Children love music. The upbeat tempo, the smooth-sounding instruments, the easy-to-follow lyrics – to a child, there’s nothing better!
Most children will happily sing-along to nursery rhymes featured on Little Baby Bum and The Wiggles, bop along to music they hear in the car or at the shops, mimic music videos from their favourite artists and later down the track, may even want to learn how to play piano/guitar/saxophone/drums.
If your little one is displaying a love of music, this is awesome news for both you and your child! And it’s something that you should continue to encourage.
You may have heard the old adage, “learning an instrument makes you smarter.” As it turns out, this is actually the truth!
According to researchers at the University of Zurich, learning a musical instrument changes the brain’s structure and functionality (compared with non-musicians, in the parts of the brain that control cognitive performance, motor skills, hearing, storing audio information and memory.
Thus, musicians are more self-disciplined, more attentive and better at planning, which are all very important skills for academic performance. This also enhances the ability to learn foreign languages as it involves listening for different tonalities.
Simply listening to music stimulates most parts of the brain, but reading and playing music simultaneously exercises every part of the brain. It appears learning to read music is critical, as it aids in recognising patterns, which is then crucial in the development of mathematical and literacy skills
As a music teacher, I am often asked, “When should I start my child on an instrument?”.
The answer will depend entirely on you and your child. But before you decide, ask yourself, do you have the time to sit with your child for 15 to 20 minutes a day, at least five times a week to help them practice for the next two years?
It sounds like a big commitment, right? Which is why it might be best to wait until they are about seven or eight years old and can read both the English language and the music homework book.
But what if your child is showing a love of music at an earlier age? There are plenty of music and movement classes that teach your child the basics of music, music history, simple percussion, wind and string instruments and music reading before this age if your child wants to learn an instrument.
Tips for Choosing an Instrument
• Instruments like piano, keyboard and violin are easiest for your child to be successful with at an earliest age.
• When your child is a little older, instruments like a recorder (which, contrary to popular belief, if played correctly is a delightful introductory wind instrument), cello (which is larger and your child has to sit down to play, so may need assistance setting it up) and guitar.
• When your child has sufficient lung capacity, usually by the age of nine, clarinet, flute and trumpet are ideal wind instruments.
Nurturing their Passion for Playing
Handing your child an instrument is only the first step in nurturing this musical passion. Some children will eagerly practice without prompting for hours and hours. Most however, will need a little encouragement. In fact, every single child no matter how motivated, is going to have periods where he or she doesn’t want to practice. What this means is, as the parent, you will have to nag. But hopefully not too often. Here are a few tips to help pave the pathway to practice success.
• Make music front and centre – Set up the instrument where it is part of the family space, not tucked away in a bedroom where they are by themselves and can’t share their experience with the family.
• Ensure you have a quality instrument – A non-touch sensitive keyboard, for example, may sound ideal, but is setting your child up to have incorrect technique which may cause injury in the long term. If you don’t have the room for a piano, touch-sensitive 76 or 88 key keyboards with full sized keys and a pedal are now available for very reasonable prices.
• Make it part of the daily routine – It’s compulsory to do nightly reading at school, so you need to make music practice part of the daily routine as well, and schedule a time for it.
• Be involved – Even if you can’t read a note, you can still sit with them, listen to them and praise them. Children need to know that they are valued, and that you want them to succeed in this endeavour.
• Limit distractions during practice times – If the rest of the family is playing on the Playstation and you have told your child to practice, of course they are going to not want to.
• Work with your child’s school – Many schools will have music programs as part of the curriculum. If your child is showing an interest in music or in a certain instrument, have a chat to the music teacher. He or she may be able to help you find an instructor or know of musical organisations in the community that might interest your child.
• Find a Teacher – If your child does want to take on a musical instrument, check out www.qmta.org.au for teachers in your area.
Music is For Life
Give your child the opportunity to play an instrument and you won’t regret it. After all, the love of music never grows old. There are always community bands or orchestras they can join once they have finished school or they may simply choose to keep this special skill for family events and occasions.
You never know – they may still be playing when they’re 90. Just ensure you encourage them to practice now so they have this skill for life!
Nicole Tobin is a classroom music teacher, a piano, keyboard and flute teacher, and a Kindermusik Educator. Raised on the Atherton Tablelands, she has been teaching in Cairns since 1995.