A question I’m frequently asked by parents at Music Bus is “what’s the best age for my child to start learning a musical instrument?” If your child responds well to music and has expressed an interest in learning an instrument, it is without doubt a beautiful skill to nurture. Learning an instrument can also have a positive impact on many areas of your child’s life, as well as developing their love and understanding of music. It can boost their confidence, help their understanding of maths, their cognitive development, hand eye co ordination, concentration and co -operation to follow instructions, as well as giving them a skill they have for life. As children develop at different rates, the following are general guidelines for starting to learn musical instruments at various ages. I’ve also included a list of questions below to consider when deciding if your child is ready to begin formal lessons.
What’s the right instrument for your child?
If you and your child have a chosen instrument in mind, one of the best ways to start is often to attend a group lesson with other children of the same age. If your child has already attended a music group when they were younger, then a group class will be a natural progressive step. Otherwise, you will need to find a good teacher for your child, often your local music shop will be able to help you.
If possible, a good idea is to attend live concerts and events and let your child experience an orchestra playing and hear and see different instruments being played. Maybe even try a concert specifically promoted for children. Often music stores, schools or colleges have an open day when you can go and try out different musical instruments or they will demonstrate them. Take your child along and let them experience first hand a range of suitable instruments.
Musical Instruments at school
When your child enters school, usually in about year 1 or 2, group lessons are available in some instruments. Often there is also the opportunity to join in playing in a group or orchestra with their friends which can provide a fulfilling experience. Depending on where you live, instruments such as the recorder are learnt in Key stage 1 at school but in some areas instruments such as djembe drums and ukuleles are increasingly being provided for children to use as part of their music education.
Ages 5 – 7 years
As a general guideline, the piano and keyboard are instruments to consider starting to learn at the age of approximately 5-7 years, and older. Before this age a child’s fingers and hands are too small and they will struggle. The piano, in particular will provide your child with a good foundation for their future music learning in any instrument.
Ages 7 years and older
At around the age of 7 years, string instruments such as the guitar or violin could be introduced. There are many sizes of violins available, 9 in total, and guitars range from ¼ size to full size, therefore you could begin with a smaller version of your chosen instrument which will, for example, have a smaller neck, with the frets closer together, thereby making playing easier for your child. As they grow, so can their instrument. Once you have a teacher, they can usually advise you on the right size to buy. Another instrument to consider at this age is the drums.
Studies on different areas of the brain and the neural connections that are made from birth, illustrate that the window of opportunity for a child to learn a musical instrument is at it’s highest before the age of 10 years. After that this learning becomes more difficult. So whilst there’s no right or wrong age to start learning a musical instrument the best research says to start before your child is 10 years old and in my opinion the earlier the better.
Some questions to consider before starting music lessons for children
- Is there a particular instrument your child has expressed an interest in learning to play?
- How developed are their fine motor skills and their hand-eye co ordination?
- Could they concentrate for a 20-30 minute lesson?
- Will they want to attend a regular lesson and will they practice regularly?
- Are they beginning to read? Can they identify and understand numbers and letters?
All three of my daughters started their post Music Bus musical journey with the recorder and between them have graduated variously to violin, piano, guitar, drums and ukelele. They love being able to entertain but more than that, they love being able to play for their own pleasure. Mike and I are immensely proud of them and I wish you all the joy of listening to your child master an instrument and make beautiful music.