to Start Music Lessons:|
My Child Loves Music - So What Should I Do?
An Age-by-Age Guide to the Best Start in Music Education
By Cherylann Bellavia
Cherylann Bellavia is owner of Discover Music in Pittsford, NY.
The other night, my husband and I were in a local restaurant. In a high chair
nearby was an adorable one-year-old girl, be-bopping to the music on the PA
system. Her hands were raised high, her feet were going a hundred miles an
hour, and the biggest grin I’d ever seen on a child was spread from ear
to ear. My heart instantly swelled, as I thought to myself, “That little
one has rhythm in her bones!” At least half of my time waiting for the
food was spent just watching her rock and roll.
Almost all children LOVE music! Studies have shown that music education enhances a child’s
comprehension abilities, helps them with math concepts, assists in the development
of fine motor skills, and helps to build self-confidence. Many children with
special needs have been known to excel at music even though they are unable
to communicate or participate in regular structured activities. In general,
music enhances the lives of many children and adults as well.
Studies have shown that children can actually hear music in the womb, and
some seem to develop a taste for certain styles of music as a result. Age-appropriate
music programs are not easy to find, and finding an instructor who keeps it
interesting can be a real challenge whether in a group or individual setting.
6 to 8 Months
Classes for moms and babies are a great way to begin even with
children as young as 6 – 8 months. These classes are usually 30 – 40
minutes long, and they require active participation on the part of parents.
Programs designed for toddlers 18 – 24 months are very popular as well;
these still require parental participation, but by this age, children are starting
actively to engage in the different activities in the class.
3 and 4 Year Olds
Programs for 3- and 4-year-olds
are now readily available. This is really the ideal age for kids to start
their music experience. Most of these programs are about 30 – 35 minutes
in length, and involve props, movement and singing. Some even integrate arts
and crafts and free play with rhythm instruments and props to music. Parents
typically are not required to participate in these classes.
Ages 5 and Up
For children ages 5 and up, sometimes
the best way to begin their musical path is to have them take some type of
group piano or group violin lesson with other children their age. If the teacher
is creative, he or she will integrate activities such as music games and crafts
into the curriculum. You can also begin to consider private individual instruction.
Piano/keyboard lessons are sometimes easiest for children ages 5, 6, and even
older. One year of instruction on the piano or keyboard provides a great foundation
as children learn basic music theory concepts such as the music alphabet, what
a quarter note, half note, whole note is, what the music staff does, and the
location of the keys on the keyboard. In addition, they learn fun kids songs
like “Mary Had
a Little Lamb” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” If piano
isn’t their thing, the violin can provide a great foundation for children
to start their lesson path.
Ages 7 and Up
Around age 7, instruments such as the guitar, drums and other string instruments
can be introduced. The same concepts are covered, but children who have had
at least six months to one year of piano under their belt (and thus already
know the basic elements of music) find it easier to make the transition between
instruments. Consequently, they are able to engage with the new instrument
a lot faster.
Elementary School Grades 3 and Up
Most elementary schools provide
an opportunity for children in Grades 3 and up to begin taking group lessons
in school on all instruments except the piano. This gives them the opportunity
to participate in a band or orchestra at school with their friends, an experience
that is often remembered vividly into adulthood. The only drawback that comes
from these types of group lessons is that children needing extra help on their
instrument are sometimes too timid to ask for it, or the instructor’s schedule does not allow for extra time spent with
students, which can lead to discouragement. Outside private lessons on your
child’s instrument are a wonderful way to reinforce what they are doing
at school, and also help them to exceed what the other children in their group
class are doing. This can pave the way for the child's inclusion in solo festivals
offered by the State or County.
After deciding that learning an instrument is right for your child, the next
immediate question is: “How do I get them practice now that we’ve
taken the plunge?” You know your child best. It may take some time to
find the best way to accomplish practicing. Most children, especially at first,
need some kind of external incentive. Try different ideas, such as a reward
chart that enables them to receive something at the end of the week for their
efforts -- like a new book, 15 extra minutes to play a video game, or a trip
out for ice cream. I have many ideas listed in my article "Mom, I Don't
WANT to Practice" here on KidsOutAndAbout.com.
Parents considering enrolling their child in lessons should realize that it
is important to help your child develop a sense of commitment to learning the
instrument. While I don’t believe in music becoming a torturous experience,
I DO believe that it’s important to not allow kids to “hop” from
one activity to the next without ever completing anything. For example, if
you have committed to a class for 10 weeks, your child needs to understand
that the commitment should be carried through. If they have committed to lessons
for a calendar school year, express to them that it is important to complete
the year; as the year draws to a close, you can start discussing their interest
in other areas or another instrument. Tell them although that you do require
them to continue to do their best; if you see that they are making a consistent
effort, you are more than willing to allow them to try something else once
this commitment is completed. This lesson is not only important in music education,
but is a crucial life skill, and this provides a good opportunity to acquire
What about ADULT music education?
If you have always wanted to take up an instrument, or if you gave up as a
child because of a bad teacher, IT'S TIME TO START AGAIN! You CAN still take
up that instrument or start those voice lessons, and it can create a wonderful
bond with your child as you both find the time to practice and encourage one
another. I have talked with many adults who find themselves much better, as
adults, at playing technique than they were as children. Don't be shy about
taking advantage of this opportunity. You may be surprised to find that your
child’s teacher may be able to
offer you the opportunity to take lessons while your child is having his or
her lesson, or right before or after your child’s lesson. My oldest student
was 83 when she started taking piano, and only discontinued lessons because
her yard work was getting behind. I’ve had quite a few senior citizens
and adults who have taken lessons from me, and it is a pleasure to see them
each week. So find a teacher who is willing to give you some flexibility, who
understands that adults lead busy lives and wear many hats. Scheduling your
lessons for every other week instead of every week can work well if you can’t
devote very much time to practicing in a particular week.
Remember, music was created to bring us joy. A crucial part of childhood is
to experience joy together with one's parents; saturating a child's life with
music from the very start is a simple but great way to do so.