A Thought for Thursday: When to Start Formal Music Lessons



This article of mine appears in the new (August 2014) issue of New Jersey Family.

Play Dates

What’s the right age to begin music lessons?

One of my most vivid childhood memories is running home after my weekly piano lesson so I could try out my newest piece on my home piano. I was in love with music, and learning to play was exhilarating.

I’ll always be grateful to my parents for giving me the gift of music lessons. Playing an instrument has brought me immeasurable delight, beauty, and comfort throughout my life. But not all adults who took lessons as kids have the same positive associations, of course. Anyone forced into lessons (or practicing!) before they were ready may be wary of doing the same to their own kids. To foster a lifelong love of music, there are a few things you’ll want to consider.


When Should Kids Start?

There’s no one right answer, or even an easy checklist. It depends on the program and it depends on your kid. Some programs, like the Suzuki approach for violin, start children as young as two or three. Outside of Suzuki, many teachers, like Waldorf school educator Sarah Baldwin, insist “seven is a more appropriate age for most children to begin music lessons, for many of the same reasons that make seven the ideal age for a child to begin formal learning at school.”

In fact, many teachers note that a 7-year-old may make more progress on an instrument in two months than a 5-yearold can make in two years. Yet, every child is different, and you need to consider the musical and emotional readiness of your own child.


How Do I Know They’re Ready?

Some broad guidelines may help you make the decision to start or to wait.

First, does your child love music? Does she clap and dance when she hears it? Does she climb on the piano bench and experiment with playing the keys? These may be clues that your child would be motivated to undertake the work of music lessons—because as enjoyable as they are, lessons involve work. (And regular practicing!)

Is your child emotionally mature enough to begin lessons? Music study requires patience and persistence, as well as the maturity to listen and pay attention to a teacher, accept feedback, and practice for 10 to 15 minutes every day. If your child isn’t ready for these things, it may be frustrating for her (and you) to enroll her in lessons.

Consider academic skills. Children should be able to count beats and measures, and be familiar with the letters A through G—so they can recognize notes (although some teachers have programs for younger children that don’t use notes).

Once your child begins lessons, have accurate expectations for progress. For instance, it’s unreasonable to expect a child under seven to sit and practice for more than 15 minutes a day.


Musical Alternatives

A younger child may be more successful (and have a more positive experience) in group lessons. The Music Teachers National Association recommends that 5 to 6-year-olds enroll in programs that “introduce your child to the instrument, but also involve movement, rhythm activities, singing, and more.”

If you decide your child isn’t ready for formal lessons, you can still do many things at home to interest your child in music and increase his readiness. Sing songs together—anywhere. Dance together to your favorite music. Best of all, expose your child to a variety of quality music—classical, pop, folk, jazz, and the many varieties of world music. This doesn’t have to be costly. Explore the CD selection at your local library, tune into different radio stations, or find music online.

Finally, provide a rich musical environment at home and watch your child for signs that she may be interested and ready for formal instrumental lessons. Lessons can give your child one of life’s greatest joys—if you can get the timing right.


Abigail Connors is an early childhood music specialist from Piscataway, and the author of “Teaching Creativity: Supporting, Valuing, and Inspiring Young Children’s Creative Thinking” (Whitmore Publishing, 2010).


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