Teaching music to young kids

My 7-year-old wants to take music lessons. Is there any evidence that starting on one particular instrument, or voice, is better than others? She’s thinking piano.

She’s not exceptionally talented, but her time is pretty good and she can–almost–hold a tune.

Or does anyone have recommendations?

I started playing guitar when I was your daughter’s age. I’ve studied music though did not get a music degree, and have played in bands since age 15. I have done a little bit of teaching.

You can start on any instrument (though see below about my daughter). Piano is a great instrument to start with, especially if she has the interest. You don’t have to work hard to get proper sounds out of it (compared to violin or clarinet, or even guitar, for example). Because a piano can play multiple notes, it’s a great solo or accompanying instrument. Learning piano develops a good foundation so that you could go to learn other instruments from there, if your interest changes. Drawbacks are purchase price, size (where do you put it), maintenance (needs professional tuning), and lack of portability. These are mitigated if you go electronic, though discuss with a teacher.

Anyone who goes on to a serious music career will have to learn piano, regardless of their primary instrument.

My son started learning the drums at age 7, now 8, because that’s what he was interested in. The drawback to drums is you don’t learn standard music notation, although he is learning drum notation.

My daughter is 10 and is interested in flute. The first teacher I talked to said he doesn’t teach kids until all their adult teeth are in because the embouchure changes too much. (I don’t know if this is a common viewpoint; I am going to look for another teacher, this has been on the back burner while she has been playing softball.)

Be aware that starting a child on an instrument is not just the music teacher’s job. You need to be a fully engaged participant. You don’t have to know the instrument but you do have to work with the teacher to understand expectations and help your child to be on a practice schedule that achieves weekly (usually) goals.

Bottom line is that your child will do best in the long if you encourage and nurture a natural interest, so if she’s thinking piano, think piano.

You might look into MusikGarten–they give group keyboard lessons for young kids. You could possibly even put her into one of the more general classes this year and then do keyboarding next year–the general class has singing, rhythm, basic notation and so on and is a great foundation. (My daughter has violin ambitions and I’ve said that she has to take the two years of Musikgarten first; then she’ll be 7 and she can do violin if she still wants to.)
The general maxim is that “the measure of a child’s success is dependent upon his mother’s perserverance.” This is a serious commitment for a parent, because you will have to get her to practice daily and be very involved. They say that about 50% of kids drop out in the first 6 months. You can google phrases like “music practice” for suggestions and helps on encouraging practicing and enthusiasm. Good luck!

The thing to keep in mind about teaching music to young kids is this–the biggest factor in how much and how quickly they learn is their age. Starting a kid on an instrument at a younger age does not provide much if any of a “head start”.

Note: I am not a music teacher, but I have friends who teach music–mostly violin and flute (and the flute teacher has taught students who don’t have all their adult teeth in yet, but does agree with the idea that one is better off to wait. I also know someone who demanded that his braces stay on until after tryouts for marching band were over, so that he could relearn to play trumpet at a less stressful time, and get the best possible placement in the band).

My violin teacher friend has several three year olds in her lessons. They spend a lot of time working on sitting or standing quietly and holding the violin properly. Very little time is spent playing the violin. Lessons are also shorter than they might be with an older student.

A child of 6 who comes in for the first time, much more quickly learns how to hold the violin, and sits or stands still much better, so moves more quickly into learning to play violin.

A child of 9 has even more maturity and so can still catch up fairly quickly to the 9 year old who has been playing since 3 or 6, because some of the skills required to play violin well develop with age-- even without attempting to play an instrument.

There may be an age after which it becomes more difficult to start learning an instrument. If so, I don’t know what it is–although I bet it has more to do with growing awareness of what other people think of you and other social factors than musicianship per se.

And how much the child will get out of the lessons is greatly dependent on what the child (and the child’s parents) is willing to put into music outside of the lessons.

Other Note: This does not mean that starting a kid on an instrument at a young age is a bad idea if he or she is interested.

I started piano around that age. Piano is a decent starting instrument because it is not hard to get sound out of, and they will learn to play both bass and treble cleff, so the won’t have to re-learn how to read music if they want to play something else instead or move into band/orechestra and what have you.

I always felt it was the perfect age for me to start, YMMV.

Eureka talks a lot of sense. I have friends who have successful careers as violinists, who didn’t start lessons until they were 9 or 10.

For a seven-year-old, several instruments can be eliminated straight away, due to their physical size. Plenty of kids that age couldn’t even lift a french horn, let alone play one. And the handshapes needed for wind instruments can be a problem. A reason for violins being common starter instruments is that they suit little people. (As do cellos.)

Starting with the piano can be ideal or dreadful, and it depends on the personality of the child. It’s very much a “sit still and concentrate” activity, whereas beginning lessons on the violin is (or at least can be) a much more physical and lively activity, especially in group classes. You know your daughter well enough to know whether one of these sounds more appropriate than the other.

Dangermon’s comments are also worth taking on board. I’ve never encountered MusikGarten, but any tuition for a child this age should be dealing with general musicianship, rather than simply learning to play the instrument by rote.

However, the statement "The general maxim is that “the measure of a child’s success is dependent upon his mother’s perserverance” makes me shudder. Yes, parental support and enthusiasm is a very important element, but ultimately the perseverence has to come from the child (albeit with much assistance).

My 7 y/o niece has an incredibly rich voice, even if her pitch control isn’t quite there.
Any suggestions as to how to (gently) get her some training or whatever? I have
mentioned it to her several times, but she doesn’t believe that her voice is good
(and her older brother’s eye-rolling at the very thought doesn’t help).