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October 3, 2017
Starting Private Lessons: An Intro
Guest blog feature by Dave Mattock from Mattock School of Music
The two things I get asked the most often are “when should my child begin private music lessons?” and “how old do they need to be?” Well, the easy answer is “whenever they want to and whatever instrument they like!” In some ways, it really is that easy, but of course it’s not that simple. Rather than their age, consider your child’s maturity, attention span, and fine motor skills. Although these develop during instruction, a certain degree of all three is necessary to enjoy and succeed at lessons.
When taking private lessons, a student needs to comfortably engage with a teacher for roughly thirty minutes. This will be broken up into smaller sections during the lesson, but even then, it requires their attention for a relatively long time. For the youngest students, group lessons are sometime the best way to prepare for private lessons, allowing them to internalize the fundamentals of music before they are fully capable of understanding them. With a teacher experienced working with children, most students are ready for private lessons around age five.
Another aspect to consider is the child’s fine motor skills. If a child is not physically ready, lessons can be frustrating and counterproductive. Our fine motor skills develop independently of our cognitive ability, but both are necessary to play an instrument. An experienced teacher can tell in the first few minutes of a lesson what a student is capable of and create a lesson plan that develops with the student.
When considering what instrument to play, there are no absolutes, but I recommend starting on piano or violin. Piano is an easy instrument to understand, play, and maintain. It’s laid out in an obvious way, the keys are easy to depress and instantly create a pleasant sound, and requires no more than the occasional tuning. Compare this to the intricate layout of a saxophone, the challenge of even getting a single note out of a trumpet, or the daily tuning of a guitar. The violin, although requiring daily maintenance, is built in smaller sizes to accommodate tiny hands, gets children used to the idea of staying in tune, and is great for ensemble playing. It also is more practical for people who do not want to commit to the space requirements of a piano. Whichever instrument you choose, they will learn the basics of music and playing an instrument, and as they grow older and their interests change, the switch to another instrument will not be very hard. If you wait until they are big enough to play their favorite instrument, they miss out on years of important learning, especially during the early time when their minds are most adept at learning new languages.
Everyone is different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning music. Children are ready at different ages, and the perfect instrument for them to learn on is sometimes unique. Sitting down with an experienced teacher to discuss your options is the best way to ensure productive, fun, and long lasting musical experiences for your child.