When Should Children Start Music Lessons?

Introducing children to music, like introducing them to reading, should not wait for formal classes to start. Just as you read to your very young children, you should sing to them (whether you consider yourself a decent singer or not), dance with them, teach them singing games like "Ring Around the Rosy", and share with them the music that you like. Exposing them to classical music, using the many videos, books, and tapes available, can't hurt, either, but at a very young age they will be most engaged by what engages you. In some communities, there are parent/child group classes that introduce children to the basic concepts of music. To find out what's available in your area, check with any group that organizes extra-curricular activities for young children. This may be your local park district, YMCA, public library, music academy, community college, or local university. The emphasis at a very young age should be on how fun music is.

The ideal time to start formal music training can be anywhere from age two to age twelve, depending on what you want.

Note: Motivated teenagers - i.e. teenagers who tell you that they really want to learn to play an instrument - are, of course, also very good candidates for beginning music lessons. But, the teenage years being what they are, this is usually not a good time for you to start insisting on lessons and practice if the teen is not interested.

If you want your child to begin before about age 6, it is likely (depending on the teachers available in your area) she will be encouraged to begin with the Suzuki method. Very young children are usually not developmentally ready to learn to read music, for the same reason that they are not yet ready to learn to read books. The Suzuki method is specifically designed to teach children from a very young age, by focusing on ear training and memorization, and on the proper physical techniques for playing the instrument. Reading music notation is introduced only as the student is ready for it. Of course, older students can benefit from the Suzuki approach, also. If your child has vision problems or simply responds to audial and physical approaches to learning better than he does to visual teaching methods, Suzuki may be best. Children who might be prone to performance anxiety may thrive with Suzuki, also, as the method encourages frequent group performances and stresses cooperation over competition.

Violin and piano are by far the most common instruments offered using this method, but you may also be able to find Suzuki instruction in viola, cello, string bass, guitar, harp, organ, recorder, flute, or voice. These instruments are all either playable by children who are not yet nearly adult-sized, or are available in small sizes or with adaptations for small players.

(Note that some teachers will start very young students using methods and approaches other than Suzuki.)

As long as the approach is appropriate to very young children, it is more important to find a good teacher than to use a particular method.

Also note that starting an instrument at a very young age usually requires intense involvement by at least one parent.Your child may need you to sit in on most lessons and actively help with practice sessions.

Between the ages of six and ten, your child can begin any of the instruments mentioned above, with just about any teaching method; just be certain that both the instrument and the teacher are suited to younger children.

If your child is determined to play a different instrument (saxophone, for example), beginning on a different instrument at an early age and switching later will not hurt the young instrumentalist, and may give her more experience and confidence reading and playing music than the student who does not begin until age ten. It is certainly not necessary to begin early, however, particularly if the child does not want to study a different instrument; the motivated student who begins at age ten will quickly catch up to those who began their musical training earlier.

Many instruments do not come in child sizes and are physically too much for a small child to handle. At about the age of ten, most children become big enough to begin playing most instruments. If you have been waiting to start your child on trumpet, clarinet, or trombone, for example, now is a good time to start. Most school band and string programs begin at about this age.

Remember, it's never too late to start music lessons. If you are an adult and wish you had had piano lessons as a child, find yourself a piano teacher!

              -Schmidt-Jones, C. A Parents' Guide to Music Lessons, Connexions Web site.
                http://cnx.org/content/m11640/1.11/,  Jan 18, 2013.

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