By Nick Poss, Eau Claire Music School
I grew up playing piano and trumpet, and because of this background I could see the benefits of music education all around me. As I mastered new musical skills, my confidence grew. My ability to achieve long-term goals improved as I learned how to practice my instruments. I could lift my mood by taking some time to enjoy playing music. Socially, I made new friends and learned how to work with people from diverse backgrounds to do something bigger than each of us could do alone. In my music teachers, I found caring adults who, in their own ways, supported and challenged me.
Beyond my own anecdotal evidence, research in music psychology demonstrates these benefits having concrete effects on learners of all ages, and the improvements in cognition, auditory processing, memory, and emotional well-being that come from music education are long lasting1. I have found this to be true, and as a music educator (and parent), I think a lot about how others can share in these benefits, too.
The first step is to let go of our preconceived ideas about the “right way” for children to gain musical experience. I’m a believer in making music with whatever tool is at hand: voices, bodies, toys, cookware, furniture, et cetera. Making up rhythms, rhymes, melodies or even playing along with the music your children like to listen to are all ways to develop musical skills that will last a lifetime.
When it comes to music education, parents worry about many things. When is the right time to start lessons? What is the right instrument for my child to learn first? What is the best method for learning? These are good questions, but there is no set of answers that works exactly the same for every child.
When to start? Studies have shown that newborns can recognize music they heard in the womb, so it is never too early to introduce musical experiences to your child. Developmentally, children might be ready for one-on-one music lessons as early as three years old, although it is more typical for children to be ready around five or six. Some children will do better starting lessons even later, or they may do better in a group setting like a class, choir, or ensemble.
What instrument? Young students often start on the piano, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Compared to other instruments, the piano is fairly easy to play and the skills learned on the piano are easily transferred to other instruments. However, if a child is highly motivated to learn, there is rarely a good reason to force them to learn piano before studying an instrument they are passionate about or developing their voice.
What method? There is no way to know for sure until you try. Each child is different, as is each teacher. Find someone you like and trust as a teacher and be honest about your expectations. A good teacher will work with your child and you to find the right approach to make learning enjoyable and productive.
The greatest benefits from music education will arise when children are doing something they enjoy in a supportive social setting. Don’t let anxiety about the “right way” to do it stand in the way.
Nick Poss is the owner of the Eau Claire Music School where over 20 instructors offer lessons, classes, and ensembles for students of all ages. More information can be found at www.eauclairemusicschool.com.
For an in depth review of several recent studies, consult: Dumont, Elisabeth, et al. “Music Interventions and Child Development: A Critical Review and Further Directions.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 8, 29 Sept. 2017, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01694.