What age should my child start music lessons is a question I get asked very often from eager mums & dads who want to start their toddlers musical training as soon as they can walk, in the hope their child becomes the next child prodigy. Exposing your child to music from a young age is always beneficial, either in the form of musical appreciation exercises or by formal musical training. In fact, studies at the University of California suggest that taking formal music lessons as young as age 3 can increase your child’s brainpower. However, one must remember that starting a child at such a young age is not always successful, and requires greater dedication and patience from the student and the parent alike. Parents must play an integral role in their young child’s lessons, by being present and supporting the child if they get anxious about the challenges encountered whilst learning to play their instrument. Parents should also be prepared to instruct and monitor homework set out by their teacher to ensure continued progress, as a young child hasn’t the mental capacity, nor the discipline to recap and practice at home the things they learnt during lessons. One must remember also that young students usually have trouble concentrating and focusing during the entire lesson, making progress much slower than usual.
So when is the optimum age to start music training? At any age, motivation is an important factor of readiness. If a child does not want to take music lessons, then the parent should instead spend time cultivating interest in music. There is a growing (and convincing) body of research that indicates a “window of opportunity” from birth to age nine for developing a musical sensibility within children. During this time, the mental structures and mechanisms associated with processing and understanding music are in the prime stages of development, making it of utmost importance to expose children in this age range to music.
For parents with children under the age of five, it is important to ask parents what their goal is in enrolling their child for formal musical training. We’ve all heard the stories of famed musical prodigies, from Mozart writing his first symphony at the age of eight, to Michael Jackson performing professionally at age 5. Even though these feats have been achieved by some, it doesn’t necessarily mean if your child isn’t already achieving in music at such a young age, they won’t develop the skills later on in life to succeed in music.
Children under the age of five should be allowed to explore and learn music on their own time table without the pressures of becoming a great performer of their instrument. They probably won’t respond well to an adult-imposed learning structure, and more than likely will struggle to string together a song from start to finish. Parents of children under age five should be doing things to cultivate a general interest in music such as involving your child in singing, dancing, and listening to recorded music. These fun activities do way more than just entertain your child. These music activities will imbed your child with basic rhythm, melody and harmony and will allow a child to have fun exploring music, paving the way for a great start to formal training once they’re ready.
By age five, most children have built a foundation that has prepared them for formalized music lessons. Even now, the goal of the lessons is not to become a great performer on the instrument but to further the understanding of music and gaining basic musical knowledge from learning simple theory and rules associated with proper musical form. Piano, drums and violin are most common instruments played at this age.
By age ten, the child will have a variety of skills associated with their instrument of choice. Around this time, the goal of lessons appropriately transitions from gaining experience with music to improving performance ability. By this time, a child should play songs of some complexity quite competently, understand music theory at an intermediate level, and have a range of repertoire to perform on their instrument. Also, a student at this age may start developing a particular musical taste, and start exploring certain genres and request to learn a favourite song at lessons.
By the teenage years, the teenager will have acquired enough musical skills of their chosen instrument that training focuses more on developing good technique and fine tuning performances. Music theory is well understood, with most students also developing competent skills in sight reading. By now, the teenager has also developed certain tastes in music, and is aware of their musical strengths and weaknesses. This helps pave the way for the student to start identifying themselves within certain genres. Most teenage students will start experimenting in some form of song writing and composing, and possibly start learning a secondary instrument. Those inclined to sing will start developing their vocal ability to be able to sing and play their instrument together.
By later teenage years to young adulthood, the student has mastered their instrument, and training is focused on developing advanced techniques and repertoire for performance. By now, the student clearly identifies themselves as a musician within a particular genre, and has also developed a characterized way of performing, which is synonymous with them as an individual and artist. Their song writing and composing ability is maturing, and is used as an outlet to express themselves in a musical and artistic manner. All the training received comes together in helping the student become a complete musician, one that can perform, sight read and compose material. By performing, finding reward or receiving positive or negative feedback, it will eventually help determine the most important milestone of all…. When the musician makes the big transition from music student to either a music educator themselves, a professional performing musician, or a hobbyist musician.
The musical milestones outlined here are a general guide of the journey a typical music student from young beginner to adult musician may experience. Exceptions will undoubtedly occur depending on student, and the type of training received. It is clear to see that music is not mastered overnight, and the musical journey has many stages. There are also several studies showing that children between the ages of five and eight can learn complex brain skills like languages more easily than older children because their brains are still growing. These years are really a window of opportunity to develop musical intelligence. Older students can learn too, as it is never too late to learn and enjoy music, however, it will take more effort.
By Darko Zoric
Darko Zoric is Principal and Founder of JumboNote Music School