Not all children are cut out to start playing an instrument at age 3 or 4 or 10. In fact, I would argue that there are very few children who are ready at an early age. Some are never ready. As a music teacher, I am constantly asked whether a specific child is ready for a specific kind of lesson or performance in a group music ensemble.
Here are some things to consider:
How well do they follow directions?
If your child can listen well, concentrate for long enough to hear the directions/instruction and/or is able to follow directions, they might be ready to begin music lessons.
How well do they work in groups?
If your child works well in groups, they might be ready for performing with his/her voice or an instrument in an ensemble. Making good music with a group requires paying attention not only to what you are playing, but also to what others are playing and what the conductor is telling you to do.
There are some instruments that are good solo instruments. Guitar and piano are two examples. A child can sit at home or in his/her bedroom and work on skills for these two instruments without having to coordinate with anyone else. To determine if your child is ready for piano or guitar, keep reading.
How developed is their eye-hand coordination?
Playing an instrument requires following the music and/or a conductor while simultaneously manipulating their fingers, mouth and/or other appendages. It will be very frustrating for a child to have to look up at the music and/or the conductor AND manipulate their instrument if their eye-hand coordination is not developed. It is easy to lose your place when you are playing. Yes, playing an instrument can help increase their eye-hand coordination skills, but there must be some level of skill already developed.
Will they practice? Do they have time, motivation and willingness to practice?
If your kids are so involved in school and after school or extracurricular activities that they barely have time to sit down for a meal with the family or do their homework, it is not time to add music lessons to their schedule. Molly can not effectively practice the piano, the French horn or the tuba in the Suburban while you are waiting for Timmy to finish his soccer game.
If your kids are unwilling to practice, they will most likely fail to master the skills necessary to play an instrument well. You can MAKE your kids practice, but you can not make them like it. I find that if parents are making their kids play an instrument, it can breed bitterness and resentment. If they are motivated to practice without having to be nagged, reminded constantly or bribed, then they may be ready.
Can you afford it?
Music lessons can be expensive. You have to pay the teacher, but you also have to purchase and maintain an instrument (Your voice requires maintenance, too.), purchase music and perhaps other peripherals. Sometimes groups require participants to purchase matching uniforms. It can really add up. Consider the cost before you get involved.
This is the most important, in my opinion…
Do they WANT to learn this instrument/skill or do YOU want them to do it?
I can not tell you how many kids I have worked with whose parents are the ones I should be teaching. Just because YOU always wanted to play in band or orchestra, or because YOU grew up playing the piano does not mean it is right for your child. I think every child should participate in and be exposed to music in some way, but forcing them to learn an instrument against their will may just make things more difficult for you and them, both. Examine your motives and theirs and decide if this is right for both of you.
Here are some additional resources, perspectives and opinions on starting music lessons:
Taking music lessons or classes is a popular thing for kids to do. And there are so many reasons why it is good. Playing music with a group increases your awareness of others and helps form bonds with other individuals. Performing can boost a child’s self esteem as they master new skills and share them with others. As a child increases their abilities on an instrument, they can increase the likelihood of their instrument helping them get college scholarships.
If you are looking toward the future, but know your child is not yet ready, there are things you can do.
Some ideas to help them get ready:
Play a variety of music in the car, in the house, etc. This can be accomplished by tuning the radio to different stations, borrowing CDs (cassettes, 8-tracks, records, etc.) from the library or friends or purchasing them.
Go to music concerts. Many concerts are free or nearly free, especially in the summer. Again, choose a variety. Jazz, Big Band, classical, etc. (Be sure that if you are sitting close to the front at some venues, that you have brought appropriate ear protection!)
Watch concerts on PBS or other TV channels that are music-oriented. Borrow DVDs from friends or the library that talk about different kinds of music and instrument, play different kinds of music and instruments or showcase various musicians.
Let your kids mess around with instruments. Ask friends and family what instruments they have gathering dust in their closets. You might be surprised what you can find. Ask the friend/family member to give your child a brief instruction on how to “play” the instrument. Then, being careful to take good care of the instrument, let them experiment with it. Supervision is recommended!
Buy a good recorder (the music instrument) and a simple beginner’s book. This is almost always the first instrument kids are taught to play in the schools. It is simple to play and can teach basic music and rhythm concepts.
Sing! Sing to your kids. Sing with your kids. Encourage them to sing by themselves. Make up songs about various things. Write a song for them or write a new song together. Create a “family song”.
Even if you have no music talent, you can participate in music. You can learn to be a good listener and to appreciate good music. You can learn to discriminate between different genres of music, specific instruments and singers. Regardless of what kind of a “musician” you are or want your child to be, make an effort to make music a part of your life!