My 5-year-old, Sadie, has been sounding out a version of "Do-Re-Mi" on her toy electronic keyboard since age 3. Now that her musical repertoire includes jamming to Laurie Berkner and Sam Cooke on her faux white guitar, I'm thinking about signing her up for music lessons this fall.
"This is a great age to begin playing an instrument if your kid shows an interest," says Menon Dwarka, director of the Greenwich House Music School, in New York City. "In kindergarten and first grade, kids are tracking words from left to right and learning to read, so a music teacher may not have to rely on having them just memorize the notes by ear."
Music lessons may even help children become more confident readers. "Music and schoolwork build similar skills, including letter and number recognition and fine motor development," says Glenn Schellenberg, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. "My research on first-graders shows that learning an instrument improves a child's reading scores on standardized tests." If that sounds like music to your ears, start off your budding Bach on a high note.
You and your child need to agree on what she'll play. She won't have enough breath support or finger dexterity for a wind instrument like flute or clarinet until she's around 10, and brass instruments are too big. While some music schools offer guitar lessons for 5- and 6-year-olds, most experts believe it?s smart to wait until kids are a little older and have more hand strength, coordination, and dexterity. The best options: piano and violin.
"It's easiest for children to learn how to play melodies on the piano," says Marvelene C. Moore, Ph.D., professor of music at the University of Tennessee. Since a piano is a big investment in space and money, it's okay for a kid to practice on a keyboard at first while you gauge her long-term interest.
The violin, especially the scaled-down one made for kids, is smaller and more portable than a keyboard, but it requires more patience. The first few lessons will be devoted to learning how to hold the instrument and bow (for many kids it feels awkward initially) and remembering several finger positions.
There are two basic kinds of classes: Suzuki and regular. With Suzuki (which is especially popular for the violin), playing by ear is emphasized at first over reading music. A parent and child usually learn together -- so you not only have to attend your kid's lessons, you'll be expected to participate as well. For either option, your child can have group or private lessons. Group lessons with three or four other children around the same age and level are often a better choice since young kids learn well from one another, explains Nicole Yorty, a music teacher at Herbert A. Derfelt Elementary School, in Las Vegas.