Ask the grumpies: When to start music lessons?

Alyssa asks:

When is it age-appropriate to put children into music lessons (piano/guitar at this point)? Son is 5 and a bit, and he says he’s interested, but not sure if we should wait a bit more?

Five is a great age!  To be honest, I started at 6 and DC1 started at 6 because of laziness on the part of parents, but 5 would have been fine.  (DC1 did start swimming lessons a lot earlier.)  Most music teachers in our area start accepting students at age 5, and Suzuki teachers will often accept children as young as age 3.  A bunch of the internet suggests that starting music lessons before age 7 is best for various quasi-scientific reasons I’m not entirely convinced by but may be true.

And if it doesn’t work out, you can always take a break and try again later.

10 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: When to start music lessons?”

  1. Jenny F Scientist Says:

    We need to start guitar for Bug (almost seven) because he really wants to and it’s almost his birthday! (This will be his present because I’m tired of More Stuff.) I am also lazy.

  2. AccountantByDay Says:

    I’d be interested to know what the research says about whether / how parents should set “practice time” for the instrument. I kind of wish my parents had done that when I was a kid (because I didn’t understand practice was how you got better), but on the other hand, some kids are just into it enough to practice a ton without encouragement and maybe if the kid doesn’t want to practice they shouldn’t be learning?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I imagine it depends on what the desired outcome is.

      DC1’s piano teacher said any amount of time each day but it has to be each day. DC1 is pretty rules based so we decided on at least 15 min (per instrument) each day. That’s half what I had to practice!

      In terms of extrinsic motivation vs. intrinsic motivation, generally it is thought that extrinsic motivation crowds out intrinsic motivation (you don’t like what you’re paid/have to do). However, that is not the case when you’re bad at something– in that situation extrinsic motivation can cause intrinsic motivation. (At least in the case of poor readers– paying poor readers to read gets them to read more after the payment stops because you get them over a learning-to-read hurdle. Paying good readers makes them read less after the payment stops.)

      • Cloud Says:

        Oh, that’s a really interesting distinction on the extrinsic/intrinsic thing!

        FWIW (which is not much since it is pure anecdata)… I started viola in 4th grade. We were told to practice 20 mins a day, and that increased to 30 at some point. My parents never enforced the rule, though, and so all discipline about practicing came from me. I was practicing an hour or more most days by high school because I wanted to get better. That tapered off in college and then grad school (I played in a community orchestra) and then later (I switched to fiddle) and I haven’t played in years now. I’ve made it a goal to start playing again this year because I miss it. There is definitely a correlation between regular practice and improvement, but in my experience, once I hit the point where I didn’t *want* to be practicing, I might as well stop, because at that point I was just going through the motions, not actually practicing.

  3. Mel Says:

    I started at 4 and was fairly miserable to be in music lessons. I finally quit at the end of middle school. We waited until the Wolvog asked at 5. He then sat in MY guitar lessons for a year before starting his own guitar lessons. He is still happily taking guitar. The ChickieNob wasn’t into playing music, so we haven’t signed her up for lessons. So… my advice would be to ask your child what he/she wants AND to make sure they understand what lessons entail and how often they’ll have to practice, etc.

  4. chacha1 Says:

    I started piano at five. I think that’s a good age. And back in 1971 we didn’t have the option of smaller/easier electronic pianos. There’s a picture of me sitting on the piano bench and my chin is about six inches above the keyboard. :-) Re: guitar – for a little ‘un, maybe ukulele? I know they make kid-size guitars, but I understand ukulele is easier on the fingers for beginners.

    Re: practice: I’m ambivalent about this. To me, practice was made to seem very much a chore, and I did it because I was mostly a compliant child, but I think subconsciously there was always a conflict between the notion of PLAYING piano and then having to practice stuff that wasn’t “music” (scales, chords, etc.). If it’s play, shouldn’t it be fun? I didn’t really grasp the connection between practice and quicker acquisition of skills until I was 8 or 9. Occasionally my sister and I would bang out chords or simple songs together, that WAS fun.

    Unless a kid is a budding Amadeus, 10-15 minutes a day of goofing around with 10-15 minutes of actual repetition of learned exercises should be plenty. If they start to love it, they’ll practice more on their own. And if they hate it from the get-go or are just not interested, well, there’s plenty of other creative skills to try on them. But if they like *listening* to music, there is a good chance they can be brought around.

  5. Cloud Says:

    We’re starting piano lessons after our summer vacation. They’re replacing swim lessons for our oldest (she’ll be 9) because she’s a really good swimmer now. We want to wait until after summer vacation because we’re going somewhere with snorkeling, and our swim lesson place will teach them to snorkel.

    My husband has been showing her a bit on the piano already. She really wants to learn flute, but her hands aren’t really big enough yet according to the teacher we asked, so she’ll start with piano.

    I know lots of people who started with piano when they were 5 or so, and the only reason we’re starting later is that we couldn’t handle another lesson in our schedules.

  6. anandar Says:

    My mother is a piano teacher (traditional rather than Suzuki style), and she prefers to start kids after (a) their fine motor skills are very good– handling scissors like a pro, etc; and (b) it is clear that early reading is going well, or at least that there are no major issues, in particular that they are used to tracking left to right. There isn’t a set age since it depends on the kid’s individual development, but she generally starts kids at the beginning of 1st or 2nd grade.

    I think she would say that regularity in practice is more important that the length of time, and that 15 min total is plenty for a young beginner. Also important that parents are on board with helping to establish the habit, ideally in an encouraging rather than coercive way. She also recommends only starting with self-motivated kids, but that once lessons are begun, parents should encourage the kid to stick it out at least two years rather than quitting early on; she thinks it is much more likely to have been a good experience at that stage.

    I don’t know that there is any “scientific” basis for any of this, but she does have 30+ years of experience. And one M.A. in early childhood development and another in piano performance!

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