When Should My Child Start Music Lessons?

As a piano teacher, I am often asked when “the best” time to start music lessons is. While this varies from child to child, I’ll be perfectly honest and say that as both a music teacher and a mother — I’m a fan of beginning lessons at an early age.

musiclessons

Musical experiences should start early. Birth to age six is a formative time for all kinds of development — including musical development. For the lifelong benefits of cognition, higher test scores, enhanced ability to focus and overall confidence (even in non-musical tasks), study after study shows that these benefits come not from listening to Mozart — but learning to play Mozart.

Because music supports all other learning, I do believe that music lessons are something important that I can provide for my children. But it’s not this hidden desire to create little geniuses that has me starting my little one in lessons at an early age — it’s because I know how awesome music makes life. Knowing how to play piano has made my life richer and creating music gives me great joy. I have a unique and special gift and an appreciation for the arts and music that comes from a deep level of understanding. I know what it means to work hard at something until it is mastered, to be disciplined and focused and see things through. THESE are the skills that I want for my children!

So my answer to the question of when your child should start music lessons is — AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. This doesn’t mean I think your three year old should start taking half hour piano lessons each week using a traditional method book. It means that if your child is excited at the thought of learning an instrument, then you should take advantage of that passion and zeal! You should NOT force a young child into taking lessons.

Music lessons during the younger years do require special consideration and parental involvement. You will want to keep things lighthearted and FUN in order to set the stage for a lifelong appreciation and love for music. Here’s some tips for parents who are seeking out lessons for kids between ages 4-6.

  • Find a really fun, warm teacher. Your child’s first cello teacher doesn’t need to be the cello teacher she will have through her high school years. The job of your child’s first teacher should be to teach her fundamentals while also helping her be really proud of her accomplishments and excited to learn and attend lessons each week. If your child becomes super-proficient at an instrument, then you can seek out a no-nonsense, advanced level teacher when the time comes. But for now, find one whose personality clicks!
  • Start small. Your squirmy four-year-old might be stoked about learning the guitar, but sitting still in a small room for a half hour is asking a lot of him. Find a teacher who is willing to start with a 10-15 minute lesson. As your child grows and matures, you can gradually work into a longer lesson duration.
  • Find an age-appropriate method. I once nannied for a 3 year old who took piano lessons twice a week (NOT FROM ME!) from a method book I use for my 6-7 year old beginners. It was way over her head, and she was frustrated and in tears at her lessons. The methods that your teacher uses with your young beginner should be playful and not always require your child to be sitting at the bench/seat for the full length of a lesson. Students can learn theory through games, rhythm through marching or playing the drums and composition through drawing pictures.
  • Keep practicing short, fun and simple. Give lots of praise and incentives — like stickers, pennies or points towards a larger prize. Find things you can do rather than just playing a piece over and over to learn it. When I practice piano with my four year old, we first tap out the rhythm on a tambourine or drum before we even sit at the piano. We’re still learning the rhythm, but she doesn’t have to sit still in one place as long to accomplish the learning of the piece!

My four-year-old was given a ukulele for Christmas by her favorite uncle (also a ukulele player). She wanted to actually learn the instrument so she could play alongside her uncle next time we visit him, and I knew that if we didn’t enroll her in lessons the ukulele would probably turn into more of a toy than an actual instrument.

ukulele

Her teacher is a young guy with a beard who looks like he belongs in Berkeley. Her 15 minute lessons are filled with high fives, giggles and TONS of praise. She loves it. She brings her ukulele in the car to practice while we drive, spends her afternoons writing songs and asks every day if its her ukulele lesson day. (Lest you think I’m a traitor to my trade, she is also in piano lessons with me!)

What brings me great joy is not the fact that this early introduction to an instrument may help her score higher on her SATs — it’s the thought of her sitting around the campfire with her friends one day and being able to bust out “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, Israel kamakawiwo’ole style.

And it’s the smile on her face whenever she makes music.

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Comments

  1. As a fellow music teacher I must agree, the earlier the better! Great post! I’ve started kiddos out at piano lessons as early as three years of age. The lessons are much different than those of an 8 year old. However, the excitement of a three year old… Oh I love it!

  2. I completely agree. Teach children early and keep the atmosphere warm, positive, fun! Thanks for sharing your insight. ~Kimberley gavotteschoolofmusic.com

  3. What an excellent post! My 9 year old has taken violin for 2 years and he’s very good. Your pst reminds me to make t more fun for him. Maybe I’m expecting him to be too serious at this point.

    At Christmas, I found some sheet music with Christmas carols for violin and piano and I picked out an accompaniment for him. He was thrilled and it was a lot of fun. Thanks for the reminder to keep the joy in music practice.

    And thanks, too, for linking up at Family Fun Friday!

  4. Very helpful post! I spotted it at the Kids Co-op and knew I needed to read this one. My son has always been very interested in music — especially harmonica, whistles, piano, and cello — and now as a preschooler he loves to sing as well. Now I just need to find the right teacher!

    • There are so many fantastic early childhood music programs for preschool-aged kids out there! Check out Music for Young Children, which includes lots of music/singing with a bit of keyboard (I myself am a teacher in the program, so I’m a bit biased). Hope you are able to find something for your musical little one!

  5. This is really valuable information, thank you. Our son is only two but from a much younger age has showed lots of interest in music, it started when his daycare mum had a keyboard and he loved it so we bought him one, although it’s a bit of a thing of the past now, he loves to pull it out every now and then. His favourite thing is dancing. We will see how he goes as he gets older and consider your points. Thanks for linking up with Mummy Mondays. Have pinned your post too.

    • Thanks for pinning Eva! Glad you found some useful information — and excited to hear that your son is a fellow music-lover!

  6. Hi Carly,

    too bad we don’t live closer!!! Jim is sooo into music, musical instruments (!), rythem and songs and it’s so hard to find a teacher for him cause he is just three years old. The teachers here are just not willing to do a 15-20 min. lesson…

    • I wish you lived closer for many reasons, Anabelle! Are there any Music for Young Children classes in your area? They begin piano instruction at age 3.5 (this is actually the method I teach), but it is all based on play. Kids learn note names through puppets, songs and stories — so fun! It is a nationwide program and might be worth looking into in Germany??

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