When I meet someone for the first time and it is revealed that I am a music teacher, I often get asked this question. The parent has been trying to figure out when to have their child begin music lessons. They just want a simple answer. Just a number. One number. It should be that simple, right? But instead we have an exchange that usually goes like this:
Parent: How old should my child be to start music lessons?”
Me: How old is your child now?
Parent: My child is [AGE] years old.
Me: Perfect! You should begin now.
That did nothing to answer the question, you may be saying. Yes, that can be misleading. But it is true. That is because music lessons are appropriate for children at all ages. You just need to find the right kind of lessons for your child. The best time to give your child a music education is now. Don’t wait until your child is “old enough.” That is a myth. Your child can take music lessons right now. It just depends on whether you are ready, whether you can find a good teacher, and what kind of music lessons are available for your child.
Begin at the Beginning
There are music lessons that are appropriate for children of all ages–and I mean all ages. There are even group music classes for newborns. And before you criticize the absurdity of bringing a newborn to a music class (and I admit that I used to think this way, too), please keep in mind that these classes are also for the parents. It’s amazing how many parents are too shy or too ashamed to sing to their own children. And if you are already singing to your child every day, then you are already creating a strong foundation for your child’s musical development.
Music classes for very young children can help parents learn to find their voice and develop a habit of musically interacting with their child through song or movement. Bringing a very young child to a musical environment can be enriching to their development and guide parents on how to sing and play with their child on a daily basis. Also, the formality of a class can also provide parents who want to make music a priority a structure for doing so.
Usually, classes for young children involve having an adult taking the class alongside the child, and this has the wonderful benefit of the adult continuing to expose the child to that same music outside of class by singing or playing a recording of that music. There are pre-instrument classes that students can take to begin learning to play certain instruments. Really, the variety is huge and I marvel at the incredible music teachers out there who skillfully cater to different ages and all types of children.
Formal Music Lessons
What about formal lessons where they are learning to play an instrument? This will depend on what instrument your child or you have chosen and which teacher or music program you find. I will talk about how to choose an instrument for your child in a later blog. For kids as young as 2 years old, group violin lessons taught by a Suzuki teacher can be wonderfully engaging. Again, the parent attends with the child so that they can assist the child with practicing at home. Every teacher is different, just as every child is different, so you have to investigate carefully to see if the teacher is a good fit for your child. If you cannot find a good teacher, then I suggest waiting because nothing kills the desire to make music more than a terrible music teacher.
Formal Private Lessons
What about formal private lessons? That can be a range, too. I have taught private lessons to children as young as three years old. Our lessons, however, are far from the formal sit-down lessons most people imagine. We do sit at the piano at the start of the lesson, but that can last 1-10 minutes depending on the child’s ability to sit still and focus. I usually incorporate singing and body movements, making sure each activity has a pedagogical purpose. We play a myriad of games that help the child learn skills such as music reading or theory. Even a weekly 15-minute music lesson can nurture a child’s love for making music. Practicing at home for these young children looks differently, too. I tell the parents that they should aim to practice every day for a 5-minute practice session. Their goal is repeated joyful experiences at the instrument, so the length of time is not as important at this stage.
Not all teachers want to or are capable of working with very young children. That is why it is important to find out as much as you can about the teacher’s experiences, teaching philosophy and teaching capabilities before beginning music lessons.
What it comes down to is whether or not you can find a teacher who can nurture your child’s musical development. Do not be impatient or haphazard in your choice of music teachers. If your child’s teacher is not a good fit, your child will likely struggle with music practicing and begin to dislike making music, which ultimately results in your child quitting lessons. Learn why and how to find a great teacher in this blog.
Generally, Suzuki music teachers are open to taking students who are very young, around 2-5 years old. Music teachers who teach music reading from the start like to take students who are at least 7 years old. There is a great variety, so your task is to be aware of what you can handle and find music teachers or programs that fit your family’s needs. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. The more clarity you have about how a particular teacher runs their studio or expects from their students, the better chance you have of creating an optimal situation for your child’s musical development.
If you are still not sure how to proceed, take this is a quiz to determine if you and your child are really ready for lessons.
"Music Lesson Readiness Quiz"
Part A: The Parent
- Are you ready to make music a priority in your family?
- Will you spend time with your child at home every day with music practicing or making music such as singing or dancing?
- Will you spend time to find a teacher who is a good fit for your child?
If you answered no to any of these questions, then you are not ready for your child to begin lessons. Wait until you are ready.
If you answered yes to all of these questions, then go on to Part B.
Part B: The Teacher
Begin asking around at your child’s school, to other parents, or searching music teacher associations such as MTNA, MTAC or Suzuki Association. Finding a great music teacher is crucial to your child’s musical success, so make sure you take the time to find a really good one. Once you have found some potential teachers, ask these questions:
- Is the teacher a kind, patient person who can work with your child at a developmentally appropriate level?
- Does the teacher express a love for music?
- Is the teacher musically skilled?
If you answered no to any of these questions, then keep searching for a teacher until you can answer yes to all of these questions.
If you answered yes to all of these questions, then you may go on.
Part C: The Student
I highly recommend you bring your child to a potential teacher’s music recital or lessons. That way, you can determine whether or not your child will be a good fit with the teacher. A better question to keep in the back of your mind is this: “Is my child ready to take lessons with this teacher?”
- Has your child met the teacher?
- Has your child watched the teacher work with other students?
- Does your child want to spend time with the teacher?
If you answered no to any of these questions, then your child is not ready for lessons. If you like this particular teacher, then request to observe lessons so that your child can develop a desire to take lessons from this teacher. Trust me, this makes everything run more smoothly once lessons begin.
If you answered yes to all of these questions, then your child is ready for lessons. Congratulations! And enjoy the journey!
Do you have any questions or ideas? Have an experience to share? Let me know in the comments below.