Music Lessons and Activities for Kids
As researchers continue to reveal the impact of music instruction, which has been found to enhance everything from brain structure to math and spatial orientation skills, parents are eager to get their kids involved in music activities at an early age.
Embarking on music lessons requires commitment both from the child and parent.
Consider these factors as you decide on when and how to start:
- Age: Keep in mind that early learners (before 5-6 years old) will be limited to instruments that are available in very small sizes (e.g., violin). School music programs typically start around 3rd (strings) and 4th (brass/woodwind) grade, at which point kids typically are big and coordinated enough to handle instruments.
- Program availability: If your school does not have a music program, you will need to look for external opportunities all of which likely will impact expenses such as private lessons, youth ensembles, or music school programs.
- Talk about the desired result: If possible, talk with your child about the desired result. Is the goal simply to have an extracurricular activity? To socialize? To become skilled enough to compete? Discuss that learning an instrument requires regular practice to get better, and that lots of practice and money for lessons will be necessary if the goal is competition.
- Involve your child in the choice: Discuss available instrument options with your child. Rule out untenable seeming options (e.g., a double bass for a small child), and explain that some instruments are solitary in nature (e.g., piano), whereas other instruments (e.g., violin, clarinet) allow for playing with others. Encouraging your child to choose the instrument that is most exciting to them may help motivate practice.
- Consider less common instruments: If your child doesn't have an instrument preference, consider less common instruments (e.g., viola instead of violin, bassoon instead of clarinet), where the access to interesting parts won't be as competitive.
- Research carefully: If you decide to pursue private lessons, ask for teacher recommendations from friends, family, and the school music director. If you are considering a local music school, talk to the director about a recommended teacher match for your child's personality and goals. Monitor the relationship as it progresses to see whether the fit between your child and teacher is a happy and productive one.
Teaching Methods and Participation Levels
- Music and movement: Group music making classes are becoming increasingly popular. Babies and toddlers dance, listen to music, and use toys and simple instruments such as shakers. Preschoolers can participate via dance, music making, sing-alongs, and finger plays.
- Early learning: For children younger than 5-6 years old, an ear-training method such as Suzuki is a popular option since no reading is required, although Classical methods also are possible. Note that parental involvement will be critical if you decide to start lessons with a very young child.
- At school: In the early elementary school years, music classes typically involve singing and basic instruments (e.g., percussion). String/orchestra instruction usually starts around 3rd grade, and woodwind/brass around 4th grade.
- Private: Private lessons can accelerate progress and help your child develop good playing habits, assuming the child practices. Although a student certainly can pursue private lessons for recreational play, lessons are required to excel to the level of competitions, audition-based youth ensembles, and recitals.
- Group: In addition to school groups, during the middle and high school years, audition-based youth ensembles become available. These elite groups usually meet weekly and sometimes the experience culminates in playing at a major venue (e.g., Symphony Hall in Boston), which can be an exhilarating experience for a young musician.
Christine Koh is a music and brain scientist turned freelance writer, editor, and designer. She is the editor of BostonMamas.com.