One of the most frequently asked questions to SMMC staff is “When should I start my child in music lessons?” Parents and guardians are asking for good reason too. You don’t have to dig deep to find science-based information for the benefits of music on brain development. Specifically, the benefits of music on the developing minds of babies, toddlers and young children are well documented. Results for one study out of the University of Washington suggest routine play sessions with music improved babies’ brain processing of music and speech sounds. Another study from USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute found music instruction accelerated brain development in areas responsible for processing sound, language development, speech perception and reading skills in young children.
Thankfully, SMMC staff and teachers do not often field questions on music and brain development (LOL)! We do get several questions for when children should start music lessons. The answer is you cannot start early enough! Early childhood music education should focus on listening to, interacting with and developing enjoyment of music
Music For Children Aged 0-3 Years Old
From birth to age nine, the part of the mind associated with processing and understanding music is in the prime stages of development. Parents who can engage their children musically during this period reap benefits. They instill many sensibilities in their child that might not be developed otherwise. Missing this opportunity does not mean you can’t learn music. But to maximize potential, it’s better to start as early as you can.
Mrs. Sisilia Axume, co-owner of San Marino Music Center, took cello lessons when she was pregnant with her first child. She remembers vividly how active the baby would become during her 30 min sessions. “All of a sudden, the baby would start moving or kicking around in my belly. It was a little unusual at first, but it became routine during my lesson. I felt like my child was actively listening to the music during our lessons.” Not all pregnant moms have time for music lessons, but you don’t have to. Simply set aside time to listen to music at home. Moving to or singing along with the music is just as effective too!
Once your child is born, incorporate a specialized “music time” session in their daily routine. With young babies, swing them to music while playing it on a speaker or singing. As mentioned earlier, listen to music together and sing along. Nursery rhyme songs are a great choice for this activity. If your child is too young to sing/dance, move their arms or feet to the music to develop rhythm. Parents who play an instrument can add another dimension by playing for their child. To get even more ideas, visit this simple article by music educator Dr. Robert A. Cutietta, author of “Raising Musical Kids”.
Music For Children Aged 3-5 Years Old
With toddlers, you can get much more creative in engaging with musical activities. You’ll still want to listen and sing, but now they are old enough for more coordinated movements. Start with the classic “Hokie Pokie” to get your child to develop basic coordination. Or listen to your favorite music and incorporate your own dance moves. With slow/soft music, emulate the movements by gliding through the room in a like manner. This activity can be greatly enhanced with the use of sheer juggling/dance scarves. Hold the scarves in hand and sway to the rhythm of the music. When listening to something more upbeat, march and clap or even run-in place. All of these activities are helping a child make a connection with music (and the parent as well)!
When the child is ready, you can incorporate percussive musical instruments. The LP music company makes a wonderful RhythMix 5-piece percussion kit for young children and they are available online. Glockenspiels are a great percussive and melodic instrument that are readily available and affordable. Or you can try a recorder which are really affordable, fun and available at SMMC! If you are not ready to go down that route, make your own musical instruments! Use pots and pans as drums or fill a few glasses with water and tinker with the different sounds. The goal is to have fun with musical activities.
When Do I Start Formal Lessons?
In general, SMMC recommends private lessons for students aged 5 and above. By this age, students have developed enough cognitive skills to be able to interact with a teacher one to one. Some of the skills required include:
- Basic reading and counting skills
- Knowing your alphabet for the purpose of learning musical notes
- Knowing how to follow instruction
- Having a long enough attention span to cover the duration of the lesson
For additional ideas and information to help you get started, check out these blogs. One is a pair of articles published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children regarding strategies parents can implement. The other is Music For Kiddos blog. Both resources present great ideas for parents to get going. If your budding musician is younger than 5 years of age, we recommend developing a “music time” routine at home with your child to develop the love of music. That way when they reach the right age, they will already have a head start on their musical education