Updated: Nov 17, 2020
Recently a parent asked me: what age should my child start learning to play a musical instrument? and what instrument should they learn? The answer is: it is not a one-size-fits-all.
To determine when your child should start learning a musical instrument, we must first understand how children learn music in the first place.
Children zero to eight years learn through their senses. They need to move to feel the beat through a variety of musical experiences. They learn through loving musical interactions and singing with their parents and family, listening to the sounds of nature, and through a wide range of music genres. They can play with sticks, stones, leaves, and tuned and untuned percussion instruments.
Musical Play helps children to sing in tune, as well as listen, feel and understand the musical form of nursery rhymes and songs. Children begin to anticipate the ends of phrases, and they begin to understand the clear beginning, middle and end of songs. They start singing words, phrases and whole songs.
Through dance, children learn the rhythms of early childhood – walking, running, skipping and galloping rhythms. They explore space, timing, weight and energy. They learn how to be proud performers and to engage others through Musical Play.
Through dramatic play, children learn how to be expressive, to whisper, shout and use dynamics (loud and soft). They learn to play in synchrony with others, interacting like jazz musicians who engage in improvisations.
When children can sing in tune, play in time, listen, and follow and copy a sequence of rhythmic patterns, they develop confidence and self-esteem. Once children have mastered these musical skills, developed a passion for music, and have asked to play a specific instrument, then they are ready to learn an instrument and embark on the rest of the musical journey.
If a child starts learning an instrument without these vital music skills, and before they are ready to learn the intricacies of reading music and grappling with the technical difficulties of playing an instrument, they can become discouraged and disempowered.
Musical Play should be joyful, engaging and interactive. From birth, sing, dance, play and explore sounds together inside, outside, in the car – anywhere. Know that you are laying the foundation of music for life and helping your children to play music in ways that inspires them to keep going.
The music of composers like Mozart, Haydn and Shostakovich incorporates brilliant elements of Musical Play, and their music sparkles with joy, love, playfulness and an innate, childlike sense of wonder. They truly knew what it means to play music and to create music from their heart and soul.