially for music lessons and instruments is definitely an advantage for the Mullany children, but what is special about the Mullanys is not just that they have the means – it’s that they have the spirit and the desire to see their children enjoy and succeed in music – wherever that takes them.

Photo credit Barbara Elmes

11 Responses to “Advice From a Music Parent: Help Them Succeed!”

  1. Peter Schott

    I'll admit we're not a completely musical family. I played some instruments and currently sing. My wife doesn't do any of those. My daughter is currently studying piano (and doing relatively well), but doesn't really show an inclination towards voice. I'll have to remember the advice about shaking things up, though that will likely come when more instruments are available through school. I know that schools tend to start string instruments earlier than the others so I may encourage her to hold back a year until the full range of instruments is available to try if that's the case. I know I ended up being a lot happier with clarinet/sax than violin – it fit my musical style a lot more.

  2. Laura Lamere

    Sounds like you're on the right track, Peter! Stay positive…and flexible! You'll need that kind of attitude in the coming years! My daughter literally played a different instrument every year for at least 5 years. Now she is an artist! And, a happy kid!

    • Peter Schott

      You've got a lot of patience. I think a different instrument every year would drive me crazy, especially for 5 years. 🙂

  3. Susan Smith

    Neither one of my children wanted to play and instrument despite that fact that both the school and ourselves try to encourage them.

  4. Tash Chap

    It is nice that parents support their children in their interests and keep doing this as it is the right thing to do.

  5. marthalynn

    This was a great post! I just watched the movie Nowhere Boy about John Lennon and had it not been for the support he received as a boy, the Beatles may have never happened! I think it is so important to support our kids in their interests. I know it's not always easy or comfortable, but I think it means so much to them when we do.

  6. dpapsis2

    I think it's the best thing you can do for your children is support them in their interests and encourage them to grow an develop as a person through music and the arts. One of the best gifts we can give them.

  7. hislovenduresforever

    This is the first that I've heard of a correlation between music and math. That's very interesting.

  8. Iliana Blair

    As a former teacher I was witness to how well students responded to the Arts as a fun yet academic area. He is a well rounded young person who works both sides of the brain!

  9. Tommy Z

    As a kid I had great desire to learn to play any instrument. Unfortunately, we lived in small village, without teacher, my parents didn't have capability (hard work, low money, long distance from first teacher) to fulfill my wish. Can't forget what I have been doing: climbed on the nut tree, hang different cans and tins, took two sticks, and yes those were my first drums. Later I got well it were more toys than instruments: flute and xylophone, and I tried to teach to play it by myself 🙂

    I think every child should learn to play one instrument – it is very good for forming comprehensive personality.


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