Parents know that having their children involved in music at an early age has a ton of auxiliary benefits including improved math skills, language development, increased IQ, spatial-temporal skills, and better problem-solving ability. With these benefits, it is easy to understand why parents are eager to get their children involved in music education. However, it’s important to choose goals that are appropriate for your child’s age and level of development. As a music teacher, I get a lot of calls from parents who want to get piano or voice lessons for their child who isn’t ready yet. But just because your child isn’t ready for private lessons doesn’t mean they can’t start developing musical skills. Here’s a realistic guide for your child’s music education, from toddler teen.
Ages 6 Months-2 years
Music education should start at home. As a parent, you can do a lot to encourage growth in music, even before an instructor would be willing to work with your child. Listen to music together, move or dance to music to stimulate the basics of beat and rhythm, and always keep it fun and interesting. You can really start these introductory stages whenever you feel like it. Your one-year-old is most likely not going to be singing along to Elton John or busting a move to James Brown, but babies and toddlers are certainly able to benefit from a basic introduction.
By age three, children are ready for a slightly more advanced “lesson,” but this doesn’t mean that they should be thrust into your local music academy. There is still a lot that parents can do with their preschool-age children, even if you aren’t a musical genius. Studies have shown that children need to learn the elements of music one at a time before they can put it together in the form of playing a musical instrument. You can teach children to identify beat patterns and melodies by clapping and singing along to music together. You can also challenge your child name instruments that they hear. If you want to introduce your child to an instrument, I recommend starting with the piano. Piano is a great instrument for teaching the rudiments of music and it’s generally easier for children because it is all laid out right in front of them and they don’t have to hold anything. Play a simple, familiar melody on the keyboard and encourage your child to play it back to you. If your child doesn’t quite have the focus yet for an instrument, preschool music programs like Kindermusik or Music Together can be very beneficial.
Your child will be ready for more formalized lessons around five or six. Look for these developmental benchmarks: coloring inside the lines, reciting their ABCs, counting to ten, and be able to stay relatively focused on a single task for 20-30 minutes. Once they’re ready, the objective at this age should still be directed towards developing an understand and lifelong appreciation for music, not becoming the next Mozart. Your job as the parent at this point is to monitor and maintain a practice schedule, be willing to listen and provide encouragement, and keep it fun! Some good beginner instruments for this age group are the piano, violin, guitar, ukulele, and recorder. Pick an instrument that your child has expressed an interest in and encourage their passion. If your kid is interested in guitars, then find the best guitar for kids and an instructor who will motivate and inspire your child. Look for people who are flexible, responsive, and enthusiastic. You can find music teachers through companies like Taylor Robinson Music or at your local music store. The only thing to stay away from at this age is voice lessons: a child’s vocal cords aren’t developed enough to start one-on-one vocal lessons until they hit puberty. If your child loves to sing, look into signing them up for a youth choir at their school or church. Singing in a group helps develop ear, technique, and posture without putting too much stress on the child’s developing voice.
During the elementary school years, your child should be working on their instrument of choice by attending weekly lessons and practicing regularly. It is especially important at this stage to monitor your child’s practice habits and to help maintain their motivation. Lots of people have negative experiences with music lessons were when they were children, but music is not unique in this way. The same issues come up with sports, summer camp, school, or Scouts. If it isn’t fun for your children, it is just another forced activity. Make sure that you really take the time to listen, point out their progress, and encourage them along the way. One benchmark to look for: even if your child is dragging their heels and complaining on their way to the lesson, as long as they come out smiling and happy when it’s over, then it’s ultimately going to be a positive experience for them. If they’re miserable before and after, then you need to either look for a new teacher or a new activity.
By age ten, your child will start to develop a firm understanding of their instrument. This is when your child is ready to get creative and expand their musical knowledge. Encourage your child to join the middle school band or orchestra and start learning a more physically demanding brass instrument or string instrument. If your child loves to sing, this is when they will start being old enough for formal vocal lessons. Encourage them to compose their own music and perform, whether it be at open mic nights or on YouTube. Check out programs like Camp Jam or School of Rock to get them playing with other kids their age. This stage will continue throughout adulthood, so be sure to always be there with support and encouragement. Your child might want to pursue music professionally or academically, but if not, they will still have a lifelong appreciation of music.
This is meant to serve only as a rough guide for parents. Some three-year-olds are absolutely ready for formal piano or guitar lessons. At the same time, don’t be alarmed if your child doesn’t seem ready by five. Children all develop at different speeds, and we can’t change that. What we can do is encourage, listen and always try to make things fun!