Sick of school? Fret over melody instead

In summer, even 20 minutes a day reinforces musical skills

In summer, even 20 minutes a day reinforces musical skills

June 02, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

When his son was 11, Dean Martin wanted him to learn an instrument and decided to pay him to do it.

Not much, just a small stipend to encourage the Chambersburg, Pa., youth's exploration of music.

Six months later Martin's pay to play method was obsolete, his son Cameron perfectly content to pick up the six string without any monetary carrot dangled before him.

"He took ownership of it," Dean Martin says. "That's when you make a switch between learning an instrument and playing an instrument."


With summertime fast approaching, youths will suddenly find themselves with a wealth of leisure time as classes and a rush of extracurricular activities largely come to an end.

It would seem to be a prime time to pick up an instrument, or immerse yourself in practice to maximize potential without giving short shrift to baseball practice, theater rehearsal or homework.

But according to Hagerstown musician and music teacher Tim Hellane, school time structure tends to reinforce practice in ways summer freedom can break down.

"For the students who love to play, the summer will be fruitful and the rest of the students I'm just happy to maintain some semblance of order," Hellane says. "It is a paradox. School provides a structure; it's something they're doing every day and then their other activities. Piano lessons just get annexed onto that schedule.

"And when summer comes, the laziness sets in."

While school is in session, Hellane recommends a minimum of 20 minutes a day spent practicing. Ideally, an hour of rehearsal provides a better opportunity for advancement, so that is what students should aim for during the summer.

Cameron, 16, tries to spend a half-hour every day strumming his guitar. The sophomore at Shalom Christian Academy in Marion, Pa., will double his practice time if his misses a day, and twice a month he visits Hellane for an hour-long lesson.

He is looking forward to classes ending so he can more often explore music with abandon.

"When (summer) comes and you don't have something to do around the house and you're bored, it's a good time to pick up the guitar and play," Cameron says.

Hellane teaches a wide range of students, including youngsters picking up a guitar, bass or piano for the first time. A common query from parents amounts to whether they should let their kids take the summer off from playing.

On the contrary, letting skills atrophy during the three month summer break can kill any hopes for lasting musical participation.

"Once that routine is established it should be maintained," Hellane says. "Family vacations of one to three weeks are fine, but a hiatus? No, and the reason is that 99.9 percent of those who take a leave of absence don't return, they don't come back.

"You will intend to come back, but things will enter your life and you won't."

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