Why begin music early?
Studies have shown that beginning regular music study early (ages 3-7) can have a significant impact on the development of brain plasticity, as well as auditory, sensory-motor, language-learning and memory skills. In addition, learning to play an instrument in the early years helps develop a host of critical life skills including focus, discipline, perseverance, teamwork, and a healthy parent-child relationship. An early start with music is as much about developing good habits and abilities for success, as it is about developing technical facility with an instrument.
The benefits of music study come with instruments of many shapes and forms. Early years instruction is commonly offered for instruments like piano, violin, cello, guitar, recorder and flute through the Suzuki Method, private lessons or an appreciation class. Before beginning formal music lessons, provide your child with opportunities to experience and be fascinated by a variety of musical instruments and sounds. There are fantastic family concerts and events all around which introduce children to the world of music.
Sometimes a child will show an affinity for and choose a particular instrument early on, or sometimes a parent will select an instrument for pragmatic reasons. My parents chose that my siblings and I would begin our musical foundation with piano and were given the opportunity to choose our “own” instrument after a few years. Regardless of the instrument or who initially selects it, it’s more important how you approach the day-to-day musical process together.
Are you and your child ready?
Every child is unique, and many factors help determine the best time to start regular music lessons.
The Suzuki Method is based on the idea that children can learn to play an instrument in the same way they learn their native language, with children typically beginning between ages 3-7. Select a teacher who is experienced with early years instruction. The best way to gauge your own child’s readiness is to observe several other students’ lessons of a similar age, or have a sample lesson with a prospective teacher.
It is important to consider how much time you and your child will be able to commit to music study. Will you and your child be able to commit at least 15 minutes of quality time, energy and attention to practicing together each day, in addition to a weekly lesson, including travel? Group classes are a regular part of the Suzuki Method as well, and provide some of the most rewarding and inspiring musical experiences for children.
Development of focus and creativity are two of the greatest benefits of studying music. However, downtime is also crucial for a child’s development. Is there enough unstructured time in your child’s schedule to assimilate all the new information being provided? Is there enough time for creative, self-directed, non-electronic playtime? Without allowing the space and time for your child’s brain to process this new information, adding another activity, no matter how potentially valuable, could be counterproductive.
Make a good decision and stick with it.
There are a lot of great benefits waiting when you’re committed to helping your child study music. Regardless of who selects the instrument initially, just as a parent decides it’s in their child’s best interest to go to school everyday and enforces that decision, the long-term benefits of music study also warrant parental support. If need be, wait at least six months to a year before re-evaluating the commitment, considering whether it is the right time, right teacher or right instrument for your child? An adult has a better perspective on all the child can achieve and enjoy musically through persevering for a longer time.
In order to reap the full benefits, it is important that music study be done in a committed, age-appropriate way with realistic expectations, allowing enough time and energy to make it a sustainable activity that enriches your lives.