Joyful noise: Supportive, hands-off approach allows kids to find their own way in music

John D'earth instructs Noah Ivery on the drums. "Every kid is different and has to find their own approach to music," D'earth said. Photo: Elli Williams John D’earth instructs Noah Ivery on the drums. “Every kid is different and has to find their own approach to music,” D’earth said. Photo: Elli Williams

John D’earth was about 4 when his father—“a great listener, but not a musician”—taught him an important lesson about making music.

He was at his grandmother’s house. He toddled over to the piano, climbed onto the bench, and started pounding away. He was having fun, just enjoying the noise of it, but he could hear people in the other room complaining about the racket. He heard them tell his father he should make him stop.

D’earth’s father marched into the piano room. He told his son to play the instrument all he wanted. He left the room, closing the doors behind him.

“Every kid is different and has to find their own approach to music in order to have a successful life in music,” D’earth said. “A big component of that can be the parents’ idea of music. What I am finding is a lot of really young kids can get into just playing with instruments, not being taught anything, but just being allowed to play.”

If you have specific plans for your child’s musical journey, you’ve probably already lost, according to D’earth, now a local jazz musician and music instructor. The idea, in his opinion, is to let kids experiment. Let them pick up instruments and play them incorrectly. Don’t put “rules” for making music on them until they understand the language of music.

Here are a few tips D’earth offers parents looking to get their kids started in “a successful life in music.”

When to start. “Parental guidance is important, and the parents should be building awareness and responsiveness to music from the earliest age. If the parents are interested in music for their kids, they need to be interested in music for themselves.”

Choosing an instrument. “There is no way to know what the best instrument is. If parents want to help their children get into music, they have to embrace all noisemaking impulses. The kid might say they want to play the trumpet, and finding a path in that should be the choice of the child…but everyone should sit at the piano and play piano that is going to play music.”

Budgeting. “It shouldn’t come up at first. Once the issue is on the table, it is like a pact. You are choosing a path you are making a commitment to follow. The costs vary, but they can become quite steep. If the student is getting serious on trumpet or sax, you can spend thousands. Who is going to spend this money on these instruments is as important as how much you spend.”

Joining the school band. “There is no downside to joining a school band program. Kids get to play every day in school, where they are naturally predisposed to excel. When they are doing it in the school setting, it inspires them to work hard.”

Finding (and paying) an instructor. “Music is a social art. You do it with other people. That is one of the biggest things you learn from music. Individual respect and teamwork—that is music in a nutshell. I would be hard-pressed to find a teacher that a young person couldn’t get something from. The discrepancies in fees have to do with the teachers themselves. My old teacher in New York is charging $200 an hour for a lesson. My fee is $50 an hour.”

Music as language. “Music is misunderstood because people take a very conservative view of it. If you go into any art room in any school, they are using the materials to create. You never see that in the music rooms. It is a rare person that understands it is a language that you speak and write. You become unconscious of it so you can be freely expressive of it. It should go directly from your ear to your fingers or mouth. You don’t have to go through the brain; you train the brain.”