Simply put, music is good for the intellect, good for the instincts, good for the planet, and great for the soul.
When is the Best Time to Start?
Children should be exposed to music as early as possible. There are rhythm and movement classes for infants (kindermusik is a well-known option) that are a great place to start.
But if you miss that stage, it’s fine to get your toddler involved in group lessons or classes—even lessons in violin, cello, or piano. Many communities have Suzuki or Suzuki-inspired programs that can be wonderful places to begin. Some private teachers also offer classes for very young children.
If your child is no longer a toddler and hasn’t had any music lessons, never fear! Research in the field suggests that it is important that children be exposed to music and musical activities during the window from birth to about nine years. Starting a child in music classes or lessons at around age seven can be just about right. Favorite instruments for beginning students are piano and violin. Piano is terrific as a gateway instrument, offering rewards in terms of musical literacy that can pay off no matter what instrument is ultimately chosen.
Ages 10 & Up
It’s still not too late. In fact, children at this age are more mature physically and intellectually, and can often make quick progress, catching up with peers who started lessons much earlier. At this age children will likely be actively involved in the choice of instrument, and lessons will be private. Another wonderful bit of news: although kids generally need to start string instruments early (violin and cello first, sometimes moving later to viola or double bass), they often don’t begin playing wind and brass instruments until middle school, when they can play full-sized instruments (small wind and brass instruments are generally not available) and often join a school ensemble like orchestra or band.
How Do I Find A Music Teacher?
Finding a teacher can be as easy as asking the parents of kids whose playing you’ve admired. You might also talk to your child’s classroom teacher or school music teacher. Don’t forget to check local branches of national teachers' associations. Organizations like the Music Teachers National Association, the National Association for Music Education and the American String Teachers Association can help you locate instructors. Check for associations specific to your state or city—an online search that mentions your state or city plus the phrase “music teachers” may yield helpful results.
And don’t forget your local symphony orchestra! Attend concerts, and bring your child along. It’s a great way to find out if particular instruments appeal to your child, and when you go backstage to congratulate the musicians you may find they are willing to offer advice or at least encouragement.
What Questions Do I Ask the Teacher?
Don’t hesitate to ask questions of a prospective teacher. What is the teacher’s background as a musician and as an instructor? Depending on the instrument, you might want to ask about whether the teacher offers access to student ensembles. What are the teacher’s expectations in terms of time spent practicing? What kind of involvement will the teacher expect of parents? Will parents be expected to attend lessons?
What is the Parent’s Role?
Parents need to be supportive of children’s at-home practice, at the very least. Some teachers, particularly of younger children, will want parents to attend lessons to make practice supervision more productive. Parents will of course attend their children’s performances and make a serious effort to take their children to as many concerts as possible. Children learn by example, so strive to expose them to the best musicians you can find.
Music lessons and solo practice can be very isolating. Music is meant to be shared! See if you can involve your child in groups right from the start. Many youth orchestras offer ensembles geared toward players at all levels, even beginners. And of course school orchestras and bands are a great option if your district offers them. Take advantage of what’s available in your community. Your child will thank you.