When should my child learn an instrument? What instrument should my child play first?

When should my child learn an instrument? What instrument should my child play first?

I am often asked when should my child learn to play a pitched instrument, such as a piano or violin.

Children need to have well developed hand-eye co-ordination, the ability to focus and concentrate, and read left to right, to follow the written music. They also need the ability to hear pitch and rhythm accurately.

Sometimes in our society, children are introduced to the piano, violin or the musical notation at a very young age.

This may be appropriate for some children. However, many children benefit by waiting until they have matured enough to have developed these skills. This avoids making learning an instrument a tedious process, as the child learns technical skills, such as where and how to place fingers, ultimately finding it all too difficult and losing interest. About the age of 6 or 7 is generally appropriate.

There are certainly wonderful experiences available that can introduce children to classical music and orchestral instruments, their names, their family groups, the sounds they make, and the way they are played.

Recently, many of my students under 5 years visited the Toddler Proms of the Sydney Youth Orchestra. These are held throughout the year at various locations around Sydney. Please refer to their website, www.syo.com.au

What happens at a toddler prom?

Children attend the concerts with their carers, and can choose to sit on the floor close to the orchestra, or on chairs with their parents.

The SYO toddler prom was a buzz of excitement from start to finish.

I loved the way the concert was so appropriate for young children from babies to 7 years in the following ways.

  • The musicians stood and played their instruments when their turn came in the first piece, Bolero, a famous piece by Ravel.

  • Mark Brown, the conductor on our visit, introduced the different groups of instruments to the audience. I had no idea there was so many different saxophones!

  • The conductor demonstrated a simple form of conducting, and some lucky children, as young as 3 or 4 years, were fortunate to conduct the orchestra themselves for a brief period, how exciting was that!

  • Children heard the story of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears, with instrumental accompaniment.
    Baby bear was represented by the flute, Mother Bear by the saxophone and Father Bear by the tuba.

  • Children and their parents were able to walk through the orchestra as the young musicians played. They could observe how the instruments were played and listen to the different sounds of the instruments. What a great experience for young and old.

  • Children were encouraged to respond actively to the music by dancing or clapping.

  • Children listened to the tune of well-known songs, such as Twinkle, Playschool, and Happy Birthday, and identified them if they could.

  • After the concert, young musicians invited children to make a sound by blowing across the mouthpiece of a flute. I tried too!

  • The children observed young people aged 14 – 22 doing a fabulous job of playing a variety of orchestral instruments, which provides a wonderful role model to the younger children.

  • Young musicians also benefitted by performing for others.

  • Many fathers were in attendance on the day. This was great, as fathers do not often have the opportunity to share music class with their children.

My families and I were surprised and delighted by such a wonderful musical experience.