By Julie Zapan
Childhood musical instruction is a gift that delivers immediate rewards and a lifetime of dividends. As a parallel course of learning to traditional schooling, private music instruction ensures your child’s education is well-rounded – while improving their performance in the classroom, thanks to the level of concentration and discipline required to learn to play a musical instrument.
What sets musical education apart – and makes it more valuable as opposed to other markers of childhood – is that it cannot be purchased off the shelf. It requires excellent instruction, attention, dedication, practice and a level of commitment from the families and their children in order to fully realize the promise that childhood musical education can deliver – today and into adulthood.
The question I get most often from parents is, “What is the right age for my child to begin taking lessons?” After 25 years of speaking with parents, my answer is this: “Some 4 year olds are ready, and some 14 year olds simply never develop an interest.”
Does this mean that the parent decides at what age to start their child? Does this mean forced music lessons for a less than eager student? The answer is no to both. This means you look for the clues to see if you have a musically inclined child on your hands. And then the age will not matter because a musical child will flourish at whatever age they begin. Naturally, the younger the better.
How do you know if you have a musical child? Could you be the parent of what may be a really fine musician one day? There are clues that your child will give you every day. Yes, everyday, just as music is a part of our world every day. From hit tunes, movie soundtracks and theme songs to commercial jingles and street musicians, music is everywhere. And so are the clues to your child’s level of interest.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Did my child sing a recognizable tune from an early age?
Not all children can carry a tune when they are little. They may have the words, they may have some of the pitches, but delivering the actual melody or tune is done by an innate sense of pitch, an ability to follow and recreate a melody as an adult would hear it.
Do they seem drawn to an instrument?
When out in the world, if they see a piano in a hotel lobby or airport, do they stop and find it intriguing? Do they notice live music being played? If a neighbor or friend has a piano, is it the first thing they go to when visiting? That is interest, plain and clear, not just awareness.
If given the chance to play an instrument, do they do it with care?
For example, do they touch the keys of a piano with one or two fingers as opposed to banging the keys with an entire hand or fist? Do they treat the instrument with a natural sense of care and not just another item to explore and quickly discard?
If you have answered yes to at least two of these questions, you likely have a musical child, a child who will not only benefit from music lessons but a child who will thrive as a young musician.
Having a musical child means you will invest a great deal in their development, and I urge you to fasten your seatbelt for the rewards.
A musical child is a sensitive child, a child that grows into a young adult who will not take the traditional path. They will see the world through a creative lens, they will enrich your life in a way that you never expected and at the most tender moments.
Musical children are the dreamers, they push the envelope, they explore possibilities. They can be headstrong, but they share their talent and bring joy to the world. Years down the road, you will see how lucky you were to recognize the clues that your child had a talent just waiting to be unlocked.
The writer is director of Old Town Music School and a conservatory trained musician and educator with more than 25 years of experience in guiding young musicians.