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Music Lessons for Children – How Young is Too Young?
I started playing an instrument late in my life, at the age of nine, in the fourth grade, when classes were held in my public school. I chose the violin and loved it. My teachers recognized my abilities and supported my decision to become a professional. But what a shock when we got to the conservatory! Most of my other students started in kindergarten or earlier. I had to practice 5-7 hours a day to catch up with the “master”.
Today, more and more research supports what I felt. Music training from an early age, when the brain is being formed, has neurological benefits. Studies also associate childhood music lessons with higher grades, test scores, and self-esteem. And starting at an early age means that kids are more likely to become accomplished musicians if they’re interested.
But not too young! As well as being a musician, I am also the mother of her three children (including two teenagers before she became a professional musician and an up-and-coming cellist at age six). I am a school director and teacher who has taught music to hundreds of young people of all ages. Here’s what I’ve learned from my first-hand experience about getting kids happy into the world of music.
1. Enrich your baby. Teaching a musical instrument to a child under the age of 3 is frustrating exercise. Give a simple toy instrument like a keyboard. Kids love to push buttons. If you’ve played an instrument before, dust yourself off and start playing again in front of your instrument.
2. There is a magic number. about 3½. For many children, that’s the age when they can focus enough time on instrument lessons. Especially when the instrument is a piano.
3. Can your preschooler concentrate? If your child can concentrate on a task such as a puzzle or sorting shapes for 20 minutes, they are probably ready. (If he doesn’t sit still for more than 20 seconds, don’t despair – he’ll get there later!)
4. Start with piano lessons. The violin is made in baby size, which is very difficult for most children under the age of four and a half. Children can sit comfortably. They have a palette in front of them – black and white keys so they can focus on hearing the highs and lows – basic ear training. When you press a key, it makes a nice sound!
5. Be social. The best classes for this age are like large playgroups that focus on musical instruments. Children can’t wait to see their friends. If you don’t have a class like this in your area, consider finding another girlfriend or two of your preschoolers to join your child’s beginning lessons.
6. Do your homework. Get at least three of her recommendations from other parents. You and your child should meet the teacher in advance and tour the facility (whether it’s a music school or a teacher’s home).
7. Find a recital. Most preschoolers love performing for their family and friends. Children dress up. They buy special clothes. They even get new shoes! During or after the presentation, there will be a welcome party (we call this a “party”).
8. Stay rewarded. Children are very goal-oriented, so give them lots of rewards, stickers, and small toys. When your child gets frustrated, say, “If you can play these 3 bars, you can get a sticker.” It works like a miracle!
9. Do you have 5 minutes? Lessons require your child to focus for 30-45 minutes, but for practice at home, set the bar low. If she can only put in her 5 minutes, that’s great. She grows taller as she gets older. Consistency is much more important than duration.
10. Create routines. Pick a regular place and time for practice.
11. Break your routine. Sometimes I make a stuffed animal spectator for my 6 year old. “Reverse” nights take the opposite measures. Sometimes she serenades me in the kitchen while I cook. The quirkier the better.
12. Don’t buy musical instruments. Borrow or borrow if you have a choice. By investing less, you can have a proper, laid-back attitude. When a parent buys a new instrument for an elementary class, it virtually guarantees the child will fail. They feel they’ve made this big investment, so their kids might as well make it through. It’s too much pressure.
13. Stay positive. Always look on the bright side. Praise them for their efforts and improvements. Your approval will motivate them to stick with it.
14. Wait 5 weeks. After five sessions, parents and children know exactly what they need. It’s time to ask yourself:
– Did my child learn anything?
– Does he or she practice at least a few minutes a day?
– Did it Me is it OK?can Me Will it handle the investment of time and energy?
If you answered yes to at least two of these questions, continue with your music lessons. Most of our preschoolers transition to private lessons. Piano lessons are very helpful when faced with the added complexity of holding a violin, cello, or guitar to play.
But don’t let your investment go to waste if your child isn’t ready to continue. Everything she learned in her first five weeks still remains with her when she’s mature enough to continue making music, whether it’s three months later or her three years later.
© 2008, Susan Pascal, all rights reserved.
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