Music history is littered with precocious child prodigies taking the world by storm with their dazzling musical talents. A famous historical example is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791). Stories abound of his conquests of European heads of state while touring with his sister Maria Anna (Nannerl; 1751–1829), also a talented young musician. At one such stop when Mozart was only 6 years old, he entertained the Empress of Austria and afterwards he climbed up into her lap where she gave him a kiss. Young Mozart went on to compose a range of works including a symphony, concerto, and opera all by the age of 10! A more recent child prodigy is the singer Jackie Evancho (b. 2000), who first gained international notoriety in 2010 through the America’s Got Talent television show. Stories of young children “wowing” audiences with their musical talents brings up the question, what is the right age to start children in music lessons?
In reality, there is no agreed upon “best age” to start music lessons. The typical age range given for starting structured music learning goes from 3 to 8, depending on who you ask. There are many benefits to starting children early, but there are a few drawbacks as well, which will be discussed in this article. Some important questions to think about are:
- What do I want my child to get out of learning music? What are the benefits of early study?
- Where is my child developmentally/physically? What are the issues that need to be considered?
- Can I find age appropriate programs/teachers for my child in my community?
Benefits of Early Study
The benefits of studying music are many. Music can help children express themselves and their emotions, develop creativity, increase their communication skills, learn to approach problems in different ways, work with others towards a common goal, and gives them something to enjoy! Learning music is like learning a foreign language, so the earlier you start a child, the more advantages they will have and the more time they will have to learn and perfect technique as well. Starting a child at a young age will help a child gain control, phrasing, and hear pitch easier than those starting at an older age.
Earliest Recommended Ages
|Earliest Age to Start Music Lessons|
Issues to Take Into Consideration Before Starting Lessons
While there are many benefits to starting young children out on instruments, there are also issues to take into consideration beforehand, such as the size of the child and instrument, the attention span of the child, the type of program you’re enrolling your child in, and the child’s level of interest in music. Because children at such a young age are still growing, many full-size instruments are too big to be handled by children. The piano is usually one of the best instruments for small children as there is a large amount of repertoire that can be adapted to their size and abilities. In addition, many string instruments, such as violins, can be purchased or rented in smaller sizes. In general, because the lungs have not developed as much until the children are a little older, it is not recommended that children start wind instruments until later, so you can start them on piano or a string instrument and then they can switch if they would like. It is also important to remember that children’s muscles and brains are still developing and, thus, extended practice is not always conducive to their bodies or attention spans.
Find Appropriate Programs
The best way to successfully engage your child in music lessons is to research programs and gauge your child’s interest. While your child may be too young or not ready for individual lessons, there are many program or options available for you to actively engage your child with music, whether it is through active listening, movement and music, or musical play. For younger children, consider programs like Kindermusik, Music Together, and Mommy & Me to grow your child’s musicality, basic skills, and knowledge. There are also many group lesson programs for younger children that have shown great success and may be a good option for your child before or as a supplement to individual lessons.
Engaging and Gauging Your Child’s Interest
Through early exposure, you can see what types of music and instruments most engage your child’s interest. If an instrument or type of music is forced upon them, they may not enjoy it as much and will drop out sooner, resent the lessons, or rebel. Don’t have a herd mentality or fall prey to peer pressure; just because all the other parents are having their children learn to play harp, does not mean your child needs to learn how to play harp if they do not want to. As a parent, you will also need to be supportive of your child. Encourage them to practice, give positive feedback and positive criticism, and continue to motivate and cultivate in them a love for music.
Never Too Old!
Although it is possible to start learning specific instruments too early, it is never too late to begin studying music! Though you may never become a Yo-Yo Ma, pursuing music as a beginner or as a return from a long hiatus, is quite fulfilling. Many teachers accept older beginners. Similar to children, studying music as an adult allows opportunities for creative outlets, problem solving, self-expression, enjoyment, learning new skills, and participation in a community of music lovers.
Ultimately, every child is different and you know your child’s interests and abilities best. Expose them to a variety of music and instruments, see what catches their attention, and consider what it is you want them to get out of their pursuit of music. Even our child prodigy examples from above had very different beginnings in their musical careers. Mozart was born into a musical family; his father was a professional musician and had trained him since about the age of three. Jackie Evancho got her musical start from watching a DVD of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. Take full advantage of the resources available to maximize the benefits and minimize any potential issues.
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