Your child and music – is it time to learn an instrument?
When is the best time to start learning a musical instrument? Monkey Music's Angie Davies gives her advice on the right age to begin, how to find a good teacher, and how to encourage your child to practise
I am often asked to recommend an orchestral instrument for a child to learn, and most children start to learn an instrument because Mum or Dad think it’s a good idea. But while music plays a very positive role in your child’s development, in order to enjoy learning an instrument, it is important that you and your child are involved in choosing the right one together.
Each instrument has a different personality and composers write in different ways for different instruments. There are lots of violins in an orchestra but generally only two oboes so the oboe is an instrument which often plays solos. A trumpet player will have to enjoy the limelight as trumpet music is often loud and noticeable. An instrument like the double bass is very versatile as an orchestral instrument, as well as being suited to playing jazz as a member of a small band.
Try to go to lots of live concerts and musical events while in the process of deciding which instrument your child might like to learn. Special children’s concerts are a great introduction to music and musicians and many orchestras run these regularly. If you know anyone who already learns a musical instrument ask them to demonstrate it to your child and give them a go.
The following guidelines may help you both make a better-informed choice.
What is the best age to start learning?
Seven years old is an ideal age to start most instruments as by now most children are settled into junior school and will probably be reading quite well. At this age they will make rapid progress learning to read music and be ready for the physical challenge of learning a musical instrument.
Can my child start learning an instrument younger than seven?
Some children start the piano and string instruments as young as four or five, and if your child is well co-ordinated and has good levels of concentration then they might be able to cope with learning whilst still very young. If your child does start early it is vital to keep the lesson length short and to make sure that you sit in on it, so that you can help at home with short bursts of regular practise.
From my own experience I have found that very young children enjoy music more as part of a group. I prefer to encourage them to join in with musical activities such as singing in choirs, learning the recorder or belonging to a music group which aims to be fun whilst exploring basic musical concepts.
As long as the children are enjoying their music making they will be developing important musical skills which will be of benefit to them when they eventually choose their instrument.
How do I find a good teacher?
There are several ways to go about finding a good teacher. Your local music shop should have some names of teachers in your area. You could also approach your child’s school as peripatetic teachers often visit schools on a weekly basis offering lessons. Alternatively, your local county council can give you the contact for your local music authority and it will have names of teachers they use. If you are lucky, you may have a local private music school which will be able to supply and organise a teacher.
It is always a good idea to have a trial lesson with a teacher and also to ask for references from other parents.
How can I keep my child motivated to practise?
Regular short bursts of daily practise is the best way to make steady progress. Beginners should start with 10 minutes and increase by 5 minutes once in a while building up to 30 minutes max for most normal children!
Some children respond well to working towards taking an exam, some don’t. Some children love playing in public, some don’t. A good teacher will find out what motivates your child.
After learning very few notes your child will be ready to join a beginners’ music group. Taking part in concerts and making new friends are valuable reasons to learn an instrument.
During the holidays it can be a good idea to send your child on a music course. There may be some run locally by your county council or look at www.musicale.co.uk/musicholidays.
Whichever instrument your child chooses to learn it must be an enjoyable experience. Support and encouragement from the right teacher and an adult at home who is involved with practise are essential to any child in order that they make steady progress. As they improve, your child will value what they are achieving, and have a strong sense of the positive effect that their music creates around them.
What sort of instrument should my child choose?
For more advice on specific instruments, read my next article, which explains the plus points (and possible negatives!) of strings, woodwind and brass.
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