When Is My Child Old Enough to Begin Music Lessons?
As a music teacher, I am often asked, “what is the right age for my child to begin music lessons?” The answer, depends on a few things. The instrument, interest of the child as well as home support. Teachers use a few rules of thumb about age, which I’ll get to later in this essay. First though, it is important to look at what can be done to prepare your child for lessons. What happens at home and in the community can go a long way to ensure that music lessons are successful.
Studies have shown that the musical experiences a child receives before the age of six greatly enhance later musical learning. Children learn to both speak and sing, by listening and mimicking. Just as babbling turns into speech, a child’s sing song play and movement creates musical language. Singing to children, is reassuring to them and conveys all the essential elements of music. Later, when they are able, singing together brings in the social element. Children are happy to sing songs over and over. Short songs with small tonal range and lots of repetition work best. Musical games and dance is another important way to incorporate and express music. These activities will allow the child to understand sound and develop listening skills. How we listen is the key to playing music.
Important! Don’t hold back on this even if you’ve come to feel your voice isn’t worthy. There is way too much judgement about singing and we don’t want to pass that on to our children.
In the Community
Taking children to hear live music can provide joy and inspiration. There are many great children’s entertainers as well as theater groups that cater to families. Adult oriented music and theater can also work for kids, as long as they aren’t sitting for too long. Children like to be active while they are listening. The best children’s music involves movement, imagination and a chance to sing along. This usually works well for adults as well.
Creating a musical culture with family and friends gives children the kind of experiences that grows confidence and keep them musically active throughout their lives. Elders, siblings, friends and community can all play a part. I once saw a video of people in a Ugandan village doing a beautiful and complex circle dance. All around the outside of the circle were small children trying to copy the dancers. They were playing while at the same time, learning the importance of dance and their own cultural values. Even in the plugged-in world, making music together is an important activity. Instruments surround us. A box can become a drum. Spoons or a container of dried beans provide complimentary textures. We have our voices, hands and feet. A simple drum pattern can bring a room together and often leads to dancing.
Most music teachers are flexible about what age to begin lessons. Here are a few factors. The physicality of certain instruments may require a later start (guitar and wind instruments). The size and readiness of the child is also a factor. Are they expressing an interest? Sometimes waiting can be prudent. A highly motivated older student can accomplish quickly, what may take years for a younger student. It is also important to note that, learning an instrument can begin at any point. Many adults, some into their senior years, successfully take up an instrument.
- There are some very good methods for teaching music to preschoolers. Kodaly, Orff, Kindermusic and Music for Young Children train young musician using games, song and light percussion. The students progress through a series of challenges with the focus on fun and inclusiveness. These are all group lessons, some of which require parental involvement.
- The Suzuki method for violin and piano and can begin as early as age three, (though starting at a later age is not an impediment). These are also group lessons and parents are required to attend. The parent learns with their child so they can help the with practicing. In time a private lesson will be added.
- Royal Conservatory private lessons for piano, violin and cello can begin around age five. Parents are often involved, to help with practice.
- Guitar lessons can begin after the age of eight, though some teachers like to delay until age ten or eleven. This is due to the size and physical demands of the instrument. Ukulele can begin at age 8 or 9.
- Singing, as has been noted, can begin at any time. Formal voice training is not recommended until after puberty, when the body (instrument) has matured. Age twelve to fourteen for girls. Slightly older for boys. Choirs are a great way to keep preteen voices active.
- Wind instruments (trumpet, clarinet, saxophone etc.) are often introduced in school band programs around age ten. Hand size and lung capacity are important factors. Private lessons can begin at this point as well. Bagpipes can start at age twelve.
- Drumming is like singing. We can make percussive sounds right away, but put off drum kit lessons until age eight or older.
To become a musician takes dedication, practice and support. It can be hard to master the latest piano or guitar technique. Adults know that it is sometimes necessary to push through our challenges. Children may not understand that concept. When do we as parents insist and when do we back off? It is important to keep in mind that we are playing music. We can feel a profound connection when we’re playing. We register the affect our playing has on others. Therefore, parents and teachers need to make sure they maintain an element of play. Find a good teacher, make sure your child has an interest, stay involved and give lots of positive feedback. Take the long view. We want this music to last a lifetime.