When To Start Music Lessons?

Posted 09-21-2010 at 04:17 PM by ParamedicMama

I can still remember my first piano lesson. It was in a little studio at a music store and I learned a song by ear called “Mississippi Hot Dog.” I also learned how to sit correctly, and used a tennis ball to practice holding my hand in the nice round shape I was supposed to. Over twenty years later, I am now using these same songs and techniques to teach my youngest students who are eager to begin mastering the art of piano playing.

One of the first questions a parent asks me when considering having their child take music lessons is at what age he or she should begin. Having taught a variety of instruments for just under ten years now, I have seen how the learning and enjoyment curves change over time for a student and are influenced by the age at which one begins to take lessons. From four-year-olds to adults, people with and without disabilities, I have taught people from many different backgrounds, cultures, and family designs over my years as a private teacher.

In short, the best time to start learning piano is right after your child starts to read. The best time to learn another instrument is right after that child is able to play simple piano music. Prior to having the understanding of how reading works (looking at symbols on a paper from left to right and making a corresponding sound for that symbol and then associating a cognitive understanding to what you see and hear), reading music is difficult. You are adding a physical movement now to the stress and skill of reading which for many children breeds a dislike of music lessons.

If you do want to have your child start taking music lessons prior to his or her being able to read simple things, that’s fine! It’s a great time to have music lessons, but let the focus be on music and not just an instrument. Using this time to familiarize a child with music fundamentals (rhythms, tones, direction (up/down, black/white, high/low), tempos, dynamics), and the mechanics behind an instrument can be invaluable for the future. Building an appreciation and understanding of music during this time can greatly aid in musical expression and enjoyment later on. A good teacher will understand this important developmental time and should incorporate games, listening, and ear training to help build the skills the student will need once he or she has the ability to begin reading music. A good teacher will also strike the balance between these things and the need to learn to read music, though, by gradually working on the music reading skills right from the start and just going at the pace of the child. Children are like sponges and it’s important to not place all of the learning on ear training or they will become so competent at that that when they could read music with ease, they will instead rely on the ear!

While it’s not imperative that a child learns piano as his or her first instrument, it will greatly help in the  learning of any other instruments. Piano provides the foundations of all instruments in a very visual and tangible way. One can clearly see the notes and the equal spatial distance between them, can visualize how the energy they put forth physically is translated into sound, and can easily understand how tones change from high to low. Learning to read piano music teaches you rhythm, musical terminology, and the ability to read two different clefs and lines of music simultaneously—a skill that many instruments don’t offer. I have found that a child who learned piano as their first instrument is able to pick up other instruments in general much faster than a child who has learned an instrument other than piano (except for very similar instruments, like going from violin to viola).

The best thing that you can do for your child is to get him or her involved in music at a young age and pay attention to your window of opportunity for starting music lessons. If your child is very interested before he or she can read, find a teacher who can provide instructions without exacerbating your child! If your child isn’t interested until after he or she is able to read, start then. Either way, you will be providing your child with a gift that can provide him and those around him with enjoyment, a way to express himself, an appreciation and understanding for sound, and potentially a way for him to earn money later on by then teaching others what he has learned. Music lessons really is the gift that can keep on giving, so do your homework on teachers and get started.

Filed Under: General, Kids Activities


13 Responses to “When To Start Music Lessons?”

  1. ariannasmommy22 on September 21st, 2010 11:45 pm

    Very good article! I just want to say I absolutely adore this piano picture! Got to be one of the cutest things ever!

  2. ParamedicMama on September 22nd, 2010 1:54 pm

    Aw, thanks, Ariannasmommy22! I took the photo of my daughter who was 8 months at the time during a photo shoot for a Poverty Jane cloth diaper I was reviewing on my blog. You can see other photos from that here: http://lifemoresimply.blogspot.com/2009/07/poverty-jane-contest.html. The one I posted for this blog article is probably one of my favorite photos of her EVER…but I still haven’t printed it 14 months later! :-\

  3. AQW on September 22nd, 2010 3:53 pm

    Really good article. I have always wondered this. Your explanation makes perfect sense. My oldest is past your suggested time table, but I will keep this in mind with my youngest. He is about to turn one and loves the drums. He goes right to the drum sticks and starts to drum with out banging. My first was like this too. And yes the photo is too cute. : )

  4. ChicanaCoqueta on September 22nd, 2010 6:54 pm

    Very informative article. Thanks!

  5. skyler189 on September 23rd, 2010 4:20 pm

    These are very interesting comments, and make a lot of sense to delay music reading until after the general concept of reading is understood.
    Would you care to comment on the Suzuki method, where children are taught to play for several years before learning to read? In this method playing does not require music reading. Do you still think, in that case, that the child should still understand the concept of reading? If so, why?

  6. Terra7 on September 23rd, 2010 6:26 pm

    Paramedicmama, Thank you. This is very helpful, indeed! I have to ask what diaper your adorable little daughter is wearing. It’s too too cute! :-)

  7. ingodslove on September 24th, 2010 4:06 am

    Oh, perfect…we are on week two of homeschool piano lessons – and it sounds like we’re right on track! Thanks!

  8. lotusstewart on September 24th, 2010 6:09 pm

    I just wanted to share that we have been going to Music Together classes for almost a year, and I can see both of my kids (ages 1 and 3) learning fundamental music skills. It’s such a fun class and I love that siblings of different ages can attend together. :)

  9. SJLoewen on October 18th, 2010 2:45 pm

    From my experience, I totally agree with the article. I have taught children who were younger than reading age, however, and there are pretty good programs for them to follow. For very young children to play the piano with a private teacher, however, keep in mind that they need the dexterity to control a crayon (tracing in workbooks), and to move their fingers independently of each other (placing all five fingers against a table, for example, the child should be able to lift or tap each finger). For children younger than reading age, who wish to be involved in music instruction – there are excellent group classes out there that teach a variety of music basics that are probably more appropriate than private instruction.

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