When I was young, I remember my mom telling us kids that we would only start music lessons when we turned 9 years old. Back then, I was disappointed that I would have to wait a few more years. For my mom, 9 years old was the right age to start music lessons. At that age, most children have basic reading and writing skills, which aids them in learning to read and play music. I come from a very musical family and as a result, from an early age I had wanted to learn to play the piano or violin. And I was so jealous of my older brother who had just started learning the violin.
Learning to play an instrument is a fairly common subject that is brought up for parents of young children. There seems to be very different lines of thought as to what age children should start. As many of us have gawked at YouTube videos of chinese toddlers playing the piano way better than we ever dream of being able to play – we can’t all help wonder what exactly is the “right” or “best” age to start taking our kids to music lessons.
I hate to break the news to you, but the answer to this question depends on several factors. Because every child is different.
Ready, Set… Go?
I think a lot of the readiness factor is influenced by the child’s musicality as well as their desire to learn. Because most of the leverage obtained in getting a child to practice music comes from their love for the music they practice. This desire could spark from seeing other musicians perform or it could merely be an inherent desire within themselves to learn to play their favourite nursery rhyme. This desire to play an instrument kindles from the toddler years.
So in a nutshell: if your child isn’t really interested in learning to play the piano (or whichever instrument it may be) hold off dragging them to the piano teacher’s front door. Instead, expose them to a lot of good musical performances, like orchestra concerts, jazz bands or musical productions with a live band. Or even watching videos of them are beneficial. When they have a great enough desire and interest, you can be sure they will be nagging you to sign them up for lessons.
Does your child have a good fundamental understanding of counting and numbers as well as the alphabet? Learning to read and play music is all about counting and being able to decipher what the names of notes are.
I like to compare learning to read and play music to learning to read a book. You have to learn the letters and the rules to identify the words. This takes a lot of practice, right? Generally the same age that children are able to read beginner reading books is pretty much the same age that they are capable of learning to read and play music. Also, they should at least be able to write their name because their fine motor skills need to be sufficiently developed to play an instrument.
So What Now?
Based upon my experience as a teacher, if you ask me what is the best age to learn music, I would say from about 5 years of age. 5 year olds are tough to teach for sure, but the musical training is excellent for their developing minds. On the other hand, I do enjoy teaching the 8 or 9 year olds more of course, because they can sit still for longer. And also they fly through the songs they learn. My mom was right about that!
But starting from 5 years old definitely does benefit the developing brain. Besides, lessons should not be hardcore Mozart lessons. They should only be a half hour which is quite manageable for a 5-year-old, if the lesson is kept interesting.
In the lessons I give, I only do 15 minutes of actual piano playing to learn the songs and exercises. Then the other 15 minutes is done in our fun music theory sticker book that has games and activities. I also will use a tablet with great music learning games that the kids beg for. So honestly, music lessons should be fun and suited to each child’s needs!
Then, just for the record, I would say for babies, play good music for them – especially different varieties. Show them how to clap along and move with the music.
For ages between 18 months and 4 years of age, parents could enroll them into a music and movement program. Music and movement is a lovely way to engage in music and discover music principles. In these lessons they are learning important concepts to prepare them for formal music lessons. Music and movement classes are not just sessions of singing silly songs and bouncing around. Dynamics, beat and rhythm are taught, just to name a few. As the name implies, there is a lot of movement – which keeps their little active bodies happy. Music and movement lessons are more like music lessons tailored for little ones who lack the concentration and fine motor skills to actually sit down and try to play a single note on an instrument.
A Few More Things To Keep In Mind
So when you do enroll your child in formal music lessons, if they are young, start on piano or recorder or ukulele. Those instruments are physically the least demanding to begin with. Also, take note that at a young age, practice sessions at home need to be encouraged and even supervised by the parent. Yes, the Parent. Practice is your problem too! I have too many students whose parents are not even trying to get their kids to practice 5 minutes a week. Please, Parents!
But – and here’s a big but – when the music lessons start becoming a fight and a stress for both parent and child, I recommend either changing to a different instrument, changing the teacher or taking a break from lessons. If lessons are terminated, keep exposing your child to different instruments and musical performances. This is most important to developing your child’s musicality and consequently their desire to learn an instrument.
Lastly, remember that everyone has some degree of musicality. Even a non-musical person deserves to express themselves musically, in their own way. It does something for the soul. A music therapist once told me that music is actually a human behaviour – it is an innate desire in human beings to express themselves musically. Many people have been traumatized in their childhood by being forced to play the piano. The piano may have not been suited to them and perhaps the trumpet, for instance, may have been better.
My point is: Many adults have been deprived of a lifetime of musical pleasure and satisfaction that comes from playing a musical instrument, because (a) they were not given the opportunity to learn or (b) they had a bad experience as a child.
Let us as parents give our children the opportunity to learn an instrument. From birth, play music for them. From 18 months enroll in a Music and Movement class or something similar. Then from 5 years, start on an easy instrument such as the piano, recorder or ukulele. And remember that every child is different and may be ready for formal lessons at slightly different ages and stages of development. So really, the time to start exposing children music be it an informal or formal setting – whatever their age – is really, now.
Here’s my 4 year-old son during one of his first piano lessons. He’s so proud to be learning to play! Comment below with your own personal experience about what was the right time for music lessons for your kids.