Most kids love music, but becoming a musician takes a commitment from both parents and children. Children who are encouraged at a young age to learn an instrument make important early advances in the areas of math and see an increase in standardized test scores over time.
But raising a musician means more than just attending lessons each week, practicing and playing in recitals. Young children need to be exposed to many different types of music on a regular basis to develop a love for music and a commitment to becoming the best they can be.
Early Musical Training
Early music training needs to begin long before a child takes her first piano lesson. Research shows that even in the womb, babies respond to outside stimuli. Providing a musical environment at home during pregnancy is a great way to prepare your baby for music.
After a child is born, music should become a part of her life on a daily basis. Playing music at night while she is falling asleep, singing to your baby while changing diapers or at bath time all help her identify music as a part of her routine.
Toddlers respond to music naturally and often begin to dance when they hear familiar songs. Preschool television programming uses music to drive home important pre-language and reading readiness skills. Picking up CDs of various children’s music artists at your local library and making them readily available to your child makes her know that music is a priority in your home.
A big question on most parents’ minds wanting to raise musicians is when to start formal music lessons. Most music teachers recommend starting piano lessons when students can read. This means a wide range of music lesson readiness, but the standard is somewhere around second grade. Children in second grade are ages 6-8 depending on their birthday.
This aged child has a longer attention span and can sit for longer periods of time and absorb information. The answer for each child and family will be different. Some children are ready for lessons at age five, depending on the program offered, and others need to wait until they are closer to age eight, based on their development.
Once you determine when to start music lessons with your child, the question of which instrument is the next thing to decide. Children who begin on the piano have a great foundation for other instruments along the way. Piano lessons provide a foundation for stringed instruments, the organ, the keyboard, and percussion. The skill and music learned through piano lessons are carried over into other areas of music, making joining the band in the upper elementary grades easier. Make sure you find a piano teacher that is nurturing, patient and enjoys working with children. Getting the wrong music teacher can quickly turn a child off to music.
When lessons begin for your child, so does practicing. Most music teachers recommend 30 minutes of practice each day for at least five days a week. If you can get your child to practice seven days each week, they will move along aster, but you run the risk of doing too much too soon and causing discouragement.
A great way to get the 30 minutes in each day is by breaking it into ten-minute segments. This is especially good for children who still have trouble sitting for long periods of time. Divide the music practice between homework and outdoor playtime, and be sure you give your child a break for after school before beginning music practice. Allowing some downtime and a healthy snack before exercise promotes positive feelings about music.
As your child grows and matures in her musical ability, she’ll be able to practice longer and more thoroughly. Quality practice time is the ultimate goal. Giving older children choices in what time they practice and which day of the weekend they practice gives them ownership of the process.
When children struggle with a specific piece, encourage them to go on to another song they like and come back to the challenging piece later. Make sure they are using their time wisely in practice, but don’t stand over them or set timers unless necessary. Talk to your child’s teacher in private about what they want the child to accomplish during practice time. This gives you the opportunity to encourage along the way without being overbearing.
As with any endeavor, providing the right tools is important. Make sure your child has a music binder with a strap to carry books to and from lessons easily. Provide plenty of sharpened pencils in the binder and a spiral notebook so the teacher can write down assignments for each week.
The Older Young Musician
By the time your child reaches middle school, they may have added instrument. Getting your child involved in band and orchestra programs is an integral part of musical development. Playing parts along with other instruments develops an understanding of harmony and creates a different level of musicality. Continuing with private lessons or providing them during these years is crucial to the development of your young musician.
The high school musician is an entirely new league, as students begin to develop maturity in their playing and seek out opportunities of challenge and leadership. Competing for chairs, playing in solo and ensemble festivals and auditioning for college scholarships push the young musician to be the best they can be. At this level, students begin to decide whether or not their music experience will take them into college and beyond.
Regardless of whether or not your child continues in music after high school, the foundation you’ve built has made her a life-long musician. It is a gift that will enrich them for a lifetime.