Music Lessons: When and How to Take Your Child's Musical Interest to the Next Level

Belinda Takahashi, Ph.D.
November 26, 2012

I'm frequently asked by parents what age their children should start taking music more seriously and begin a musical instrument. It always makes me happy to see that parents truly understand the importance of music to ask this question. Music is a wonderful way to express and challenge oneself. Pursuing this path plants the seeds for future growth in all areas.

Music should become a part of your child's life from birth. Dance, sing and play music! Give them drums to bang and maracas to shake. These are terrific ways to kick off your child's musical life. As they become toddlers, group music classes that incorporate movement, singing, playing instruments, and some music fundamentals are a great way to further musical exploration. Now, the big question:

When is a good age for a child to start private instruction on a musical instrument?

The answer is there is no set age. Some three-year-olds are ready while some six-year-olds are not. All children are different, and you have to listen and watch your child very carefully.  

Ways to help determine if they're ready:

  1. Do they keep asking you for music lessons or to play a particular instrument?  
  2. Do you find them strumming chords on your guitar, plunking away at the piano, or singing more than talking?  
  3. Do they have a large enough attention span? If you can't get your child to sit at the dinner table for five minutes straight, then chances are a 30-minute private lesson is not in the cards yet.
  4. Will they have support at home? As a parent, you will have to devote time to nurture your child's budding interest and provide them with a lot of encouragement and guidance. Believe me -- you will be challenged.  

Okay, so they're ready to start a musical instrument. Now what?

  1. Find the right teacher! This is essential. Not all teachers are alike, and the relationship that your child has with her teacher will hopefully be one that she remembers for a lifetime. Find the one who "gets" your child and who is passionate about being a teacher. The teacher should inspire your child and cultivate her interest.  
  2. Let your child choose his instrument. If there are physical limitations with the choice, provide an alternative to start with and let him "move on" when he's ready. For example, if your five-year-old is infatuated with the trombone, offer him a recorder to start with. The piano is also a great first instrument. It's visually intuitive and can produce pleasing tones from the very beginning.
  3. Choose musical pieces that your child enjoys -- ones that are technically appropriate but also musically engaging for your child so she doesn't get bored or fed up easily. For example, if your child is a huge Harry Potter fan, find a version that she can play on her own instrument.
  4. Make music a household affair and provide your child with ample exposure: live music concerts, recordings, and YouTube clips of amazing performers can truly engage and inspire your child.  
  5. Have a set practice schedule. For example, if your child knows that she has to practice 20 minutes a day from 4:00 to 4:20, she will quickly learn the drill and be less inclined to negotiate out of it. The practice will simply be part of the household routine.  
  6. Find a good space to practice away from the hustle and bustle of the house and other siblings.
  7. Make sure they have an opportunity to perform. Making music and performing is the fun part! It's why we practice, and it's important for your child not to lose sight of that when he's struggling with the basics.
  8. Take up an instrument yourself. What a great way to bond with your child, understand the endeavor she's undertaking, and learn something fun and new.

Remember, your child doesn't have to love every moment of practice. In fact, there will be times when you and your child may want to throw in the towel. During this beginning stage, keep encouraging him. It's a tough balance to gently guide and have your child realize his musical potential without pushing too hard and stifling his natural enthusiasm. As he progresses and his musical sounds become more refined, your child will become motivated to play for himself and not just because he was told to by his teacher or you.  

Learning an instrument is valuable for every child, even if your child decides that music is not her thing. It can give one an appreciation for effort and dedication; what it takes to become good at something. It can teach children to work through problems and to slowly build the necessary skills to ultimately create something beautiful, expressive, and meaningful.


An Emmy award-winning and internationally recognized composer, Belinda has been immersed in music since her childhood.  Starting as a concert pianist, she turned to music composition at age 10.  She received her bachelor's degree at Oberlin Conservatory and later went on to the Eastman School of Music, where she was awarded the sole spot for a full graduate fellowship and received her M.M. and Ph.D. in Music Composition.  As a university professor, she has taught Music Composition, Music Theory and Orchestration at various universities including the Eastman School of Music, Rochester University, Drake University and Montclair State University.  Belinda is a recognized authority and sought after speaker on children and music.  She is currently ranked as the #1 "Mompreneur" by and has been interviewed for her business and creative acumen in publications such as Time Magazine, Venture Beat, Forbes, Fast Company, among many others.  She is a seasoned media producer having managed over 100 people and co-creating the Juno Baby and Juno Jr. brands. The Juno Company represents the culmination of her lifelong devotion to music, experiences as a mother and love of children.

From the Parents

  • Parent # 1

    My 3 year old son has a wonderful sense of rhythm, but yeah, not the attention span... so I guess it's pots and pans for him for now. ;-)

    over a year ago


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