Many parents wonder when is the right time for their child to start music lessons. The answer depends on these questions: What do you want from your child’s music lesson experience? Has your child expressed an interest in a specific instrument, if so which one? The answers will help you determine when to start.
|Violin Student, Bellevue School of Music|
It is never too early to begin learning; studies show that early childhood music education is beneficial to developing brains and lays the foundation for more formal music training later. Children begin learning as soon as they are born; exposing them to music teaches them to hear tonal organization and develop rhythm in much the same way that we begin teaching them to speak through “baby talk”. You may purchase a set of recordings and age appropriate activity books to sing and move with at home, or join a class with other youngsters—either way your child will benefit from listening to music and playing along.
At 5 years old children are typically ready to begin more formal training on piano, violin or guitar (violin and guitar are built to scale in small sizes). Children will begin to develop the skills necessary to perform short songs on their instruments; they need to be focused enough to sit most of the way through a 30-minute lesson and have enough control over their fingers to follow the teacher’s instruction. It is necessary for a parent to accompany their student and structure short practice sessions at home with the teacher’s guidance. Some children are developmentally ready earlier; however 5 years old is a good starting point.
At 6 years old children are ready to begin recorder lessons which create an easy transition to other instruments in the woodwind family—flute, clarinet, or saxophone. Children learn the language of music through activities, playing simple songs and developing their coordination. Once these skills are well on their way you may consider transitioning to another instrument; I often begin by taking a few minutes from each lesson to introduce the basic embouchure (mouth position) and then devote more time as the student’s strength and skills progress.
At 7 years old children are ready to begin flute lessons and at 9 years of age they may begin saxophone, clarinet or trumpet. The wind instruments require significant physical exertion and are more easily handled by older children.
At 14 years old your young adult is ready for voice lessons. I realize this seems puzzling to many parents, but there is legitimate concern that children trained too early may develop vocal nodules which can severely damage their voice. It’s not unlike a ballerina dancing on pointe or a pitcher throwing a fastball—their bodies need time to mature before they can handle the exertion required. It’s important to note that children may sing on their own or in choirs (though moderation is key), they simply need to wait until the teenage voice changes and stabilizes before undertaking the rigors of formal voice training.
The ages I’ve suggested are general guidelines, there are numerous examples of children starting at earlier ages and becoming young virtuosi (though I would caution against singing too much, too soon). If you look into these exceptional youngster’s circumstances you will find they are not pertinent to most family’s desire for their child’s music education and should not be misinterpreted as a good indicator of when to begin music lessons.
If your child is younger than those ages I’ve recommended and have expressed an interest in starting an instrument you may wish to have a competent instructor assess them; each child possesses unique abilities and an individual assessment is the best way to gauge their readiness.
Robert H. Wilson, Bellevue School of Music