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Music Lessons for Children – How Young is Too Young?
I started playing musical instruments at a young age, in the 4th grade, when I started public school at the age of 9. I chose the violin and loved it. My teachers appreciated my abilities and supported my decision to become a professional. But what a shock I had when I got to the conservatory! Most of the other students started many years ago, in kindergarten or earlier. I had to practice 5-7 hours a day to keep up with those “lyrics”.
Today, a growing body of research confirms what I already know: Music training from an early age, when the brain is still forming, benefits the nervous system. Research also shows that early childhood music lessons are linked to higher grades, test scores, and self-esteem. It also means that children have a better chance of becoming successful musicians if they follow their interests from an early age.
But not so young! In addition to being a musician, I am a mother of three children (including two teenage musicians and a 6-year-old budding cellist); I am a school principal and teacher who has taught music to hundreds of children of all ages. Here’s what practical experience has taught me about getting kids into a happy, successful musical world.
1. ENRICH THE CHILDREN. Teaching a child under 3 a musical instrument can be a frustrating exercise. Instead, bring them to live music. Give them a simple play tool like a keyboard – kids love to press buttons. If you’ve ever played an instrument, dust it off and start playing in front of them again.
2. THERE IS A MAGIC NUMBER. About 3 ½. For many children, this is the age when they begin to focus long enough on an instrument, especially if that instrument is the piano.
3. CAN PRESCHOOL CHILDREN FOCUS? If a child can concentrate for 20 minutes on a task like a puzzle or a picture sorter, that child is probably ready. (Don’t despair if he won’t sit still for more than 20 seconds – he’ll get there later!)
4. START with piano lessons. Although the violin is child-sized, it is too difficult for most children under the age of 4.5. The piano is much better. The child can sit comfortably. There is a palette in front of them – black and white keys. They can focus on listening to high and low sounds – basic ear training. And there’s satisfaction right from the start: The keys sound great!
5. MAKE IT SOCIAL. The best classes of this age are like a big playgroup where the main thing is the instrument. The children are looking forward to seeing their friends. If there are no such classes in your area, consider finding another preschool or two that will take your child’s early years classes.
6. Do your homework. Get at least three recommendations from other parents. You and your child should meet the teacher in advance and tour the facility (the music school or the teacher’s home).
7. DO TRAINING. Most preschoolers enjoy performing with family and friends. Children dress up; they buy special clothes; They even get new shoes! There should be a reception during or after the explanation (We call it a “party”) Children run around, eat cookies and carrots, cheers, cheers!
8. SET THE SCALE. Give out lots of prizes, stickers, and small toys because kids are very goal-oriented. When your child gets angry, you can say, “If you can play these three measures, you’ll get a sticker.” It works like a miracle!
9. FIVE MINUTES? If the lesson requires the child to concentrate for 30-45 minutes, set a minimum limit for home practice. If he can only spend five minutes, that’s great. The older he gets, the slower he will go. Consistency is more important than duration.
10. REGISTER YOUR USE. Choose a regular place and time of day to exercise.
11. ERRORS. Some nights I create a stuffed audience for my 6 year old. On the “fallen” night, that event is done in reverse. Sometimes she serenades me in the kitchen while I cook. The sillier the better.
12. NO EQUIPMENT PURCHASE. If you have a choice, rent or borrow. Minimizing your investments will help you to have the right and calm attitude. If parents buy new equipment for elementary school, it is a guarantee that the child will fail. They think they’ve made such a big investment that their kids better follow suit. This is too much pressure.
13. BE POSITIVE. Always look on the bright side. Praise them for trying and improving. Your approval encourages them to continue.
14. GIVE HIM FIVE WEEKS. After five sessions, parents and children understand exactly what is needed. It’s time to ask yourself:
– Has our child learned anything?
– Will he train at least a few minutes a day?
– It was I Are you alright? To be able to I manage the investment of time and energy?
If you answered “yes” to at least two of these questions, then continue with your music lessons. Most of our preschoolers transition to private lessons. Or if they’re old enough (at least 4 ½), some move on to strings. Piano lessons help a lot when you are facing difficulties in holding and playing the violin, cello, and guitar.
Even if your child isn’t ready to continue, you haven’t wasted your investment. Everything they learn in those first five weeks will be there when they’re mature enough to continue making music, whether it’s 3 months or 3 years.
© 2008, Susan Pascale, All rights reserved.
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