BY LISA MELILLO
Music is instrumental to growth. Music participation enhances problem solving, teamwork, goal setting, self-expression, coordination, memory skills, self-confidence and self-esteem, concentration and poise. A child’s music study also offers opportunities for shared family experiences, including musical event attendance, family music making, performing for and with family and friends, learning about music history and cultural development while offering a sense of pride and accomplishment for the entire family.
There’s no doubt about it: Children love music. They naturally listen, sing, and dance to it, using it as a means of expression. Playing a musical instrument adds yet another dimension to their enjoyment, and it’s one of the best ways to make music a part of their lives forever.
Toddlers can make music by “playing” plastic containers, cardboard boxes, tabletops, and the always-popular pots and pans, and are always eager to discover new “instruments” around the house. Toy pianos, drums, tambourines, triangles, and small guitars all make a hit with preschoolers. (Earplugs for parents are optional!)
Early childhood music and movement classes are wonderful ways to introduce young children to musical concepts and encourage sound exploration, such as recognizing the difference between high and low, fast and slow, long and short, or a march and a lullaby.
Listening to music––even for infants––is important, too. Seat your baby on your lap and move her to music. Encourage older kids to get up and dance to a variety of music. Exposure to classical music is especially important; in fact, many experts agree this is beneficial to the brain development of young children. “A good, rich collection of music, played at various times of the day, is critical,” emphasizes Campbell. “Children need to develop a sense of all that music can be.”
When To Start Lessons
Youthful musical fun will provide a head start when a child is old enough for formal instrumental lessons. But what’s the best age to begin? The answer depends on both the instrument and the child’s maturity level. Also, keep in mind that “a child should be able to read words before he learns to read music,” says Rachel Kramer, Assistant Executive Director, Programs & Convention, Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) in Cincinnati, Ohio.
However, lessons on the violin, which can be “scaled down” (made smaller to fit little hands), and piano can begin as early as age 4 or 5. At this age, of course, children can’t read music, but they can learn basic musical concepts on the instruments. For a seven-year-old, the soprano recorder is a good choice: It’s fun to play, has a lovely sound, and provides excellent preparation for playing a wind instrument later.
Most school instrumental programs begin in the 4th or 5th grades (age 9 or 10). By then, most children have developed the size, coordination, and breath control necessary to play wind or brass instruments.
Making the Choice
At one time or another, almost all children who have been exposed to music will say, “I want to play an instrument!” But which one? Many factors come into play in making a choice.
If your child expresses a strong interest in a specific instrument, it’s usually best to go with her choice (even it’s an instrument you’re not fond of). But do “expose your child to a palette of choices, so he learns that there’s more out there than Uncle Ed’s guitar,” recommends Campbell. “Attend a children’s orchestral concert and give him the opportunity to see, hear, and get up close to the instruments.”
The school instrumental music teacher will probably demonstrate instruments as well. One might strike your child’s fancy, or the teacher may recommend an instrument based on a child’s size, maturity, and level of coordination.
Versatility is another factor to consider: What kind of ensemble experience will your child enjoy? “Instruments such as flute, saxophone, and trumpet give students a lot of choices,” says Kim Nelson, an elementary instrumental music teacher in Kutztown, PA. ” A child can play these instruments in an orchestra, marching band, jazz band, even at church.”
In any case, you can’t go wrong with the piano. “It prepares students for anything,” says Kramer. “And, kids that play piano are very likely to pick up another instrument later and be very successful.”
Expose your child to a variety of music and attend concerts together. Encourage your child to practice, listen to her play, and praise her efforts. “Once a week, a child should play for parents, friends, grandparents, just to delight the family,” says Campbell, “and the family’s response should be receptive, warm and positive.”
One of the most important ways to show support is to attend your child’s lessons. “That way, a parent can hear how a child is progressing, and follow up with lighthearted and gentle suggestions at home. If parents are there for soccer practice, they should be there for lessons, too,” Campbell points out.
Lastly, if your child will take lessons outside of school, it’s important to find the right teacher. “Music teachers come with as many credentials as a doctor or dentist. Take the time to find a qualified teacher for your child,” stresses Kramer. Ask other parents for recommendations and don’t hesitate to look for a different teacher if the first one isn’t the “right fit” for your child.
Doreen Salerno of Cranford, NJ, mother of nine-year-old pianist, Daniel, avoids the “P” word entirely. “I never use the word ‘practice’––I only ask him to ‘play’,” says Salerno. She also encourages Daniel by holding pretend concerts at least once a week. “He gets to walk ‘on stage’, pretend he’s someone else, and do a ‘concert’ for his ‘audience’, which is the rest of the family,” she explains.
Kramer suggests setting up a quiet practice space free of distractions, and scheduling a consistent daily practice time. Also, be flexible about the length of the practice session. Aim for 20 minutes, but “if a child can only practice for ten minutes some days, that’s fine,” she says. The important thing is to set aside some time for it every day.
Playing a musical instrument––and sticking to it––will help your child develop qualities like perseverance, creativity and self-confidence. But most importantly, according to Kramer, is the fact that “children can say what they want through music and feel a sense of and pride in what they have accomplished, that is totally unique.” Says Salerno, “Seeing how he has improved in a short period of time has given Daniel a wonderful sense of accomplishment. And, at the very least, he’s learned that there’s more out there than just the Backstreet Boys!”
Lisa Melillo is a freelance writer and mother from Fleetwood, PA. She has a degree in Music Education from the Hartt School of Music, West Hartford, Connecticut. Correspondence may be directed, via e-mail, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parents interested in finding a music teacher may contact the Music Teachers National Association for a listing of nationally certified teachers of music in their state: 441 Vine Street, Suite 505, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45202, 513-421-1420, email@example.com, or visit the MTNA website at http://www.mtna.org.