Written by contributor Sarah Baldwin of Bella Luna Toys and Moon Child
As a Waldorf early childhood teacher, and the mother of two young musicians, I have been asked many times over the years what the ideal age is for a child to begin music lessons.
I’ve been asking myself the same question for as many years. In my quest for an answer, I have asked many music teachers and experts.
Waldorf Education and Suzuki Music Instruction
As a young mother I became familiar with the Suzuki method of music instruction, in which children as young as three or four begin to learn an instrument. When my children started music lessons—older son Harper played piano, young son Will played cello—I chose Suzuki teachers for both of them, and as a result have become a strong supporter of Suzuki methods.
Because I am also a Waldorf teacher, I was struck by the many similarities between Suzuki and Waldorf education.
What is Similar?
Suzuki students are taught to play beautiful music by ear before they are able to read music. They start with real music and simple classical pieces. In a similar way, Waldorf students are taught to recite beautiful poetry by heart before they learn to read or write.
Just as speech precedes reading in language development, Suzuki students learn to play music before learning to read notes. Learning to read music should not be attempted before the child is able to read language, since the same skills are needed and may not yet be developed in a young child.
In his book Nurtured by Love, Dr. Shinichi Suzuki describes a philosophy of education very similar to that of Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf education.
Dr. Suzuki stresses that it is more important for a child to strive to become a beautiful human being, than the most perfect musician. When a child is experiencing beautiful thoughts and feelings, he will produce beautiful music.
Steiner also felt that developing a child’s inner life to become a full human being, was more important than filling a child’s head full of knowledge.
In both methods, process is more important that product.
Another similarity in approaches is that both Suzuki and Steiner felt that being able to play music was the right of every human being–not just for those with “talent.” In Waldorf education, all students learn to play music, starting with a pentatonic wooden flute in first grade, graduating to a stringed instrument (usually violin or cello) by fourth grade, and, in some schools, brass or woodwind in the upper grades.
What is Different?
The primary disagreement between the two philosophies is about the age at which a child should begin music lessons.
Suzuki students sometimes begin violin lessons as early as age two or three. By contrast, students in a Waldorf school do not begin string instrument lessons until the age of nine or ten.
My personal feeling is that Suzuki, for many children, starts too early, and that Waldorf schools start too late. Based on my own observation and research, I have come to the opinion that the age of seven is a good time for most children to begin private music lessons.
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Seven is the ideal age for a child to begin formal, academic learning. The first seven years of a child’s life are a period of intense physical growth. After this period, all the energy that has been previously used to help the child body and organs to develop are now freed up for more cognitive learning.
A child of seven is better able to sit, focus and do desk work than a younger child. So it makes sense to be that a child over the age of seven would also be better able to focus on formal music lessons, and to practice.
It is unnatural for a child under seven to be asked to sit and practice an instrument daily, even if the practice sessions are short and playful. Children under seven need to be moving, playing and engaging their imaginations without the pressure of practicing, or even worse, performing and feeling the need to please others.
Deciding for Yourself
I recommend waiting until a child starts showing an interest in learning to play an instrument before offering private music lessons. Children are more likely to be motivated when there is a genuine interest. For most children, this rarely occurs before the age of 5-7.
Of course, there are some children who are musically gifted, and may prove to be prodigious musical students. If your younger child is insistent on learning a particular instrument, listen to them and take advantage of her interest!
If you do decide to pursue musical instruction for a child under age seven, I strongly suggest you find a Suzuki teacher who, like Waldorf teachers, will teach out of imitation, use repetition, and present lessons in a playful, imaginative way.
How Can I Encourage My Child’s Love of Music?
The most important thing a parent can do for a young child at home is to expose them to lots of music, especially the human voice. Sing with them and to them all the time–even if you think you can’t. Your child will not be critical, and will appreciate your effort more than you can imagine.
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It is also important for children to hear live music being played. In this way they will learn that music is something that human beings make, and are not just sounds that come out of an electronic box.
Research indicates that listening to music early in life is what develops a child’s musical ear. So no matter if or when a child starts lessons, having been exposed to many types of music and tonalities early in life will develop his ear and make it easier to learn to play an instrument later.
Sera Jane Smolen, Ph.D., a cellist who has taught music in a Waldorf school and wrote a thesis comparing Waldorf and Suzuki, told me that no world-class musician (think, Yo Yo Ma or Emanuel Ax) ever started lessons later than the age of five. This statement may give you pause. But then she asked me, “Is our goal to raise world-class musicians, or Martin Luther Kings?”
Do you want to produce a prodigy, or do you want to nurture a love of music in a child who may fulfill Dr. Suzuki’s vision of bringing world peace through music?
Are your children taking music lessons? What instrument, and at what age did they start?
My daughter began private violin lessons at age four and has really thrived on the challenges presented with each new piece. Her instructor is fabulous and has devoted a portion of each week’s lesson to training me, as well. Learning to play violin as an adult alongside my child is such a blessing!
While we absolutely want to instill a love of music in our children, we also recognize the incredible blessing that well-nurtured musical talent can become for them as they reach young adulthood. Many Suzuki musicians become paid professionals at the same time their peers are flipping burgers. We are so glad we honored our daughter’s request to begin training while her interest was fresh!
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My daughter watched the music-teaching DVD Trebellina as a toddler (it is designed for ages 1-4). By three years old, she was taking formal lessons and her teachers were amazed at what she already knew — how to read written music. Now she is four and playing songs and scales beautifully. Most importantly, she loves the piano and NEVER has to be told to sit and practice!
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Timely post for me! We were just discussing music lessons with a family member this weekend. Thank you for these thoughts!
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My children took lessons at different ages according to interest. I wish I had started them earlier, but finding a teacher who will start very early in our small town is almost impossible. My two oldest, a daughter and son, took recorder lessons from a friend and learned to read music when they were 8 and 6. My daughter was 9 when she started taking piano lessons. (You had to be in 4th grade for this teacher.) My son began guitar lessons at 10 because he didn’t express an interest until then. (This son, now 19, teaches himself complicated piano pieces by listening and watching videos.) My youngest son began violin lessons in the fall when he was 8 at my request. His teacher came from a family of musicians, started taking violin lessons when she was three and teaches her students with the Suzuki method. I love that my youngest could play a piece of music he recognized and feel that sense of accomplishment so soon after picking up the instrument.
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I started piano lessons when I was seven. It worked out well for me. I’m not naturally gifted, but I took lessons for 10 or so years and can still play and read music at the Intermediate level today even though I hardly ever practice anymore. It definitely improved my hand-eye coordination and my ability to type, too. I’m hoping to teach my sons to read music and play the piano starting at around the same age.
Every kid is different, but I found that trying music lessons during the critical “learn to read” stage didn’t work. Age 7 sounds good to me OR sometime after they have made the developmental jump of sorting out words on paper. All my kids at any age have a plethora of musical instruments to march and dance with, listen to all kinds of music, toddlers participate in Kindermusik, generally get a good dose of music appreciation, have access to “play” a piano. Exposure is a good thing before formal lessons.
A wise old friend of mine said she really regretted starting her older kids so young at everything and with her younger kids she really waited until they were desperate to do something before she began.
We start our kids with “their” instrument at nine… It wasn’t a random number, it was chosen for the time when my kids are able to sit and read alone, or research something on their own or persevere at something on their own… without too much input. We want our kids to have the gift of a musical instrument with out the pressure and the dragging of an adult pulling them along. Most of their friends start long before, often because they mentioned that they thought it would be nice to play said instrument… parents dash out and get lessons and very soon the whim has passed. The child then gives up or is “encouraged” daily and really the parents are dragging them through the music lessons playing via their kids.
It was really important for us that our kids were self-motivated in a world where “everything a child does is for a future career,” can’t some things be for fun!!! If it turns into a career then fine, but if they don’t love it they will never be able to stick at it enough to make a career of it anyway!!!
Nine-ish has really worked for us… by the time our kids are nine they are eager and chomping at the bit, they are so ready to be learning their instrument and can’t wait to practice everyday and absolutely no sign of giving up!!! So far we have a trumpeter, saxophonist and a violinist… We are working on an orchestra to play for us in our old age!!!
My first daughter started at age four with Suzuki violin, and then with my second daughter I waited until age six–I was amazed how much easier it went 2nd time around. Of course, daughter #2 had the benefit of having listened to big sister’s cd for the last four years. I have three boys to start on an instrument . . . definitely waiting until age seven with each of them. I think it is important to remember the work involved. Often my girls do not want to practice and we must deal with yucky attitudes, but I just approach it like I would math or reading. “This is part of your education that Daddy and I think important. If you want to have any degree of success you must start when you are a child and work at it.” Practice IS work and sometimes tedious, but great for character building. ;o)
I started learning to play the organ from the age of 10. I think playing at young age develops the children.
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We have begun when each child was desperate for it. For our middle daughter that was 6 on piano and for our son that was 12 on electric guitar. Our youngest (currently 6) receives a tiny bit of informal instruction from her big sis as she is interested but she is clearly not ready for formal lessons. My daughter who plays piano began with a program called “Simply Music” which teaches students to play by memorization- classical pieces, jazz/blues, and so forth, and the learning happens in a small group setting of four students and their parents. I recommend this type of start for very young students. We have We refuse to fight with kids over practice and have never had to as it is their choice to play; we are simply the support system 🙂 My middle daughter (currently 11) really wants to begin a second instrument and we have made her wait for her twelth birthday; partly for finances and partly because we felt that she needed to demonstrate that she could handle all the activity already in her life. My two oldest kids also have joined a youth band this year – Christian rock music, mostly. I come from a family of loud musicians so enjoy it all!
Want to mention, too, that from a young age we’ve always had some instruments around – drums from Africa/India and other smaller choices so kids were free to experiment.
My son started Kindermusik classes as an infant. He started Music Together as a toddler. He started group piano at four but advanced quicker than his class (and me) and began private piano (finding a tutor was difficult at that age) at five. He has had private piano lessons since and he’s eleven. He began violin (his choice) at ten because he wanted to add a new instrument. He is finishing up 4th level music theory. He has had a private music theory tutor for almost two years. He has always loved classical music but plays a variety of styles depending on what is assigned. Neither his father or I play any musical instruments but many relatives are musicians. I believe the enjoyment of music can begin at the gate and I’m very grateful to both Kindermusik and Music Together for the joy they brought to those early years. I see no reason to wait until “x” age if the child shows an interest and enjoys the process of learning. The only requirement we’ve ever had as parents is that if there is no interest in practicing then we are unwilling to pay for the lessons. We are a homeschooling family and the choice to play an instrument has always belonged to my son.
I grew up learning the Suzuki method of playing the violin beginning at age 9 – I loved it, I begged to have lessons and always enjoyed practicing. I grew up and played the violin through my college years. My issue was that I never learned to read music well – I have great tone and can hear something and play it, but I am terrible at reading music. I would buy the music ahead of time and learn the song before playing it in class.
Now, a decade later, I just started violin lessons with my 6 year old who is eager to learn the violin too (we are using Suzuki), any ideas on eventually moving him beyond so he can have a solid foundation in reading music on his own?
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The issue of Suzuki-trained students sometimes having difficulty reading music is one that a lot of people talk about. I was Suzuki trained (piano) from age 4 and my reading skills to this day are not wonderful.
Now as my daughter has been playing for two years (also Suzuki piano) I have seen a difference in teaching styles. Our current teacher emphasizes reading and is already working on sight reading with my 5-year-old. Granted, these are simple lines with steps and skips, but the concept of reading note patterns/intervals, keeping eyes on the music, looking ahead, and not playing something by ear is there. I think introducing actual reading early on, and continuing to make it a part of regular practice, will make a world of difference.
As a piano teacher I have found that there isn’t much that a very young student learns at lessons that a seven or eight year old won’t pick up within 6 months. Music apreciation is what’s important in the young years.
We just started Suzuki violin lessons. My oldest 5 has been asking for violin lessons for about 2 years now. She is loving every min and asks to practice, but she loves to learn and has always had a long attention span (she was doing 100 piece puzzles at 2 1/2). My middle daughter is loving it also, but in a different way. She doesn’t always want to practice, so I don’t make her. She learns more by watching and will surprise me that she will improve even if she didn’t practice much.
There are many reasons I choose to start my kids earlier. Three things are.
First I tell everyone to read the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s not about your natural talents as much as it is the time you spend on it. Starting young will mean by the time they are in their teens they will be much better than those who started later. I don’t expect my kids to be concert musicians, but I think its a great idea for teenagers to have something they are good at. It’s great for self esteem.
Second, I like the public presentation experience they get. Most, not all, kids love to stand in front of a small group and have their moment of fame. This disappears as kids get older and as they get more self conscience. I like that they stand in front of people and play their songs. Our teacher even has the newest students sing songs, say a nursery rhyme or quote a scripture until they are able to play. I have asked older students if they still are nervous about standing in front of a group. Most of them say yes, but they have learned how to compose themselves. The ability to speak in a group will help them in school, college, interviewing, jobs and more.
Third – parent bonding. I work full time and find that the evenings go SO fast and I don’t always spend quality time with them. Violin lessons have made me schedule fun quality time with them. We laugh, tickle, play, joke, and dance together. If they are not in the mood to practice we still use that time to play. I LOVE it and feel closer to my little girls than I have for a while.
Bottom line is that you do what works for your family. This works for us.
This advice helps me to slow down a little. My daughter is only two and a half and I’ve just been so excited to get her started with music. But I know she has plenty of time. I’d hate to force her into something and make her hate it from the beginning!
My girls are three and love music. I have rhythm instruments for the kids and we will “play” and march to different beats. We also sing all the time (even though I really can’t hold a tune LOL) I also played and instrument, as did my husband, throughout my school years and so we will pull out the old instruments from time to time and play tunes for the kids. Right now exposure to music and rhythms is our focus. I plan on enrolling them in an instrumental program of some type when they are around 8 or 9. I will require they complete 2 years of music lessons and learn to read music as part of their education requirement (mine not mandated by the state or anything) because I feel it is important for a well rounded education. After two years they can decide to continue or drop it.
Such intersting post to discuss.My daugher started to learn play piano when she was 5 years old.Until now,she is 10 years old and can play piano skillfully.I’m proud of her so much
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Very interesting post. Knowing what I do about Waldorf education (a decent bit) and what I know about the Suzuki music approach (almost nothing), I would have guessed they were strongly in contrast to each other. I actually had no idea that Suzuki starts with playing music long before reading music. I think this is brilliant. I assumed they taught the students to read music from the get-go, and since I love the rules about no early academics in Waldorf education, I never even considered Suzuki. Now I’m very intrigued and will have to read more about it.
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I grew up in a Suzuki family (30 years ago!). The method has a lot of very positive points and Dr. Suzuki truly had the noblest of intentions (creating a beautiful person). Nonetheless, I have to agree with Emily’s comment that the years before 7, often amount to little “learning” and really the exposure to music and learning to love it are probably more important.
Just a word of warning from what I experienced and observed in my childhood home: the Suzuki method requires lots of parental involvement (obviously at such a young age) and in our family it became very much my mother’s “thing” and it wasn’t the children’s desires or dreams that were important. From instrument choice to length and time of practicing, it was all determined by my mother. My sister even commented once that every time she performed well she was left with the feeling that it was my mother’s success, not her own. Please, please let your children guide the decisions surrounding music lessons and if you wish that you had had the opportunity to learn an instrument, then carve out the time and take lessons yourself. Your children will see the joy (and potentially struggles too!) that you experience and that will be far more motivating to them than any choices you make in their place!
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My baby daughter is only 6 months old, so we definitely haven’t started any formal lessons yet! But I do sing to her all the time, and I let her bang the keys on our keyboard. Sometimes I’ll play for her, too.
I had a wonderful piano teacher when I was a girl. He let me enjoy playing by ear and improvising, as well as giving me more formal training. I love the idea of letting your children first learn to play by ear. There’s a lot of joy in it.
Now I live overseas, and I really think my musical training has helped me with language acquisition. The way music trained my ear has helped me pick up the Chinese language more quickly.
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This is so funny! I’m just in the process of beginning music lessons for my kids. I started piano when I was four using the Yamaha method. I went on to also play cello and was a music major in college for a while. I think that if I had switched from a piano major to cello, I would have stayed with it – while I love to play the piano, I much preferred performing on the cello with an orchestra.
As someone with so much musical background, you’d think I’d have gotten my kids going earlier. But my oldest is 10 and my middle is 7. I’m going to wait for my 5 year old. They all enjoy playing on the piano (I have a piano is easy book, so they’ve learned to play some songs with numbers) and I think music literacy is so important, whether kids are “good” at it or not.
Thanks for the timely post!
My youngest who is now 6yrs plays the trumpet. We had no idea he could until we went to an Arts and Crafts open house and a trained musician who plays in a Philharmonic band asked the kids if they wanted to try blowing in the trumpet and french horn. They all tried but, the lil guy nailed it & has been taking lessons ever since. He loves it and we didn’t know that kids do not start that instrument until they are in the 5th grade. My nephew plays the same instrument & he’s in the 5th grade.
I also have a child who plays the violin,2 of them play guitars we have an organ in the house and many instruments for them to play . They love it and their ages range from 11 to 6 years of age. To me it doesn’t matter the age just if the child is willing to work at playing and learning to be the best that they can be and enjoy it and not complain that they have to practice. Because then it becomes a chore and music shouldn’t be seen as a chore but, something you can enjoy and bring a smile to your face and other people.
My husband is a drum teacher and he actually teaches kids from the age of 3!!!! It’s amazing to watch those kids and how fast they learn!!!!!!!!!
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There haven’t been too many “children’s” perspectives in these comments yet. Here’s mine: I started Suzuki violin lessons at 7 (I’m 29 now) because I had been given my grandmother’s child sized violin and wanted to explore it. My family had no idea that we were “late” starters for Suzuki and we jumped in with enthusiasm. For me, starting at 7 gave me the extra discipline and coordination to quickly leapfrog my fellow beginners who were 3, 4 and 5 years old. I spent about 6 months working through material and technique they were working on for years. Soon I was playing in groups with my peers. In retrospect it was a good age to begin. By late elementary school I was playing with a junior high orchestra and ended up first chair in an orchestra with a regional reputation. (I did tend to fall back on the Suzuki crutch of hear-then-play rather than reading music, even in orchestras – a problem that Suzuki himself never addressed because his system is meant to be studied in conjunction with public school music education which teaches sight reading and theory.)
On the other hand, my little sister was six years younger and grew up surrounded by Suzuki culture. She came along and played quietly in the corner during my private lessons and group workshops and even family summer camp … soon she wanted to play as well. Her first monkey-see, monkey-do impulse was to play the violin like I did. She started at 3 with an “instrument” made from a crackerjack box and paint stick, practicing rest position and playing position and singing the early Suzuki repertoire to herself as she “played”. She found her real instrument – piano – at 4 and studied both for a few years before focusing entirely on that. No one decided for her when to begin playing music (although my parents did regulate practice times once she decided she wanted lessons); she chose her own age to begin studying Suzuki.
I did not keep playing in any formal capacity when I went to college – I didn’t want to be a music major and the university I chose had room for majors only in its groups. But I still play for myself and have hundreds of songs ready in my fingertips which can be cued up by humming a few bars.
Re: Jen T. Its true that some Suzuki parents can take enforced practice too far – I’ve seen draconian schedules, shameless bribery with candy, toys or money, and even yelling at Suzuki camps over the years. But, at its best, the method casts parents as encouraging not authoritarian – keeping their kids focused and enthusiastic and helping them practice toward perfection rather than just reinforcing bad habits. I don’t know if my children will want to study Suzuki but, if they show any enthusiasm for it, I will back them every step of the way. (And I’ll certainly stack the deck a little with lots of music (Suzuki and otherwise) in the house as they grow up.
Timely post. My daughter will start piano lessons in the fall at age 5 with her former Kindermusik teacher. During Kindermusik class, I spoke to the teacher about when she’d recommend lessons start. She said she had done them as young as three and they made progress, but it was slow. In her opinion, children should begin piano around the age they start to read and write-usually 5-7years. She said if a child was able to sit to learn to read and write, they usually had the patience and concentration to try piano. That made sense to me, so we’re going to give it a go. Both the teacher and I are perfectly fine with stopping lessons for a few months if it seems we started too soon.
Sarah, you may remember me as the former editor of Simple Organic. I am a music educator by degree and experience, and currently teach early childhood music classes through the wonderful Musikgarten curriculum. I would recommend Musikgarten to any parents looking for musical experiences for their young children. The similarities to Suzuki & Waldorf are many: being taught to sing (and later play) by ear, using real music (as opposed to musical twaddle), the use of beautiful, high-quality age-appropriate instruments, an emphasis on movement & listening (as opposed to visual stimulation), and the emphasis on the joy of being part of a musical experience (as opposed to performance). Musikgarten curriculum is focused on ages birth-age 9; from ages 5 and up we offer group piano classes. As a music educator I highly recommend it; I chose to train and teach through Musikgarten (instead of other early childhood music companies) because it really is superior to the others: much more developmentally appropriate with higher-quality offerings, and much less about marketing and performance. Please check it out and recommend it to your parents who ask! Musikgarten.org. 🙂 Thanks, Sarah!
Thank you! This is a timely question for us and I really appreciative your perspective and am enjoying all the comments, specially from the “Suzuki children.” Thank you everyone!
You are missing so many important facets! There are so many advantages of starting music very early. A main one is training the ears to music. Just like learning a Foreign Language, younger children can tune their ears to music and pick it up much faster than adults. By the age of 7 or even 5 sometimes, the majority of the neurons in the brain have grown and then it is too late for many to learn to distinguish many of the very small differences. My daughter started taking piano at age 3 and violin at age 5 with Danny (n your picture). She LOVES music now and people can hum any tune and she can now play it on the violin or piano. She is not a prodigy. She has just been taught to love music and she was taught early enough so that it became a part of her life and who she is. She is very imaginative and loves to play. Practice has not been forced upon her and her childhood is extremely magical and wonderful. Music is a part of her wonderful, magical life and if I had waited until she was 7, it very well might have been too late!
My dd started Suzuki violin at 3yo. She asked to learn to play violin at 2.5yo. She progressed very quickly and has always loved to practice.
I have heard often that kids who begin lessons later progress more quickly but this hasn’t been my experience. At 8yo my dd began participating in an orchestra with kids many years older than her, average ages 11-14yo, and dd is in 1st violins on the 2nd stand. Some of these kids are Suzuki kids who started very young and others are traditional violin students who started later. She learned to read music quickly and well when it was introduced a couple years ago but I will admit that once she’s heard something, whether she’s read and played it or listened to someone else play it, she knows it and is rarely using the music anymore.
I think there are many benefits to starting young.
My dd does not remember when she didn’t play violin. Daily practice is just something she does like brushing her teeth or getting dressed. She doesn’t complain about practicing and will tell me she needs to practice if we haven’t gotten to it by a certain time of day. Practice wasn’t something we had to fit into our day because it has always been there.
This habit of practice and knowing that “we practice to make it easier” has given her the knowledge that she can learn just about anything with practice. This has translated into working to learn how to do math, headstands, pogo stick, etc… She has an incredible work ethic and persistence.
She has an amazing ear. One could question if she was born with it or if it was trained into her. She was a child who sang in tune around her 1st birthday so it may be an inborn thing but I am sure it was made better with early violin training. I have read studies that say kids who begin Suzuki type training at 3-4yo have a higher incidence of perfect pitch…whether or not those studies or their results are valid, I don’t know.
I treasure the relationship we’ve built and all the time we’ve spent together helping her learn to play violin. Starting very young, she was able to learn all those “pre-“skills through games that I think an older child might have found boring or silly. She equates violin with fun rather than work. I learned to break every skill into smaller, more easily accomplished tasks because I had to when she was very little and that has translated into more focused practice now that she is getting older. She is getting very good at picking out the difficult passages in a piece and playing them over and over until they are easy.
Because she began young, she got onto a stage to bow and show a bow hold for her very 1st “concert,” she has no fear or nervousness getting up in front of people to play or talk.
Lastly, beginning early helped deal with her perfectionism. When she was very young, she balked at anything that might take more than one try to get correct. Through the games we played during practice and my encouragement to have fun with her violin, she has learned that it is okay to make mistakes and that sometimes those mistakes sound pretty neat. She now has no problem trying things and enjoys composing her own music and improvising a lot especially when fiddling.
One thing I would mention is that you should take note as soon as your child starts to take an interest and work with that interest at a level they are happy and able to deal with.
The thing you need to be careful with is at what point you should start to formalise lessons as when you formalise something with a child it can become less fun. Each child is different, get a feel for them and what they can handle!
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Generally get a good dose of music appreciation, have access to “play” a piano. Exposure is a good thing before formal lessons.
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More important is to develop a child’s inner life to become a full human being, rather than filling a child’s head full of knowledge.
Some really thoughtful comments on here. I definitely believe it’s important to start encouraging musical development at an early age. Like you mentioned in the article, it’s important that the child show an interest in music so that experience is a positive one.
As far as formal study of an individual instruments goes, I think the age can really vary. For example, 5 might be an appropriate age for beginning piano, but instructors I work with agree it is too young for beginning voice lessons. Physical development plays a huge role. This website offers some suggestions as far as beginning private lessons.
This was a beautiful post. My thoughts on your question:
“Do you want to produce a prodigy, or do you want to nurture a love of music in a child who may fulfill Dr. Suzuki’s vision of bringing world peace through music?”
I see music, especially in early childhood, as a dialogue where the child is still learning the vocabulary… but where the heart of it, the emotional content, is just as real for him as for his co-communicator. And I share your Waldorf perspective of heart before hands, of meaning before symbol. What I’ve practiced in my years of teaching music for babies to age five unifies all of that by enabling more listening and more informed patter / babble / movement conversation in music between parents and children, so that whether the child becomes a world-renowned professional in music or not, he is a competent musick-er who can understand and engage with music with his whole person.
The research and best practices I’m familiar with, concerning the right age to start formal instrumental music lessons, come from Dr. Edwin Gordon. He details three types and seven stages of “preparatory audiation” going from birth to age 5, before which formal instrument training doesn’t demonstrably help children learn music. They’re in the music equivalent of language babble. Just as we would find it ridiculous and even cruel to force children to read and write advanced literature before they can speak clearly, it’s not kind or helpful to demand that they learn formal instruments while they are still in ‘music babble.’
Which doesn’t mean nothing is to be done – in fact, there are very focused and demonstrably helpful kinds of informal instruction for these ‘babble’ stages in music. And they’re actually playful and fun to do, in my experience, when you’re doing them right!
Dr. Gordon’s research also points to a stabilization of music aptitude around age 9, which happens to also be a time when socio-emotional and literacy learning stabilize in a wonderful way that makes learning instruments easier for everyone (teachers and children).
I admire the way you stood up for your child and engaged in this process so early – thanks for sharing!
It is really interesting that there are so many different opinions on when your children should start taking music lessons. I think that this is something that can be different for everyone. Some kids might be more ready to start at an earlier age than others. However, I think that music is a great way to help kids learn quickly and develop skills early on.
It is a great idea to provide music lessons to children. It helps to refresh their mind and help to increase their creativity but one thing you must take into account, do not force your child to take music lessons. It won’t bring anything good.
We started my now 16 year old son on piano when he was almost six. He did OK but was not overly thrilled about it. However, we had various sizes of guitars in the house since he was three and he kept playing with those. We eventually let him drop piano and focus on guitar which pleased him greatly. Today he volunteerily sits at the piano and plunks out a few chords. He plays guitar wonderfully and even knows his way around a violin and is learning trumpet. He also spent six years in a traveling boys choir.
My now 9 year old daughter began begging to play violin a few months shy of her third birthday so my husband and I gave her a four month trial rental of a tiny violin. She has always treat the instruments with the utmost respect. In fact she calls her violin her best friend. Today she plays in the third of 7 levels of the local youth symphony, plays flute and bsings in a girls choir. She is also taking piano lessons.
My belief is to let the child lead. We didn’t give our son a choice at the age of five; we followed conventional wisdom that piano first and piano early is the best. If I had listened to my son’s desires from the start we would have far fewer tears and perhaps a more accomplished piano player. Inlet my daughter lead and have a daughter completely in love with music.
I recommend you to also read about Rolland and the Music Learning Theory of E. E. Gordon. Very interesting.
The “instrumental training” as we understand as formal is associated to reading, that’s why seven is the age to begin with, but before that there’s a world of knowledge that you cannot let it pass away.
Very helpfull thanks for sharing
Samuel T. Cummins
Thank you for this article. Music has meant the world to me both as a kid and as an adult. Now that I’m a dad, I’ve been trying to foster a love of music in my own children. So this is relly helpful. Me and my wife always consider that music is critical to the overall development of children !! Thanks again foe informative article..
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My family try to help our daughter start with piano when she is 10. By age 10, the child will have a variety of skills associated with their instrument of choice. They’ll also have the physical strength to try a different, bigger instrument, such as a brass or large string instrument that requires a higher level of strength and stamina. Around this time, the goal of lessons appropriately transitions from gaining experience with music to improving performance ability.
It’s interesting that the Suzuki learning style will have children starting at the age of 2 or 3. I also like the point about how speech precedes reading, so playing will come before reading music. My daughter is very interested in learning to play an instrument. We’re thinking about maybe renting her something first to see if she likes it.
Hello,My belief is to let the child lead. We didn’t give our son a choice at the age of five; we followed conventional wisdom that piano first and piano early is the best. If I had listened to my son’s desires from the start we would have far fewer tears and perhaps a more accomplished piano player. Inlet my daughter lead and have a daughter completely in love with music.
We have 4 children and each of them showed interest in playing the piano “like Dad” and their older siblings, in some cases, at around age 5. My husband is a piano teacher and he has seen some kids ready for lessons as early as 3 or 4, but that is rare. Most of the time he recommends that kids start between 5-7, depending on their attention span. Let’s Play Music is a great program that we discovered too late for our kids, but it is a great preschool age music program just to introduce rhythm, movement and dance. I think I would have enrolled them in those classes had they been available. The thing that has helped our kids learn faster and enjoy learning to play piano more is technology! It is a huge part of their education in nearly every other area, and it’s the platform they are used too. We use Piano Marvel along with a private teacher and they are thriving!
What an intersting perspective! As an elementary music teacher, I have my own reasons for when I suggest students should take private lessons. As a lesson teacher for young kids, I have different reasons, but they all ended up the same place as you. I agree that 7 is a good place to start. I usually suggest when the student can focus clearly for up to 10 minutes at a time. (Although this can disqualify some adults!)
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