The age-old question: What is the best age to start music lessons? Should you plop your toddler down on a piano bench before they can make a full sentence? Did you wait too long and miss the boat? If you are an adult pondering music lessons for yourself, are you too old?
As a piano teacher, this is one of the most common questions I get asked. The answer is not that easy. It depends on quite a few factors. I have compiled a list of questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to start your child (or yourself) in music lessons...
I often get asked about the best instruments for beginners, and since every instrument is very different, the answer to this question really matters. Think about it - a piano technically sounds good no matter who's playing it, whereas a violin or trumpet can take a year to get a decent tone on. In addition, string instruments and brass instruments involve a physicality that is not developed until a later age. If you're thinking about signing your young child up for music lessons, the instrument that you choose is very important.
The best age to start piano lessons
In my experience, the best age to start piano lessons is anywhere between 5 and 9 years old. I personally started at 8 or 9 years old, and I ended up pursuing music as a profession. Don't worry too much about "missing the boat" so to speak. I've heard parents assume that if they don't start their child at 4, their child will not have the opportunity to become a great pianist. This simply isn't true. What really matters is the dedication that goes into it once the child has started.
Best age to start violin lessons
Surprisingly, despite the dexterity that's required to play the violin, very young children are often quite successful with the violin. There are several reasons why the violin is one of the best starter instruments. The Suzuki method is commonly used in school string programs, and can make it possible for the very young beginner to flourish. Many violin teachers believe that the best age range for starting to learn the violin is somewhere between 3 and 7 years old.
All this being said, there isn't necessarily one correct way to begin learning an instrument. It's important to eventually learn every aspect - reading notes, developing the ear, understanding musicality in general (dynamics, emotion, and intent), and of course - music theory: the math of the music world. But does that mean that every student should learn those things in the same order? Well, there is definitely a temptation to create the perfect order of operations and wash rinse repeat. Music teachers who have that outlook can usually succeed about 75% of the time, but since no two students are exactly the same, music education should be treated with the individuality that it calls for. That is really the biggest benefit of taking private lessons vs. group lessons.
Best age to start trumpet lessons (or other band instruments)
Unlike piano and orchestra instruments, band instruments should be left to students that are 10 or older. This includes brass instruments like the trumpet, trombone, and tuba as well as woodwinds such as the flute, clarinet, and saxophone. These instruments simply require a level of physicality and muscle control that isn't developed until later. Within brass, I've heard teachers say that the lower the instrument, the older they should be. This doesn't span by a lot, but a 9-year-old will probably do better with trumpet than with tuba.
Best age to start guitar lessons
Guitar can be a tricky instrument for little fingers. If you have an appropriately sized guitar for the student and the guitar has nylon strings, a child as young as 7 might do just fine. Typically guitar players claim to have started at 13, so this is definitely one of those instruments that it's okay to start later.
Like I keep saying (and all parents know), every child is very different. First of all, they develop emotionally at different times. You might have a child who is ahead academically but isn't emotionally ready to take on the [sometimes very emotional] journey that is learning an instrument. If a child hasn't figured out how to handle frustration and other big feelings, lessons can be an unnecessarily painful experience for both the student and the parent... and I suppose the music teacher as well. That being said, if you think you have found a good teacher who can handle a shy or easily frustrated student, music lessons could be a great opportunity for your child to learn these skills... And maybe those basketball practices will go better after all the one-on-one time with their patient music teacher.
Along the same lines, children all have different attention spans. Most children between the ages of 6 and 9 years old can sit in a music lesson for 30 minutes while keeping their focus. That is why most music lessons are half an hour - it's usually the perfect lesson length for a child. But sometimes kids younger than 6 will have attention issues, and can only focus for 10 or 15 minutes. But again, everyone's different. I've had 4-year-olds thrive in piano lessons, and 7-year-olds not able to sit still for longer than 10 minutes. If your child can focus on one subject for at least 20 minutes, they will probably do fine in music lessons.
One very important thing to remember is that everyone has slightly different learning styles (and this includes both kids and adults). Don't jump to the conclusion that your child's too young if you've only tried one lesson. For all you know, another lesson with a different music teacher that uses a different approach might make all the difference. This could also be true with the same teacher - don't be afraid to have a conversation with the music teacher about their approach. You know your child best - if they're getting overwhelmed or frustrated, there's a really good chance that the music teacher doesn't realize, and would change their approach if they knew what the child was feeling. I once had a piano student who was so sweet and always practiced exactly what I assigned without complaining. She excelled so quickly, always with a smile on her face, so I kept pushing her to improve. One day her mom pulled me aside to tell me that the child had been feeling an incredible amount of pressure and was totally stressed out by piano lessons. I had no idea! Once I knew that, it was very easy to switch gears (or I should say speeds) and give her a little more time and space to progress. She did just fine after that, still progressing, but without the stress.
The last element that comes into play with young beginners is the development of their fine motor skills. You might have a child who is emotionally and academically ahead of their class but hasn't developed their fine motor skills as much. This doesn't necessarily mean that you should avoid specific instruments, but it is something to be aware of to prevent frustration and discouragement. If they're really struggling, the piano is a better choice than the violin. But if they can use the challenge as an opportunity, nothing develops fine motor skills like learning to play a string instrument.
Music is a very personal journey, and a good music teacher will be able to sense where your child is at and know how to best serve them. And if they're not picking up on the signs, let them know what they're not seeing, and give them a chance to make a better plan.
I know it sounds silly, but learning music is a little more difficult if the student hasn't learned their ABC's yet. The truth is, they really only need to know up to G, but music is based on letters and numbers, so starting too early could mean having to skip some of the essential building blocks.
Like I said before, there is no perfect order in which to introduce music concepts, so good music teachers usually have a totally different design for the education of these younger students. These lessons often focus on learning by ear - rhythmically and melodically. This is why the Suzuki method is especially effective with the very young beginner.
If it turns out that the best age to start music lessons is years away, there are other great ways to give your child a head start in music. The first thing you should do (and this really should be a rule for all households everywhere) is to play a lot of good music in your house. A child that grows up listening to lots of good music will have music in their life in a positive way whether or not they ever learn to play an instrument. If you're really chompin' at the bit to get your toddler started, you can always check out your local 'mommy and me' type class where the parents sit with their small children in a circle and explore musical instruments together. Another thing you can do is just make sure there are musical instruments around your house that your small children can play. Many instruments are too fragile for this, but if you have a piano at home, you can encourage play and experimentation, even before formal lessons are feasible.
Keeping your child excited about music is a delicate balance. Music students definitely need guidance from their parents to keep them on track with practicing, but the last thing you want to do is make them hate practicing and think of it as a chore. Many think that the best age to start music lessons is whatever age you can strike that perfect balance - letting the child take a certain percentage of the responsibility so you don't feel like you are "pulling teeth" to get them to practice. If your child seems a little young to start lessons, but they're too excited to wait, their enthusiasm will likely be enough to make the experience a positive one. On the other hand, if they aren't stoked about the idea, you should definitely air on the side of starting them when you know they're ready.
It never hurts to reach out to music schools and ask them, in their opinion, the best age to start music lessons. Don't be afraid to get a 2nd and 3rd opinion. You might end up speaking with a music teacher that has had a prior experience that would be enlightening for your specific situation. Most music teachers have lots of opinions on the matter and can help offer guidance. You might even be able to try out a lesson or two before deciding if it's the best time to start music lessons.
Nothing makes me sadder than hearing adults say that they are too old to learn music, or worse - they regret quitting when they were younger. The truth is that you are never too old to start, and it's very possible to get back what you learned when you were younger.
If you have too much on your plate, and you just simply don't have the time to dedicate to learning a new instrument, then you should consider an instrument like the ukulele or piano. What these 2 instruments have in common is that they both are easy to get a good tone out of without years of practice, and both of them are great tools for accompanying yourself or others while singing. If you want to be the life of the party, learn how to read chord changes on the piano or the ukulele.
You might be wondering how piano got in this category, but it's actually quite easy to learn how to read chord changes on the piano. You can search chords online to all your favorite songs (and yes, guitartabs.com actually applies to the piano too).
There are so many benefits to learning music as an adult, I would hate to see someone pass up the opportunity.
The bottom line - the best age to start music lessons is any age. Yes, there are benefits with every age, but choosing the wrong age to start is not the end of the world. If you start your child too young, you can always stop and resume when they're ready. If you feel that you've started too late, you just gotta practice harder! Listen to your heart. Listen to your child. And soon enough, you will be listening to the music!