What is the best age to learn music?
The benefits of studying music are varied and plentiful. Benefits that include helping to develop discipline, hand-eye coordination, intelligence and brain training, all while creating a skill that can bring happiness to both the performer and to all that listen. Taking that into account, it’s no surprise that you want to consider putting your child into piano lessons. The question you may have though is how old should my child be? You might even be thinking for yourself, "What is the best age to learn music?" While the answer for that is really dependent upon your child themselves, there is no wrong time for anyone to learn how to play music. Here are a few helpful guidelines to help you to make this decision.
There are some children who start learning and become quite proficient starting at only three years old. Studies have shown that children at the age of six have more brain growth and better fine motor skills than their peers. Some children who start as late as 10 or 11 years old can also become excellent professional pianists. There is no one rule that can dictate what age a child will be ready to start lessons. Anyone who wants to learn, and puts in the hours of practice that are necessary, can reach a high level of skill and enjoyment.
How do you know if your child is ready to learn music?
There are things that you can do with a child at any age to help them to develop as musicians, even if they are not in formal lessons. For young children, and even babies, taking a class from your local music school, or simply listening to a wide variety of music, allowing them to interact with that music with sounds and movements of their own, can help them to begin learning about rhythm and sound and how it all goes together. Children under the age of 5 who show and interest in the piano should be allowed to explore and learn on their own time table. They are unlikely to respond well to an adult-imposed structured lesson simply because they are too active and curious and can rarely focus on one thing for more than three minutes. A child in formal lessons at this age is unlikely to get much benefit simply because their brains just can’t focus for the 30 minute time-frame. For children at this stage, enrolling them in a music program such as Kindermusik, Music Together, Musikgarten, or some other preschool type of music and movement program is going to help them cultivate a general interest in music that will hopefully grow with them.
Requirements for Readiness
While the best time to start piano lessons is different for every child, most are ready to begin between the ages of five-and-a-half to eight years old. How do you know if your child is ready? Here are three things that can be considered requirements to formal lessons.
Size of their hand
Your child’s hand must be large enough that they can easily place five fingers on five adjacent white keys. For some five-year-olds, their fingers just aren’t long enough to read the keys. So before beginning piano lessons, make sure that your child’s hands have grown enough to be comfortable using a keyboard.
Finger coordination and independence
Due to the nature of playing the piano, your child must be able to move each finger independently of one another. Test this by having your child hold their hand up. Ask them to wiggle only one finger, say, only their left-hand ring finger. If they can consistently wiggle the finger you have asked, then they likely have at least the beginnings of the required independent finger coordination. This is also something that you can help them to develop and improve upon at home. Play a simple game of copy-cat, where you hold up your hands and wiggle a finger and get them to try and copy. Just remember to keep it light and fun.
An interest in music and a desire to learn
Probably the most important requirement is that your child has their own desire to learn the piano. If the motivation to learn is coming from your child, it will help them to overcome all sorts of difficulties they may encounter. If the motivation is coming from your desire for them to learn, sooner or later it’s going to backfire and you will end up in a power struggle. If your child expresses interest in the beginning, but then starts to strongly resist learning, it’s okay to take a break for several months to see if the interest returns. You don’t want to push them so hard that you push them away from a desire to play. Taking a short break may be all that is needed to help re-instill their love of music and desire to learn, without a big fight.
Is an ability to read a necessity?
For younger children who are not yet reading, deciphering notes on a sheet of music can be a daunting and difficult task. That does not mean that they are not ready to take formal music lessons, it simply means that the approach needs to be different. Rather than taking them to lessons where the teacher uses a book-based method, where sight-reading is emphasized from the beginning, try and find a teacher or music school where they teach lessons using an ear-based method. This way, you won’t have to wait until a child is more proficient at reading in order for them to begin learning. With an ear-based learning method, reading and writing music are introduced at a later date, when the child is more ready for it.
Is it ever too late to begin?
To this I must answer with an emphatic NO! While our brains lose their flexibility and some of the ease of quick learning as we age, our endurance and will power tend to increase. Starting to learn piano later in life may require more patience, simply because most teens and adults are used to being good at things and being awkward at the piano can be difficult. You must remember to persevere. The benefits to learning and playing the piano are worth it.