The short answer is no. The long answer is maybe, and I’ll explain why.
There is no age too early for musical learning (our brains are equipped to start learning music from birth), but that learning should be developmentally appropriate. Because children develop at different rates, there is no magic age to start music lessons. There are three- to four-year-olds that begin violin lessons and do extremely well. That doesn’t make it necessarily a good idea for your three- or four-year-old.
If you have dreams of your child becoming a piano prodigy, you’re going to have to put that on the backburner, because the chances of that are pretty small. However, if you envision your child taking piano lessons and coming to love music because of it, that is a much more manageable goal. That is also a goal that you can reasonably start on from birth. There are some practical ways that you can make that happen.
First of all, you are your child’s primary music teacher. If you want them to begin learning an instrument early, you have to be able to teach them. That may mean that you get lessons in whatever instrument you want your child to learn, perhaps years before they start. When they begin lessons, you will have to go with them. You will need to practice with them.
When you decide that they will start lessons, be careful about the teacher that you choose. You may think that the concertmaster of the so-and-so philharmonic that also teaches lessons is the way to go, but if that musician isn’t equipped to deal with younger students, it may not be your best choice. Find a teacher who specializes in teaching young students and your little one will be more successful.
Choose a beginning instrument. For many that is piano or violin because they are accessible to even the smallest students. Let the child get used to the instrument before beginning lessons. You want them to be excited about it before they start the hard work of actually learning the instrument. Also, be aware that the instrument that they start with may not be the instrument that they will want to play for the rest of their lives. Your child may begin violin lesson at 4, but when she gets to fourth grade, want to play trumpet in the band. You’ll have to be ok with this. After all, she’s still playing music, right?
Accept that it may be slow-going at first. Your child may just hold the instrument while you play and sing the song you are learning. They may only play a few strings or a few notes. You are going to have to find a balance between being a strict motivator and a gentle encourager. While part of this balance is to find your style of parenting/teaching, you also need to find which balance works for your children.
Each of your children may have different needs. One child may be self-motivated and find her own time to practice regularly without being told, another may need a more regimented practice schedule in order to stay on top of her assigned lessons. If you are too strict with the very self-motivated student, you may stifle her natural urge to practice and take the fun out of noodling on her instrument in peace. If you are too hands-off with your other (and I won’t say lazy, but maybe less diligent) child, they won’t get the push they need to discover how much they love playing. If you discover the best motivation style for your child, be sure to share that with your teacher, she can use that knowledge to help your child progress.
No matter the age, make music fun! Music is supposed to be a joyous, social experience; explore group classes, go to concerts, let your children try different instruments! Sometimes finding balance with different activities is difficult, so if they need to give music a break for a while, don’t be discouraged. Many children who start lessons early, find that maybe the first instrument that they tried wasn’t for them, or perhaps they weren’t ready to commit to practicing, or even that their first teacher wasn’t a good match. While I don’t advocate quitting, I think it is important for children to explore all of their interests without having to make life-long commitments. Just like with practice- try, try again!
Do you have any insights on how to begin early music lessons? Any other questions about beginning your child on an instrument? Please chime in with a comment!