These guidelines will help you to have a successful and rewarding musical experience learning an instrument. We have discovered these practical tips through years of teaching and our experiences in sharing music with several families each year.
Adults can start any instrument at any time. Their success is based on how willing they are to commit to practicing. We teach many beginner students in their 60s and 70s. For children, starting at the right age is a key element to the success of their lessons. Some people will tell you, "the sooner the better". But this type of attitude can actually backfire and have a negative effect. If a child is put into lessons too soon they may feel overwhelmed and frustrated thus making them want to stop lessons. The last thing you want to do is turn a child off from music just because they had one unpleasant experience that could have been prevented from the beginning. Sometimes if the child waits a year to start lessons their progress can be much faster. Children who are older than the suggested earliest starting age usually do very well. The following are guidelines we have found to be successful in determining how young a child can start taking music lessons.
If a pre-schooler has a keen desire and wants to start music, a group pre-school music class will give them a good foundation in music basics which will be helpful in later private lessons. At this age, private lessons generally do not work as the child has not yet experienced the formal learning environment of kindergarten or school and learns more effectively through the game-oriented pre-school environment.
At our school, five years old is the youngest age that we start children in private piano lessons. At this age, they have begun to develop longer attention spans and can retain material with ease.
Seven years old is the earliest we recommend for guitar lessons. Guitar playing requires a fair amount of pressure on the fingertips from pressing on the strings. Children under seven generally have smaller hands and may find playing uncomfortable. Bass guitar students generally should be 10 years old or older.
Nine years old is recommended as the youngest age for private vocal lessons. Due to the physical nature of voice lessons (proper breathing techniques, development of the vocal cords and lung capacity), the younger body is generally not yet ready for the rigors of vocal technique. For children younger than nine, we would recommend singing in groups at church or in school.
The average age of our younger drum students is eight. This varies greatly depending on the size of the child. They have to be able to reach both the pedals and the cymbals.
We accept violin students from the age of five. Some teachers will start children as young as three, but experience has shown us the most productive learning occurs when the beginner is five or older.
As in all things, improvement in music takes practice. One of the main problems with studying an instrument is the drudgery of practicing and the fight between students and parents that ensues. Here are a few steps to make practicing easier:
Set the same time each day to practice so that it becomes a routine and habit. This is especially good for children but works for adults too. The earlier in the day that this happens the more likely the practicing will not be put off until tomorrow.
This method works quite well when setting practice schedules for beginners. For a younger person, 20 or 30 minutes may seem like an eternity. Therefore, instead of a time frame, we suggest repetition. For example say, “Play this song 2 times each day and this scale 3 times each day.” The child then does not pay attention to the amount of time they are practicing their instrument but knows they are on repetition number two and they are almost finished.
This works very well for both children and adult students. Some adults reward themselves with a cappuccino after a successful week of practicing. Parents can encourage children to practice by granting them occasional rewards for successful practicing. Praise tends to be the most coveted award—there is just no substitute for a pat on the back for a job well done. Sometimes we all have a week with little practicing. In that case, there is always next week.
Learning music is not just a matter of having a qualified teacher, but also having an environment that is focused on music education. In a professional school environment television, pets, ringing phones or siblings cannot distract the student. With only ½ to 1 hour of lesson time per week, a professional school environment can produce better results since the only focus at that time is learning music. Observing peers who are at different levels also motivates students in a music school environment. Also, in a music school, the lessons are not just a hobby or sideline for the teacher, but a responsibility that they take very seriously.
Group lessons work well for beginners to get exposed to an instrument and to let parents know the desired level and practice habits of the child. Band and similar situations obviously require a group. However, when actually learning how to play an instrument, private lessons are superior since the student has the undivided attention of the instructor. Also, the student can progress at his or her own pace, with extra time being spent on the individual student’s desires and weaknesses. The pressure of having to keep up with other students or the frustration of having to wait for other students who may not have even practiced their lesson can be very discouraging. With private lessons, progress is expedited and the student gets a customized lesson providing him with the knowledge he wants and needs.
And most importantly...
Music should be something that you enjoy for a lifetime. So, try not to put unrealistic expectations on yourself or your children to learn too quickly. Everyone learns at a different pace. The key is to be able to enjoy the journey.