You had the best intentions when you bought the piano. You envisioned your children playing it for hours a day, filling the house with the gentle strains of classical pieces. Hasn’t happened yet — but maybe now it’s time. How can you tell if your child is ready for music lessons? The answers to a few simple questions can help you make that decision.
Questions to ask
One of the first questions to ask is if your child knows the difference between his left and right hands, says Liz Nealon, General Manager of KIDZ BOP, a music company that produces the most-popular and recognized music product in the U.S. for kids aged 5-12. Kids should also know how to count to ten, and know and recognize the letters A through G.
In addition, says Nealon, “Playing an instrument requires some level of fine motor coordination. Can your child wiggle each finger independently? Hold and manipulate a pencil fluidly? Is he or she big enough to sit at the piano, or hold the instrument comfortably?”
Kids also need a certain level of maturity to start music lessons. They need to be able to focus for the length of a lesson — about 30 minutes — and follow directions. You should also ask yourself if your child is “mature enough to deal with frustration and the need to practice in order to get better,” advises Nealon.
Of course, you also absolutely must consider whether your child has expressed any desire to take music lessons. Young children may simply not have any interest in learning an instrument. “Studies have shown that there are no real benefits to starting a child on music lessons at a very young age,” says Nealon.
“There’s no demonstrable advantage to starting at four versus waiting until 8 or 9. And, you could turn your child off to the joy of music if you start lessons when he or she is too young to handle them,” she cautions.
Practice — and patience — makes perfect
Once kids start lessons, your job isn’t done. Your new role fluctuates between that of cheerleader — “part of our job as parents is to help our kids learn to persist in the face of new challenges,” says Nealon — and benevolent dictator, as “forcing a child to continue a bad experience might turn him off to music altogether,” she says.
Quitting music lessons?
If your child says he wants to quit lessons, don’t dismiss him immediately. Instead, ask questions and try to understand what the problem is. Let your child know that you hear his wishes and concerns, and that you’re going to observe a lesson or two before you make a decision.
When you do sit in, says Nealon, pay attention to the teacher’s patience and encouragement, and ask yourself whether the teacher’s temperament meshes with your child’s. Is the lesson interesting, with the necessary repetition made fun and interesting? Is your child able to understand and master the material?
Nealon also recommends that you take an honest look at whether your child is overscheduled. “Play is children’s work,” she says, “and they need time and space to simply be kids. A child who is complaining about lessons may really be crying out for time to simply be a kid.”
Music can be an important part of your child’s life, and lessons don’t have to be a source of frustration.