Ah yes, that is the question. It is one that has been debated and discussed frequently by both parents and educators. We recently had an excellent guest blog entry on our site from our friend and local violin teacher Christine Goodner about pre-school children and music. I would highly recommend that you go back in our blog entries and read that article as well but I thought that I would throw in my two cents. Forty years ago the typical answer might have been 8 or 9 years old. The reasoning went that older children were more disciplined in their concentration, they were better readers (to able to read music), and they could handle a musical instrument better with larger hands and longer arms. Also, potential music students were often screened for ability and commitment. A musical education was considered serious stuff and you needed serious-minded students to approach it. Japanese music teacher extraordinaire Dr. Shin’ichi Suzuki set that caveat on its ear by developing a methodology to begin teaching children at a very early age. The tribute to his success is the vast number of Suzuki schools and teachers now active throughout the world. Violin is especially suitable to study by young children because of the availability of very small instruments designed for small hands. So the short answer is that you can begin your child’s musical education as early as 3 years old but should you?
I plan to do a series of articles about music and the brain as blog entries but I will only touch on that subject now. In the last thirty years there has been a tremendous amount of research in the area of music and how it affects mental ability especially in children. Virtually every study has shown that a musical education has a tremendous positive impact on cognitive functionality especially in children and it seems that the younger children begin the greater impact it has. Young children who study music show significant improvement in virtually every area of mental ability over children in non-musician control groups. Not only that, but there are also areas of social development that show marked improvement over the same control groups. Children who study music become better thinkers, better leaders and more self-confident. That statement is thoroughly supported by a wealth of data. Anti-social behavior and criminal activity among children taking music lessons are also greatly reduced. This is not to say that if your pre-teen or teenage child wants to study music you are too late to the party. The study of music will still have a very significant effect in all of these areas of development but starting early can maximize the benefits. I’ve listed some links to articles for further perusal below.
There are some things to consider when deciding at what age to start your child. Most kids are active at a young age but if your child is very hyper-active and can only sit still for a minute or two that might be a factor. Normally active young children need lessons and practice times geared to their disposition. A reward system should not be ruled out. Ultimately, we would like to see them self-motivated but a few perks to prime the pump can be beneficial. Also, I think that a child’s success as a music student is just as dependant on the parent’s attitude as it is on their own inclination. I know that I keep pounding on this nail but if a music education is viewed as little more than recreation for the child then the parent’s attitude will be comme ci comme ca. “If Johnny is enjoying himself, great, but we’ll have to see how it goes and if still he likes a couple months from now.” Imagine what would happen if we had that kind of passive attitude towards our child’s academics in school! Music is a joy but it is also important for our child’s development. We are not going to force children to continue playing when they have absolutely no interest or inclination towards playing music and actually hate it but this should be the exception not the rule and a fair trial should not be less than six months. Most children love the idea of playing and it is up to parents and teachers to nurture that desire and make music a joy. The question remains: how old should I start my child in music? My answer would be as soon as possible.
Some article links for further reading: