The answer: yes! All people have musical ability that can be nurtured and developed. Music is a language, just as English or French. No matter whom you are you learned to speak your native tongue perfectly, usually by ages 3-5 years. The same steps in language learning can and do take place in successful music education.
Think about this scenario: Person A may need to play a short 3 note melody 2 or 2 times before perfecting it. Person B may need 10 repetitions. Person C may need 100. But all of them have the ability to achieve perfection; only the amount of repetitions may vary. If all can successfully complete the necessary repetitions, all will have success!
Assuming that all children have musical ability that can be nurtured and developed, what can I do to encourage/ promote musical ability?
Just as we speak English to our babies who do not yet talk back, we do it anyway. The young child is in an environment where English is spoken all around. We can do the same with music. Play music in your home daily. There are plenty of good recordings. It has been documented that children as young as 5 months are able to recognize specific recordings if they are repeated daily in the environment.
Dance and sing with your child at home. Play music/ movement games. Early childhood music classes attended with your child for several years
to help him/her know that music is fun and a family activity. Some programs I highly recommend are: Music in the Box, Musikgarten, and Music Together.
Musical toys are also important. Many children like to “pretend” to play guitar, piano, or other instruments. Toy xylophones are great for melody.
Concerts: Attend live concerts with your children. There are many wonderful opportunities for children close to home. The Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra does children and family concerts. Chicago Symphony is a train or car ride away and there are some great family series on Saturdays. In summer, Grant Park concerts are FREE!
If you play an instrument yourself, your child will naturally want to imitate or join in. If you don’t play, it is never too late and many parents actually take lessons as a way to be able to help their children when it is time to start.
If you want to “test the waters” first, a summer “Try It and See” class with a small group of children can be a great way to start.
When Should Music Lessons Begin?
When the child and the parent are ready! But keep this very important point in mind: A child’s mind is a child’s mind until ABOUT age 12. After age 12, learning tends to be more adult in nature. So to acquire more skill and technique, try your best to see that your child’s music instruction starts before age 12 if possible.
Some children are ready to begin study as early as 3 ½ years. Many teachers like to start students at 4-6 years old. Children that start ages 7-12 years also can do quite well. Here are some suggestions that are instrument specific:
Piano: songs with small reaches are used until the child’s hand grows, so children can start piano lessons as young as 3 ½.
Violin: violins come in very small sizes to fit children as young as 3 years
Cello: same: come in smaller sizes
Guitar: youngest start for a guitar is usually around 4-7 depending on size of child and readiness. Smallest guitars are ¼ sizes.
Wind/ Brass: usually started around 4th-5th grades because of size/ breathe control
Percussion (drums/marimba) earliest age for formal study is around age 8. If a child really has a passion for drums early on, piano is a good first instrument to begin learning the rudiments of rhythm
Voice: Formal study of voice is not necessary for the young child. If a child loves to sing, encourage them to sing. A good outlet would be a children’s choir or children’s choir at church. Again, our voice teachers agree that early piano lessons are the MOST helpful to vocalists. Later on, they can play their own accompaniments and practice pitches using piano. Formal study of voice does not have to begin until Jr. High/ High school.
Advantages in starting early:
- Children tend to be great mimics at young ages and this ability can be utilized in teaching music.
- Though it is generally agreed that “perfect pitch” cannot be taught, children started at early ages often acquire the ability to accurately pick out pitch on their specific instrument, again, because learning at young ages is more ear than eye related.
- Children do not have as many activities, social obligations, homework, and sports as they tend to do later. They have more time to acquire high level musical skills.
- They are not yet as affected by the culture of TV, friends, and peer pressure.
- They want to please their parents and imitate their parents
Disadvantages of an early start:
- Most professional musicians would agree that the earliest time you can start is better. However, the earlier you start, the more work for the parent.
- If a child starts early, parents need to attend lessons with their child. The child comes only once or in some cases twice a week. Young children need a parent to practice with them
- A good and experienced early childhood teacher is a must. Early on, a child could become needlessly discouraged if expectations are excessive… In order to practice with a young child successfully, a parent has to be willing to make practice fun and use games to entice the child.
School age start: most band programs begin in 4th and 5th grade. If a child waits until those ages, there is less “hands on “ practicing WITH your child. But even then, parents will have to remind children to practice and consulting regularly with the teacher. Sitting in on a lesson occasionally is a good idea.
How do I select a teacher for my child?
Research teachers by asking friends, attending recital events, search the internet in your area.
Call and ask to observe a lesson. Most reputable teachers will allow this as long as you do not disrupt another child’s lesson by talking.
Attend a student performance of that teacher’s students.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about teacher’s experience, credentials, student age preference, and ideas for practice/motivation.
Decide if you want a Traditional or Suzuki teacher (see insert on Suzuki).
Best advice for selecting an instrument:
- Don’t buy an instrument if you have no knowledge of instruments. There are good inexpensive instruments and horrible ones there are also some vendors that charge way too much for junk (especially on line!)
- Sign up for lessons FIRST and ask the TEACHER to recommend a good instrument for rent or purchase.
Recommended Books for Parents:
Nurtured by Love S. Suzuki
Ability Development from Age Zero S. Suzuki
Teaching from the Balance Point E. Krietman
Helping Parents Practice E. Sprunger
How to Get Your Child to Practice Without Resorting to Violence Cynthia Richards
Many titles available for sale on our store.