Introducing children to the pleasure of making music gives them a gift they can enjoy for the rest of their lives. Parents seeking to begin music lessons often have many questions. Is there a right time to begin music lessons? What instrument should a child start with? How do we find a good instructor? Before you tickle those ivories into a twist, read the advice of local experts on how to hit a high note when starting your child off on their path to creating music.
When to begin music lessons
“It’s never too soon and it’s never too late,” says Rachel Kramer, President of Baldwin Music Education Center, who believes that parents who are deeply interested in starting lessons should decide early on to involve their children in music.
Is there a guideline to help parents decide the best time to introduce their child to formal lessons? Cincinnati Pops Conductor John Morris Russell emphasizes that every child is different, and the best time to introduce an instrument truly depends on a child’s ability to focus. “My wife and I waited until each of our kids begged us to play an instrument,” he says. “We would attend children’s concerts, chamber ensembles, even Irish fiddling at the local pub, pointing out the instruments up close.” Russell says playing recordings at home and trying real instruments when given the opportunity will open a child’s eyes to the many types of music and instruments out there. “When a child finds a connection to a particular instrument, they’ll let you know!” Taking advantage of the Family Fun Zone, prior to all Lollipops Family Concerts, is a great way to expose kids to music because they can see and touch the instruments before the performance.
Another factor to consider when determining if a child is ready for music lessons is their individual reading level. Bethany Springelmeyer, a private piano instructor, recommends beginning piano lessons when a child is of reading age. Toni Sheffer, Director of the Northern Kentucky School of Music, agrees that a child’s experience is greater when he or she is reading comfortably.
For a younger child, Patsy Rabinowitz, the Director of the West Chester Academy, finds that an early childhood music and movement class can provide an enriching environment that can benefit a student as they continue on their musical path.
Finding an instructor
With so many music instructors and schools available, how do you find the right match for your child? Springelmeyer says it’s important to find a teacher who will make learning music fun, which can be a great motivator for a student. She also reminds parents: “You can always change teachers if you don’t feel like it is the right fit.” Kramer feels similarly, saying that ultimately a student may drop music lessons not out of a dislike for the instrument itself, but because he or she didn’t click with a great teacher. “Personal recommendations are best, finding a teacher with a personality that suits your child is really important,” echoes Russell.
When searching for an instructor, Kramer suggests consulting with family and friends who are acquainted with the musical community. Asking for recommendations from local music teacher organizations, music stores, schools and churches are great ways to explore options. If possible, attend an instructor’s recital for more insight into their personality and style. Ultimately, the best teacher will inspire and nurture a student’s musical growth and instill a lifelong love of music
Choosing an instrument
“The piano or keyboard is an excellent instrument to start with because the keys are laid out in a logical manner and it is easy to produce good sound right away,” says Joe Backer, Director of the Cincinnati School of Music. Russell agrees, explaining that piano and string instruments work best for very young children, although percussion and singing have their advantages because they can “start on day one.” He also states that, “Once all the ‘adult’ front teeth have come in, a child’s embouchure is ready for all the wind and brass instruments.”
Toni Sheffer from the Northern Kentucky School of Music believes that not every student has to start with piano, but “every musician with a piano background is a stronger musician.” An introduction to piano can provide students with a solid and visual method of learning notes and rhythms. “Good piano lessons incorporate theory as well as key signatures, scales, cords, terminology, intervals and more,” says Rabinowitz.
However you decide to begin music lessons with your child, know that the benefits he or she gains will go well beyond just learning an instrument. Studies consistently show that kids who participate in musical education often enhance their academic and social skills as well as their creativity and discipline – and that’s music to any parent’s ears.