When to Start Lessons

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When 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, 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 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 it early.

Adult Education
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.

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