Here’s a bonding idea for you: learn to play a musical
instrument along with your child.
I’m not saying it’s a good idea, but it might
work in your house. In our case, I put off beginning piano lessons until my daughter turned five,
now a year ago. Apparently, five is the age when kids should start piano, unless they have exhibited
Mozart-like tendencies to play Schubert by ear on the local baby grand. In a recent unofficial poll,
47% of people who play musical instruments started playing between the ages of four and ten. The BBC
site has a good guide on ages to start playing different instruments based on the size of the
instrument, and the lung or body strength required, in brief:
- Recorder – often recommended
as a starter instrument, can be played as soon as child can get fingers over the holes
- Violin –
could start at 4, but 6 is more realistic
- Wind and brass – not before second set of teeth are in
- Guitar – comes in smaller sizes and can be played as of age eight, depending on size and stretch
- Singing – formal lessons not advised until teens, after voices are more
Ideally, in all of these cases, the child should be able to recognize numbers
and know letters through G, for obvious reasons.
I found a teacher who bought into my
idea of learning along with my daughter, or who at least humored me in my plan. At our first lesson,
she met my daughter and me, let us plunk around on the keys, and ordered us beginner books. I did
not get the one with zoo animals playing in a band, I got the more austere-looking Adult
Piano Adventures. (Note: I’d recommend this book for beginners or older students getting back to
the piano. It’s not a ‘piano for dummies’ style primer, but it does teach the basics with
arrangements of the type of classical and pop songs you’ll likely recognize and enjoy
On our second lesson, it was clear there was something wrong with my plan.
My daughter banished me to the waiting area and conducted her part of the lesson in private. I was
allowed five minutes at the end to show what I learned. This continued on for weeks on end, until we
finally broke up our “lesson.” I went on to take 45-minute bi-weekly lessons and she changed
teachers for a more convenient, and private, at-school lesson. Which leads me to several things I
found out about kids and learning music:
- Wait until they are ready to learn. Unless your
child appears to be a prodigy, and you’re likely to see this right away, wait until at least
age five to begin lessons. Some even recommend six or seven depending on the facility reading
- At the beginning, remove any pressure to play and practice. You’ll have plenty of
time to spoil the love of music later when you force her or him to play four hours a day. For now,
let your child play when he or she wants to. As time progresses, start with putting the child at the
piano for five minutes per day and advancing from that as lessons start to take hold. Try to make
music as fun as possible, and that means stopping your playing to let them in. If they want to play,
let them at it.
- Make sure your child really likes the teacher. If not, run, don’t walk, to
- Create occasions for your child to play in front of people, with the proper
warning. Our child, while not usually a performer, was relaxed playing for family when she knew and
bought into the concert idea several months in advance.
- Don’t expect you’ll be able to play with
your child or help teach them, or you may be disappointed. I always let my daughter join me if she
wants to play while I’m practicing, but I’ve failed miserably several times to show her how to play
- If possible, find easy one finger arrangements of songs your child likes. While a
certain amount of instruction in the building blocks is key, there is nothing as motivating in
music, to both adults and children, as playing a song that they know and love.
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