Parents often ask and teachers often debate what is a good age at which to begin music lessons? There is no single answer to this question. Many factors must be considered on an individual basis. Physical development, musical background, and instrument size are three of the most important things to consider. In this post, I will discuss each one.
Before going too far, a distinction must be made between formal music lessons, and informal interactions with a musical instrument. A child of any age can make sounds on a piano keyboard, including an infant on a parent’s lap. A child will explore the sounds she can make by pressing on the keys just as she will explore virtually everything that enters into her physical world. This exploration of a piano is a healthy part of early childhood musical experience. On the other hand, with only the very beginning of language development, and with tiny hands and fingers, and very soft bones, infants are not ready for formal music lessons.
When the child is three years old, music lessons on violin can be started. I say violin, because, unlike some other instruments including pianos, violins come in miniature sizes that are suitable for still small and developing hands. The smaller sized violin enables the child to reach the positions the fingers must be placed in to play correctly, and for the right arm to extend out to the end of the small-sized bow. A child at this age cannot spread her fingers comfortably or even safely to play piano keys properly. For this reason, I recommend not starting piano lessons before age 4, and even then, the child’s attention very short attention span will limit progress. Parents who want to provide music lessons for their pre-kindergarden child would do well to enroll her in a pre-school music program such as Kindermusik, Music Garden, or similar programs. Such lessons provide training in singing, moving to music, and playing age-appropriate instruments such as small xylophones, and drums, and are excellent preparation for studying a musical instrument such as piano at a later age.
Even earlier, from birth in fact, parents can begin their child’s early musical training by often singing to the child. Singing develops in the child a familiarity with musical patterns, and models using the voice to create the pleasing sound of music. A child that is often sung to will soon begin to attempt to imitate songs and patterns she has heard sung to her, and in so doing will develop musically. Children who do not spend their early years in a musical environment are at a disadvantage when they try to learn a musical instrument during their early years of formal schooling.
Once the child reaches age 10, orchestral instrument lessons can begin. Prior to age 10, a child’s muscular development in the hands is not sufficiently developed to correctly support the weight of many instruments while playing them. For example, the right thumb cannot properly support the weight of a clarinet until age 10. Children who start clarinet lessons in at age 9 or earlier typically struggle to hold the instrument, as their thumb bends back and strains to hold the instrument. At age 10, this problem can be avoided because the thumb by then is strong enough to support the weight correctly, remaining straight while place on the thumb rest between the nail and first joint. It is also true that older students learn faster and as a result are less prone to discouragement due to slow progress. A child who starts at age 10 will within a year usually be a far along as a child who started at age nine.
A child who has received informal music experiences and training at home, and taken a pre-kindergarten music class is well-prepared for formal musical instrument lessons. When this musical background and sufficient physical development are both in place, the child is set for success.