Most parents I’ve talked to would love to see their kids commit to learning an instrument, both for the good values like discipline and perseverance it instills, as well as for the sheer joy that comes from creating music yourself. But when is a good age to start? Some say three, some say five … if your kid is eight years old, is that too late? What if you’re an adult and your kids are grown, and you suddenly find yourself wishing you’d taken lessons as a child? Is all hope gone for you? Did the spark of musical genius leave when you were a small child?
You may not know this about me, the Glorious Mom, but before I became overrun by littles, I was a musician! I actually have a B.A. in music from Wheaton College, and I’ve taught music lessons for most of my adult life. I’ve taught all sorts of people, young and old, and I’ve even written curriculum. In fact, I have another blog that is sorely neglected just for church worship team members.
So I have an idea about when is a good time to start yourself or your child on music lessons.
The first thing I would say is the age is not the most important thing. I made it the theme of this post because it is a recurring concern I find among parents, but I would encourage you to redirect your question. Each child is going to be ready for lessons at a different time, although starting at 4 or 5 is not a bad idea.
What you need to know is that each child learns differently, and may even understand music better through a different approach. I say this because there is a classical approach to teaching music that probably 90% of teachers use. The unfortunate thing is that not everyone is wired to learn that way.
You should know this because if your child (or you!) are not clicking with lessons it is not necessarily because they are not “musically inclined.” Their brain might just be wired differently. For example, my five-year-old learns well from the traditional approach, learning to read music from a book. My four-year-old autistic son makes up his own melodies and sometimes can copy melodies.
So what do you do? How do you know how your kid learns and what to do about it?
First, identify the two common approaches to learning music: one is the traditional route, with a traditional piano teacher that will get your kid playing Beethoven and Mozart. Classical music, maybe jazz or some other styles once they’ve been playing a while. This approach uses reading music.
The second approach is the one you see most musicians playing in contemporary rock bands or worship bands using, and that is playing by ear. You don’t need to read music, and in fact, reading music won’t help you at all. To play this way you learn your chords and scales, and you will learn rhythms and melodies by ear.
My recommendation is to let your kids experiment with music first. Get them a toy keyboard (I keep saying piano instead of other instruments because I think it’s the easiest to learn first, but you don’t have to start on piano) and let them tinker around with it. You may be able to identify which way is best for them if you find your child can copy music easily.
If you’re certain your child gravitates towards playing by ear, I would recommend setting them up with lessons with a musician at your church, or ask at the local music studio if they teach that approach. If you’re not sure, start them with traditional lessons, and if they lose interest or struggle, switch them to the other method.
So when should you start? First of all, don’t start unless you can afford a keyboard (I have a few recommendations under $100 here and here). Second of all, don’t start unless you and your child can commit to practicing 20-30 minutes a day, and to the lesson itself. Then I would recommend as young as 4 or 5 if your child has the focused attention to sit and learn during a 30 minute lesson.
I think starting younger is better because you have more time to develop your gift, but you can learn at any time. If you’re an adult and you want to learn, go pursue your dream! If it’s truly something you love and enjoy, it will be easy to put the time into it and see the fruit.
If you aren’t able to afford private lessons, there are a few alternatives. I will warn you, though, when you don’t have to pay for something like piano lessons, it makes it harder to commit to it. One alternative is YouTube. My husband has taught himself guitar using YouTube quite a bit. Another alternative is learning via CDs or DVDs. Below I have listed a program that is excellent for learning piano via DVDs.
*disclaimer-I haven’t actually used this program, although from what I have learned about it it’s an excellent course that is a really good deal. I also am an affiliate for this program which means that I receive a small commission if you purchase it, although the cost remains the same to you.