When is the best time to start formal music lessons for my child?
Parents ask me this question all the time. My answer is always the same.
It depends on the child.
It’s fantastic that your child loves music. Give them every opportunity to keep the love of music alive and burning. Take them to live children’s shows, listen to music in the car, listen to the birds sing and the sounds of nature, make homemade instruments using pots and pans as drums or water bottles with rice as shakers, take them to structured music classes.
My concern is when you start a child in private lessons too early, let’s say at the age of 3 or 4, may lose the joy of just playing and exploring and by the time they hit 7yrs or 8yrs old they have no interest because they have loss the joy of being curious about the instrument or the voice. They may find practice and performing a chore.
If it’s not fun, each practice session, especially the one at home, may feel like a performance. The pressure of always having to perform can be too overwhelming. When you have pressure it leads to tension, which then restricts the voice or sound from coming out the best it can, it then leads to poor practice and limited improvement. Unfortunately, it then becomes a cycle. I have seen and heard parents tell me stories such as this.
There are exceptions; I had a student (whom I taught Vocals to in high school) who started drumming at 11 months old. His dad used to tie him to the chair so he wouldn’t fall off. This student became a child prodigy in drumming and was awarded multiple awards and scholarships by the age of 8. He now works as a jazz musician and is being mentored by James Morrison.
Here are a few tips to help prepare your child for private lessons:
1. Make sure you take him to a structured music class that prepares them for private tuition. Does the class foster Active listening skills? This skill is a learnt behaviour and is different “overhearing” the teacher or music.
- Do parents stay in the class or wait in the waiting room during the structured music class? Having a class like this would be a great start to help your child with separation anxiety.
- Does your child like to explore the instrument e.g. plays the drum inside and out? Does he tap on the resonator bar on the plastic and the metal part? Does he try to disassemble the instrument and try to put it back together, does he shake the tambourine and then rolls it so see and hear the difference in sound. This is wonderful!! It’s a process that must be embraced.
I encourage you to find a teacher that is willing to let that control go- the control of “Playing the instrument the proper way”(of course it must be explored in a safe and appropriate manner) and there should be allocated time to play the instrument the proper way after exploration.
Your child’s curiosity must be celebrated. The more he explores the more he understands the instrument and how to play it. Take for example if someone handed us an ice-cream for the first time we would instinctly smell it, touch it, break the cone, taste it with the tip of our tongue- we would explore it to figure out what it is, what its made of, where it came from and what it does.
- Does your child need to move? Is your child a child that learns through movement? Does the class incorporate movement together with music concepts in a fun, relate-able and engaging way?
- Does your child flourish with a small group or a big group? Sometime having group lessons are a fantastic idea. Some shy kids have the opportunity to observe and then try it out in the safety of others. It can also build confidence without the pressure of performing. Your child can learn from other children. Or your child may display leadership skills. Being in a group helps foster ensemble play which develops social skills. Being able to play with others and taking turns is an important skill needed as a musician. Once again this is a learnt behavior.
6. Is your child physically ready (have they developed their fine motor-skills, are their fingers long enough to reach the keys on a piano) can your child read yet? Are just some more questions to consider?
If you are not sure, why rush? Music is a life long gift, which can be enjoyed at so many levels and at any age.
Every parent believes his or her child is special. And they are! Every child is special. Only you can foster and nurture that creativity, joy and spirited awakening that only music can give.
My advice is to be persitant in a caring and loving way. Don’t just do a structured music class for a few weeks and stop or move to another class or school – give your child consistency and let them settle into a class, it may take 8 weeks for them to settle and get to know their surroundings and group dynamics. Be aware of your child’s needs.
Let it be for your child’s heart and don’t make the mistake that your child needs to perform for you.
Music is a beautiful gift for not only your child, but also for your family- it can bond a family together.
Which ever you decide let it remain a beautiful gift in the eyes and ears of your child and give your child something to sing about!
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