How to raise a musical child

Every child should play an instrument. That was my mum’s philosophy.

Unfortunately, her philosophy did not extend to…”an instrument of their choosing”. Which is why it was a tradition for us four children upon our 7th birthday that we would be visited by a Giant and given an owl – uh, sorry, wrong story – we would be given a nylon string guitar, and begin lessons.

Mostly, we were taught by the nuns. Their repertoire ran from hymns to the Beatles. The Beatles are great, but it was more “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” than “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, if you know what I mean.

Along with the nuns, I was taught for a while by a woman with a country bent (her star student was a young Troy Cassar-Daley) which is why I learnt to finger-pick “The Streets of Laredo”, a mournful cowboy lament that really resonated with an 11-year-old Australian girl, as you can imagine.


And then in high school I had some groovy hippy dude who tried to get me to improvise when the nuns had taught me only to follow the music as writ or there’d be hell to pay. I couldn’t start rocking out now after six years of precision guitar playing!! I was DONE.

And that’s how you ruin an instrument for a child.

When my first child was born, my theory was that if we surrounded her with instruments, made ours a musical house, she would grow with a love of music and playing. Her dad is a guitarist and songwriter, my side of the family is musical (in an uptight way), and I was pretty sure she’d be into it too.

And she was. So on her 6th birthday (breaking with tradition), we bought her a guitar. She began lessons a couple of years later with Stephanie, a classically trained pianist who’d played drums in an all-girl punk band in the late 90s and ran Rock and Roll High School in Melbourne, inspiring the Jack Black film. What I loved most of all about Stephanie was how she was all about putting girls on guitars (and drums), teaching them how to set up, how to use pedals, how to write music.

After five years my daughter had to quit lessons due to other commitments and because the travel time was a bit much, but I never thought she’d give up music. Our collection of instruments now includes an acoustic steel string guitar, an electric guitar, a bass guitar, a mandolin, a piano, and of course the odd shaker and tambourine. She plays around with all the instruments, and can make them all make music.

But recently, I noticed she’s been going to support friends who are playing live, or voting for friends’ bands in online polls, or simply talking to her friends about their bands. And those friends are all boys.

So I hit the Internet and found a new teacher who is local. They met, they jammed, and they’re on. This is her new teacher, Kat:

Guitar teacher Kat

I don’t think my daughter will come home playing Streets of Laredo.

Do you think it’s important that kids play an instrument?




  1. YES! I want that teacher… for my child!
    Well the eldest plays the guitar, the ukelele, accordian, keyboard and anything else he sets his mind to. He started lessons at 6… and promptly refused to go back… so he’s completely self taught. Jams with friends, busks as he walks around festivals etc.
    Miss 10 plays violin… her teacher rocks. Dreadlocks, homeschools her 3 children and adapts to suit my daughter as she needs. She’s been playing for 2 and a half years now.
    Still waiting to see what Master 6 will want to play… let’s hope it’s NOT the recorder…
    Master 5… I’m sure he’ll be happy with the air guitar going by his current obsession. 😉
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    • Thekids says:

      See, I love it when people are self-taught like your son. I think they are amazing. My daughter had minimal piano lessons but can sit there and play pieces she’s heard, with both hands, and it sounds fantastic. I’m in awe of that natural gift. But her dad was self-taught to and wishes he’d had lessons. I think if you’ve got genuine passion to play, you’ll play no matter what.

  2. Love it! What an awesome mum, taking in the smaller details to see the bigger picture. My partner was also a singer songwriter/professional drummer. I have always been mindful to not push music too much with our kids. Our little man has just started his own version of song writing. He’s singing his own tunes! I hope your daughter gels with her new teacher. I’m sure she will have fun!

    • Thekids says:

      Fear of drumkits in the house = not pushing? I wouldn’t blame you! It’s great that he’s writing songs – kids are so creative aren’t they?

  3. My eldest son plays the drums. I don’t recommend it. His dad played drums too (not that I’m laying blame or anything) so I’ve had drum kits in my house for more than 20 years. No wonder some people think I’m deaf!

    Both boys play guitar (electric, acoustic, bass), one learnt the harmonica and the other had three years of singing lessons. I’ve spent a small fortune on instruments & tuition for two of the most underachieving musical talents that this country has ever seen, and I wouldn’t have it any other way…. except maybe make them famous rock stars… but that’s never gonna happen!
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    • Thekids says:

      Ha ha! They are so lucky yo have been given those opportunities and to now know how to play so many instruments. I think it is such a great gift in life.

  4. I would love my kids to be musical! My husband was a singer and bass player in a crazy screamo band for years and can pretty much play most instruments. Me on the other hand, I had Keyboard lessons for a few years, my teacher wanted to teach me some Smashing Pumpkins. I was adamant that instead he teach me Meatloaf’s I would do anything for love (I was 11). I think it is all about making it enjoyable, some kids will be drawn to it, some won’t be so interested, and would rather play sport. Surround them with music and instruments and see what happens!
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    • Thekids says:

      If you were 11 when Smashing Pumpkins were around then you are much younger than me! You’re right – make it enjoyable, and see if it sticks. Some lucky kids are both musical and sporty, but ours is not one of them 🙂 Which makes scheduling after-school activities a bit easier.

  5. I wish I could have my kids learn some instruments, it can take quite a bit out of the family budget though, I think they need to learn to swim first! However I do think it’s a good thing, so I might have to get saving.
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    • Thekids says:

      You’re right, it can be expensive, which is a shame, but some places offer group lessons which really helps cut down.

  6. YEAH! How awesome does that teacher look!!! When I was 8, one of my first piano teachers was a very hip lady who played a lot of blues and jazz. Then in my teens, I had a teacher who was strictly classical. While both have played a huge influence in me, it was that first teacher who taught me all about improvisation. You know, you inspired me to Google her. And it looks like she’s still making beautiful music 🙂 x
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  7. We have one that plays the flute and one that plays the clarinet. In our typical shambolic style we brought the flute player a guitar one year but never got her lessons. The clarinet player has also had a run with keyboard lessons. Both kids love music, it must come from their father because I’m tone deaf. I’m pretty sure they would be keen to work Kat I don’t think they breed music teachers like that in Port Macquarie.
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  8. My 9 yr old has been having guitar/keyboard/drum lessons since he was 6 and am loving that he loves my taste in rock classics. In fact this afternoon Luke taught him White Snake’s Seven Nation Army (even though he wanted to learn after we listened to ACDC’s She’s Got The Jack and he was blown away by the guitar in it). So he played that riff followed by Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love then Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. OK, he only knows the beginning of each song, but I was very proud. Living vicariously or what?
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  9. I think it is great for kids to be into music and playing an instrument well is a great talent to have. I would love for our little girl to choose to play a musical instrument (it will be suggested) though it will ultimately be her choice. She is now 2 yrs old and surrounded with children’s instruments (both her father and I cannot play anything well), along with her instruments she has a pots and pans wall in the backyard. We are hoping through exposure (we go to lots of concerts, the orchestra, etc. She will make the decision herself.

    • It’s a tricky one, whether you tell them they will have lessons or let them ask you for them. I guess I’d start off by arranging them regardless, and then cancel if they really weren’t enjoying them.

  10. My boys love listening to music but none of them have had the inclination to actually learn an instrument. They’re all more sports inclined, so we’ve headed more in that direction. My girlfriend’s son plays the electric guitar and he is fantastic – my 14 year old was very impressed after watching a clip of him playing on Youtube. However, it didn’t make him want to pick up a guitar and have a go himself!

    I remember learning the violin for two years when I was a kid at school. It would be fairly safe to say my parents were quite relieved when I decided to stop lessons!
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  11. Bachelormum says:

    My daughter just gave up guitar this term after three years of playing. I play so it was in my heart for her to play it too. She cited the reasons being that she didn’t like it hurting her fingers and that her teacher always looked bored. I tried to coax her into picking it with a new teacher but she won’t budge. I cldnt go through the drama of forcing her to play so we’ve swapped to singing. At the moment she loves it.

    Plato, quoted in the fantastic book Flow, by Mihaly Csikszetmihaly, says music helps a child harmonies his thought/mind. That’s enough for me to ensure that there will always be music in my daughter’s life, it’s the soundtrack of her soul.
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    • Thekids says:

      Oh that’s a shame! Three years is quite a long time for her to stick at it too. It’s a shame if it was her teacher who turned her off it. But if she has it in her, she’ll pick it up again in future and that knowledge will still be there. Even though I rarely play the guitar now, I still have a pretty good understanding of music theory, I can still sight read, and I can understand chords etc. It makes me appreciate music that much more. That’s a fantastic quote, thank you for sharing. I’ll check out that book too.



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