Whether your child takes a music appreciation class or starts actual lessons, he/she’ll benefit mightily from being exposed to music. Kids can start formal music training as early as age 3, when brain circuits for learning music mature. In fact, studies at the University of California suggest that taking music lessons at age 3 can increase your child’s brainpower.
A study found that learning to play a musical instrument seems to strengthen the brain – with the biggest benefits found in those who began lessons while still very young. The researchers said: ‘Early musical training does more good for kids than just making it easier for them to enjoy music. It changes their brain and these brain changes could lead to cognitive advances as well. The Chinese researchers studied the brains of 48 men and women aged between 19 and 21. All had done at least a year of music practice, with some starting as young as three. Parts of the brain key to language, planning and time management appeared to be stronger in those who started younger.
There is a growing (and convincing) body of research that indicates a “window of opportunity” from birth to age nine for developing a musical sensibility within children. During this time, the mental structures and mechanisms associated with processing and understanding music are in the prime stages of development, making it of utmost importance to expose children in this age range to music. Special consideration must be given here to very young beginners: three to five-years old. Head Start programs and TV programs such as Sesame Street have taught us the advantage of early learning. Introductory structured learning may aid the preschool child in understanding basic concepts and simple reasoning processes. Early music lessons, in addition to teaching purely musical facts, will train the child in principles of reasoning which may be carried over into other learning experiences. Also, developmental sensory-motor skills assimilated through piano study will generally aid the child in coordination of small and large muscles (“A Parent’s Guide To Piano Lessons”, the author James W Bastien)
The important question then is not when to start lessons, but what is the goal of music lessons for young children? This is the question that we, at Sally Piano Music, ask all the parents once they start and during our services. For instance, very young children are not exposed to instruments in order to master them, but to gain experience and learn to develop meaningful relationships with music at a young age. If this is your goal, then the “lessons” can and should start soon after birth and certainly within the child’s first year. These “lessons” do not have to be very formal. A parent can serve as guide by immersing the child in a musical environment. You should help your child focus on the music with simple movement activities such as musical games, swaying or dancing while holding the baby, or singing or playing an instrument for the child. Once the child is around age three, it may be time for more formalized “lessons.” Again, the goal is not to learn to play an instrument but to further develop skills like identifying a beat in music, identifying melody, or identifying instruments. These parent-child lessons might be any number of preschool classes run by private individuals, universities, or community centers.
By age five, most children have built a foundation that has prepared them for formalized music lessons. Even now, the goal of the lessons is not to become a great performer on the instrument but to further the understanding of music. Piano and violin are the two most common instruments played at this age.
By age 10, the child will have a variety of skills associated with their instrument of choice. They’ll also have the physical strength to try a different, bigger instrument, such as a brass or large string instrument that requires a higher level of strength and stamina. Around this time, the goal of lessons appropriately transitions from gaining experience with music to improving performance ability.
Starting piano lessons before the age of seven may turbo-charge the brain. The researchers, from Beijing Normal University, said that some of the brain regions impacted by music develop rapidly early in life. Research released recently also revealed that music lessons aren’t wasted, with adults who hadn’t played an instrument since childhood benefiting from practice put in decades earlier. The US study showed that the more years those adults had spent practicing a musical instrument in their youth, the faster the cells in their brains responded to sound. Faster processing of sound should help keep hearing sharp into old age by making it easier to make out a conversation over background noise, or to hear clearly while talking on the phone.
In summary, there are three answers to the question, “What age should children begin music lessons?” Informal activities with music should start soon after birth, followed by more systematic classes around age three, and lessons with the goal of learning the instrument should start between six and nine. Keep in mind that these are only guidelines; exceptions will undoubtedly occur based on the child and/or teacher. Musical experience at an early age is extremely important in a child’s developmental process. Like riding a bike or learning a language, these skills can be learned later in life, but they will never be “natural” in the way that is so important for fluid musical performance.