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What’s the Right Age to Begin Music Lessons?

A boy gets violin lessonsWe’ve all heard the stories of famed musical prodigies, from Mozart writing his first symphony at the age of eight to Stevie Wonder signing with Motown at 11. Even if your child isn’t performing with the New York Philharmonic or the Chicago Symphony by age 11 (like violinist Midori and Herbie Hancock, respectively), your family is undoubtedly exposed to talented children in the neighborhood. Whether it’s the church preschool choir or an elementary school band concert, it seems as if parents must immerse their children in music lessons from birth if they want them to succeed, and in a way, they’re right.

That being said, parents often hear complaints from other parents that influence them to postpone music lessons until their child is older, such as “My parents forced me to play an instrument when I was young. … I hated it then and still hate it now.” In order to avoid this negative attitude, parents opt to delay music lessons until their child is older and can choose their own instrument or make the decision that they even want to play an instrument. They too are right.

These statements may seem contradictory. In reality, the issue is how you define music lessons. To better understand this, it’s important to look at the underlying reasons a parent might want their child to take music lessons.

There is a growing (and convincing) body of research that indicates a “window of opportunity” from birth to age nine for developing a musical sensibility within children. During this time, the mental structures and mechanisms associated with processing and understanding music are in the prime stages of development, making it of utmost importance to expose children in this age range to music.

The important question then is not when to start lessons, but what is the goal of music lessons for young children? For instance, very young children are not exposed to instruments in order to master them, but to gain experience and learn to develop meaningful relationships with music at a young age. If this is your goal, then the “lessons” can and should start soon after birth and certainly within the child’s first year.

These “lessons” do not have to be—in fact, at first probably shouldn’t be—very formal. A parent can serve as guide by immersing the child in a musical environment. You should help your child focus on the music with simple movement activities such as musical games, swaying or dancing while holding the baby, or singing or playing an instrument for the child.

Once the child is around age three, it may be time for more formalized “lessons.” Again, the goal is not to learn to play an instrument but to further develop skills like identifying a beat in music, identifying melody, or identifying instruments. These parent-child lessons might be any number of preschool classes run by private individuals, universities, or community centers. To decide whether or not a class is suitable for your child, make sure your goals and expectations coincide with the teacher’s.

By age five, most children have built a foundation that has prepared them for formalized music lessons. Even now, the goal of the lessons is not to become a great performer on the instrument but to further the understanding of music. Piano and violin are the two most common instruments played at this age, but others have tried the recorder, guitar, or ukulele with success.

By age 10, the child will have a variety of skills associated with their instrument of choice. They’ll also have the physical strength to try a different, bigger instrument, such as a brass or large string instrument that requires a higher level of strength and stamina. Around this time, the goal of lessons appropriately transitions from gaining experience with music to improving performance ability.

In summary, there are three answers to the question, “What age should children begin music lessons?” Informal activities with music should start soon after birth, followed by more systematic classes around age three, and lessons with the goal of learning the instrument should start between six and nine. Keep in mind that these are only guidelines; exceptions will undoubtedly occur based on the child and/or teacher. Musical experience at an early age is extremely important in a child’s developmental process. Like riding a bike or learning a language, these skills can be learned later in life, but they will never be “natural” in the way that is so important for fluid musical performance.

  • Pingback: Time for Music Lessons . Education . PBS Parents | PBS

  • tyler agent

    I think I started taking piano lessons when I was about 4, and at first I hated practicing I thought it was the worst punishment ever. But I’m so glad that my mom pushed me and that she made me stick with it. Because now almost 20 years later, my piano playing was able to get me into an amazing college on a full ride scholarship, and it’s an amazing experience to be able to travel and perform. So all of that practicing has finally paid off.

    • BrS

      Being forced to play the piano gave me a lifelong dislike of the instrument. Also when I finally got my way and quit playing I didn’t go back to music for nearly ten years. My brother was the same. Things might have been different if my mother had allowed us to play an instrument of our choice instead.

  • Miss PBC

    This is exactly what we do with our daughter in our Musikgarten classes!! What a great article

  • MooneyDriver

    When I was a little boy, my mother made me take piano lessons. Typical of her home-spun psychology, she assured me that, if I practiced every day, I would grow up to play like Paderewski (that was 11 years after his death). It was 30 years later when my wife and I (on a trip to Paris) noticed a larger-than-life reproduction of the signature pages of the treaty on a wall in the Palace of Versailles. There among the signatures of Lloyd George and Clemenceau, clearly written in beautiful script was “I. J. Paderewski.” The fact that a piano player could also become Prime Minister of Poland shows how important it is to include music in the lives of every young child. Keep practicing!

    • wordwar

      A single anecdote and a single correlation does not yield proof or even supporting evidence for a cause and effect relationship. Maybe less piano practice and a deeper study of logic is required.

      • Elisha


  • newschoolofmusic

    Piano lessons are definitely great for younger children as they develop skills that will transfer to other instruments as they get older. There is a great article on the benefits of piano lessons at Go to the explore tab and scroll down until you see the piano tab.

  • Modern Violin Instruction

    This is an interesting read. I have 4 students right now under the age of 6. All are doing remarkably well. A successful lesson program is truly a team effort, and relies heavily on parental support at home during practice sessions. I’m a firm believer that a good teacher can make or break a child’s experience with an instrument and music in general.

  • MasterYodan


    I’m more than 40 and I have started to learn piano this year.

    I didn’t know anything about piano and music before so I have searched on the web to learn by myself.

    I have decided to share on my website what I have learned.

    Hope it can help other beginners.

  • southern hospitality

    i love me some cranberry pie

  • N8

    I first started out with music in my early teens playing classical guitar. Not a wiz at reading sheet music or particularly insightful at remembering scales, chord progressions, etc. But for guitar kids its E-D-G NOW go start a band!

  • wordwar

    I had six years of private piano lessons during middle and high school. In spite of the fact that I made it clear that I had zero interest in playing music (I hardly even listened to music back then), the lessons continued.

    I cared more about my academic success and always knew I wanted a STEM career, so I knew that the music study was a waste of time from day one. If I didn’t care much for music and if it wasn’t going to be my career, my so much focus on it? I had interests in other worthy activities, but the piano lessons meant that the time and resources were never available for those activities. The lessons were one-on-one with a few recitals scattered through the years, so there was no social benefit to the lessons.

    Fact is there are a lot of kids that were “forced” to participate in activities that they had no interest in, and for many, even far into adulthood, their negative experience has left a dark place in their lives. Sometimes it was sports; for others music; often it was being pushed toward or away from a particular career or interest; sometimes it was unrealistic academic expectations and excessive studying.

    A variety of experiences all through elementary school is important, as kids that age are still discovering their world. I don’t resent my 5th grade recorder lessons, for instance, though I can’t say I enjoyed the experience either. But by middle and high school most kids will have developed their own personal interests, tastes, goals and aspirations. Parents need to realize that it is not their place to set their mature student’s interests, tastes, goals and aspirations.

    Educators are finally beginning to realize that some kids are different and that different is not evil. For instance, Asperger’s is considered to be a disability, and it can be for certain situations, but if a kid has nurturing parents who understand and accept their Asperger’s kids then the child can pursue their non-social endeavors without self-loathing. Same is true for introverts, lefties, LGBT, ADHDers, autistics, and kids with other differences, be they disabilities or not. Not that these kids don’t need some special direction learning essential skills to get through life, but at the end of the day it has been the “different” people who have had the most effect on our civilization. If Edison, Picasso, Newton, Hemmingway, Van Gogh, Einstein, Nietzsche, Poe, Rachmaninoff and other influential intellectuals were “mainstream”, “well-rounded”, “balanced” and were not lacking in their mental, emotional or social health, well-being, or character, would we even have their works today?
    Of course, we would want to help cure someone suicidal from their depression and intervene when someone cuts off and mails their body parts, but someone who is really focused on their passion while showing little interest in socializing does not need intervention if they are happy and aware of their situation.
    It’s time to let people be comfortable with who and what they are and allow them to hone their own unique strengths and talents rather than to bog them down and make them miserable and feeling inadequate with mastering skills like how to work the room at a cocktail party or dance at a wedding. Life won’t end if we skip the party or stay seated at the wedding. We are not helpless and can make our own success and find our joy in life without following the mainstream, without needing to express ourselves at social events, and without needing to pursue activities that we do not enjoy or cannot excel at. We tend to be masters, even savants, at those tasks that we do take on, yet most of us are not trying to shame the rest of society for lacking the skills we have acquired.
    Point is, yes – make kids work hard at mastering something, make the resources available to them, give them a wide exposure, but pushing a kid to put special focus on one particular activity they do not enjoy and do not show much potential for ends up causing more harm than good. A kid that is not even trying to be popular is not doomed to fail at life. A kid that does not share the same interests as the majority of extroverts on this planet isn’t condemned to suffer for it unless those around him are constantly making him feel weird or ashamed of his own personal preferences. A kid who pretends to enjoy hanging out in crowds, pretends to enjoy making music, pretends to enjoy engaging in small talk, pretends to enjoy receiving attention, and pretends to be something he knows he is not will become a very unhappy and unsatisfied adult.

  • Lou Iza

    There is an age that’s appropriate though. If the child is too young, their bones and mental capacity can’t handle it. The last thing you want to do is turn them off of music by being forced in to it. I’m a big advocate of the Karl Orff method – it’s fun and music! Check out this article to learn more:

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