There is no denying that playing a musical instrument has an invaluable amount of benefits. From physical and mental benefits such as stress relief and better concentration to emotional and spiritual benefits such as using the form of music as therapy and self-expression. But, sometimes, important questions come to mind, such as ‘What is the best age to learn to play an instrument?’
August 1st, 2018
Worry not. This article written by our founder Marcos Moscat will answer some, if not all, of those questions that come to mind when considering whether or not our children should take music lessons.
What is the best age to start learning an instrument?
For starters, there is no real answer to what might be the best age to start learning how to play an instrument. It is true that specific instruments might be easier to start with than others, but we have all heard of stories such as Mozart composing pieces in his harpsichord at the age of 5, and we have also seen videos on YouTube of child prodigies performing pieces way ahead of their time.
Before suggesting what might be the best age to start learning how to play an instrument, it is important to note that every child is different regarding their focus, concentration, personality, and passion for music. That being said, the BEST age to start learning is when you believe a child is ready for lessons. We have had 3-year-old students that do very well in one-on-one lessons, and we have had students that don’t feel entirely ready to start lessons until the age of 5 or 6.
Even though children can start learning an instrument from an early age, the introduction to music can start as soon as babies are born, bringing some benefits for their development as well as igniting the discovery process of their natural musical talent.
One thing to consider is that for young children (anywhere between 3 and 5), the learning process and material covered in lessons have a much slower pace than that of an older child. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the older the child, the better, it just means that the speed of advancement gets progressively faster as the child grows, which has proved to me that someone in their teenage years will learn at an incredible pace, faster than any other stage in someone’s lifespan.
Just like children, adults are also capable of learning an instrument regardless of their age, whether you have played an instrument before or not. A remarkable example of this is my ‘granny’ Pam Baker, whom I started teaching in her mid 70’s and now at the age of 85, she’s playing proficiently the piano, the classical guitar, and even composing and recording music on her computer.
What is the best instrument to learn at first?
I don’t feel there is a straight answer to this question either. We have all heard at some point that Piano is the best instrument to get started, but that is honestly relative to other factors such as age, size, and instrument of preference.
For the very young children (anywhere between 3-5), the piano is, without doubt, the most straightforward and most comprehensive instrument of all, since all keys are visible and playable from the get go and there is no room for error when it comes to getting ‘sound’ out of the instrument. It is entirely possible for a young child to learn how to play simple songs and melodies on the keys. Thus, making the piano the best instrument of excellence when it comes to playing music for the very first time. But as previously stated, there are other factors that one must consider when picking an instrument, and it all comes down to what is the instrument that the student is most interested in learning.
Drums, percussion, guitar, ukelele, violin, flute. These are all instruments that children can start learning from an early age thanks to their small scaled versions. Some of these instruments might be easier to learn than others (depending on individual physical capabilities). But when someone calls to enroll their child and asks what instrument do we recommend for beginners, it comes down to a straightforward answer: the instrument your child wants to learn.
Please note that this also applies to any adults looking to learn how to play an instrument for the very first time. Most adults have taken lessons at some point in their lives, and for some it is later in life that the desire to learn how to play an instrument becomes vibrant and exciting. Music is not something we need to learn at a specific age, it has no boundaries, and it is a universal language that defies all sorts of limits. It is never too late to learn an instrument, and just as it applies to children, adults can take on any instrument of their preference at any point in their lives.
How much time should I practice?
There is much debate about this question. For some, practicing is the key to improvement and for others, forcing a child to practice too much can kill the magic and excitement for learning an instrument. The answer, just like everything in life, is finding that balance between the two.
Practicing is undoubtedly vital to gradually improving when learning how to play a musical instrument; and with so many activities on our children’s schedules these days, it is hard sometimes to have an additional weekly routine. Nonetheless, just like we have responsibilities as adults, practicing a musical instrument can be penciled in like any other activity.
Once again, there is no straight answer to how much practice someone should do in between lessons. Should the practice be daily? If so, how long? Should I practice for one extended period or in smaller blocks of time?
The answer to these questions is to practice based on whatever works best for you or your child, as long as there is some practice time invested in between music classes so that the student can get the most out of the lessons. Practicing every day is always recommended, and quality of practice is still better than quantity, which based on the student’s age and schedule, practicing more often and for shorter periods of time can be more beneficial than practicing not so regularly and for longer periods of time.
When it comes to practice, one thing is certain. Practicing regularly and at a healthy pace will make you better at your instrument, and the better you get at your instrument, the more you’ll enjoy playing it. Also, let’s not forget that the best practice of all is to constantly listen to music.
What is the most effective learning approach?
Numerous methods can be used, such as Dalcroze, Kodály, Orff Schulwerk, Suzuki, Gordon’s, Conversational Solfege, Simply Music, MMCP, among others.
While all these methods have proved to be very successful when learning an instrument, most applicable to the piano, it is important to note that every student has different musical interests, physical abilities, concentration levels and most importantly, personalities. Because of this, every student will have a different perspective when learning music based on who they are.
For example, let’s assume that “Sofia” lives in a house where classical music, contemporary jazz, and some musical theater is played on a regular basis, thus making Sofia have a special connection and interest to music on these specific genres.
On the other spectrum, we have “Jack,” a boy who has been surrounded by classic rock, Blues and Film Scores. Therefore Jack has a special connection to these genres and specifically to some of his favorite movie themes.
If Jack and Sofia were about to start taking lessons for the very first time, and regardless of the instrument they would want to learn, one thing is sure, they have different taste in music. Additionally, Sofia loves cats, butterflies, the TV show ‘My Little Pony’ and she also enjoys horseback riding. On the other hand, Jack loves dinosaurs, Lego’s, the TV show ‘Ask the Storybots’ and he also enjoys playing soccer.
Learning through any of the methods stated above would work up to a certain extent for Sofia and Jack, and they could even become proficient on their instruments and eventually professional musicians if that’s what they desire by sticking through these methods, but will the learning process be fun? Will they enjoy practicing? Will they have a positive experience throughout their learning path? It is evident that there is a crucial factor missing if one were to teach Sofia and Jack using the same method. The fact that they have different interests calls for different approaches, and that is indeed the answer to this question.
Instructors will have a much better outcome when tailoring music lessons to each student based on their background, interests, and personalities, and students will enjoy lessons much more when they can use the power of their imagination. After all, kids are artistic by nature and full of creativity.
Music fundamentals such as notes, rests, accidentals, rhythms, scales, key signatures, intervals, chords and progressions, will be taught regardless of what base method is used, going through theory and practice materials, either through a Level based program or through a series of books such as the Faber, Alfred, Bastien or Thompson series when it comes to learning the piano, but it was my attempt to close that gap and bring that extra element tailored to each student which led me to create our method “Imagination is Creation”.
As an example, let’s say that both Sofia and Jack will be learning about the C major scale as well as learning some simple exercises using the notes in the key of C. Using a conventional form of teaching, an instructor would teach both Sofia and Jack by explaining what the C Major scale is and writing in a piece of paper “C Major Scale” along with the notes that correspond to the scale, followed by an exercise that we will call as an example “Exercise 5” which will consist in playing some basic notes from the C major scale.
Instead, what if we were to write for Sofia “The Butterfly Roller Coaster” (C major Scale) along with a simple drawing of a “Butterfly Roller Coaster” and right after “The Magical Rainbow Pony” (Exercise 5). And what if we were to write for Jack “Brontosaurus Water Slide” (C major Scale), including a simple drawing of the same title, followed by “Legoland Soccer Tournament” (Exercise 5).
The process of learning music has to be fun to be enjoyed, and by slightly adjusting each lesson to each child, the difference regarding focus and attention, interest, practice and progress from a student can be monumental. It just takes that little bit of fine-tuning to see the difference it makes when adding the imagination factor to the equation and the positive results it brings from both the instructor and student’s perspective.
If you are fascinated by this subject, or just curious to learn more we highly recommend you read a great article titled “How To Hit The Right Note When Introducing Music To Your Kids” published on Momlovesbest.com