Too young for music lessons? Too old??
I thought I’d say a few words on the question of age and learning music. Seems to come up quite often, and it appears there are some common misconceptions. Some parents think their child is too young for music lessons, and some too old! There are some age barriers depending on the instrument, so let’s take a look, firstly at the youngsters.
Is my child old enough to learn an instrument?
Apart from the obvious ‘everyone is different’ schtick, we can generalise depending on the instrument. There are some limitations imposed by each instrument:
The piano is a great starting point for learning music. Whether they continue piano as they get older, or change instrument, it is great introduction for a few reasons. Firstly, some of the basic musical concepts (pitch, melody, intervals) can be more easily visualised on a keyboard.
Another bonus with the piano is that it is easy to produce a note. You just press a key and voila, a nice sounding note comes out! With other instruments, it can be a challenge to even produce a note, let alone one that sounds out nicely.
To give an actual age, we consider 4 years to be a suitable starting age for piano. At this age most kids know left from right, can count 1 to 10, and don’t mind sitting still for 5-10 mins.
Compared to the piano, guitar is somewhat more demanding on the learner – and this goes for any age! You need to be somewhat dextrous as you need both hands to play a fretted note. Also, the strings need to be pressed with a certain amount of strength and in the right spot. There is also the issue of sore fingertips from pressing down on the strings.
While using a nylon string guitar, or perhaps an electric, can alleviate the amount of pressure required to play a note, there is no getting around this aspect (no, you can’t use a rubber thimble!). The discomfort usually subsides after a few weeks of regular practice, but many a beginner guitarist succumbs in the first few troublesome weeks. Persistence really is important!
Having said the above, we consider around 6+ to be a good age to start. While all beginners deal with the above issues, kids younger than six usually struggle, even on the smallest (1/2 size) guitars.
While there are no dexterous demands with singing, younger voices tend to be somewhat underdeveloped. Also, the musical concepts can be harder to grasp, as they have to visualise everything. Students of other instruments can at least look at the instrument. This of course can be supplemented/alleviated with the keyboard (and often is), however there is a requirement to explore the inner workings of their voice without being able to look at it. As a general rule, we only accept singing students at around 5 or 6 years old.
Too old? Never!
Cliché though it is, you really are never too old to learn an instrument. We often hear that it takes a lifetime to master an instrument, and this may well be the case (what does master even mean?). But it doesn’t take very long at all to learn enough to gain enjoyment from an instrument. Sure, you might never play Carnegie Hall, but you’ll gain a hobby that will stick with you until your hands stop working!
Also, consider that there are many different aspects to playing music: you don’t necessarily have to learn to read music (especially if you play guitar!); there’s no requirement to perform for anyone and you don’t have to take exams (nobody does!).
Perhaps you just want to strum some chords and sing your favourite tunes when you have the lounge room to yourself. Maybe you want to slowly work your way through learning a piece of music, or maybe composition is your thing. You can do all of these things with a minimal knowledge of the workings of music, and yet still have a great time doing it.
I’m perplexed when people say that because they didn’t start when they were a kid, it’s too late. Do you stop learning things when you finish school?? No, of course not. We learn our whole lives and music is no different. Ask a third of our students – they’re all above the age of 45, some nearing 70!
As a quick summary then, if you have a child younger than 4, there are plenty of pre-school group based music lesson programs around (well in Melbourne anyways). 4 and above is the perfect age to begin piano lessons .
Singers might have to wait another year or so, and guitar students can think about starting at around 6 years old. Of course there’ll be exceptions, and even differences across teachers/schools, but the above is going from our experience. If your child is younger than we’ve specified, but you think they’ll benefit from lessons, please get in touch and we’ll see how it goes!
For the older readers – if you can wiggle your fingers, you are not far off playing a musical instrument!
Thanks for reading, any comments or questions please post below!