After years of studies and speculation, we can finally scientifically prove that music benefits brain development from a young age. From literacy development to improving math skills, music's overarching benefits for children is unquestionable. So why aren't we putting more emphasis on music education, especially from a young age? Yes, many schools both public and private offer music classes as part of their k-12 curriculum. But with many of these programs offering only general music classes due to curriculum restrictions and funding, it is important for parents to understand they have many other options when it comes to music lessons before their child ever steps foot into a classroom. And it's never too early to start.
But when it comes to planning music education for their children, many parents may ask: where do we start? What is the appropriate and most beneficial age to start my child's music education and what exactly does that education look like? These dilemmas can be challenging for some parents, especially those who are not musicians themselves or those who are unfamiliar with what options are available to them. Let's start by answering a few of these questions and then go deeper into the holistic benefits of taking private music lessons at a young age:
Questions parents may ask:
How early is too early to start my child's music education?
What are the differences between music classes and music lessons?
What kinds of music classes/lessons are available to my child?
How do children benefit from early childhood education?
How early is too early to start my child's music education?
When it comes to music, it is never too early to start exposing your children. From holding headphones on your pregnant belly to singing to your baby while they are still in the womb, believe it or not children's exposure to the benefits of music begin before they are even born. Before they can hear the music, they can feel the vibrations, and this is an amazing way to not only bond with your child before even holding them but also introduce them to the rhythmical world of music before they are born.
What kinds of music classes/lessons are available to me?
As soon as your baby is born, you have various different options for music classes. Most early childhood music classes are group classes that you are expected to participate in, which is a given considering you need to hold and help your baby interact with the music and activities! MusicTogether is an internationally recognized music program that offers these type of classes! They offer music classes for children starting from birth as well as classes for your toddlers. These classes consist of circle time focused on singing, the use of simple instruments such as drums and maracas, and of course dancing! I myself have been to several of these classes, for babies and toddlers, as a professional nanny. I definitely would recommend MusicTogether for parents as it is especially fun because you are experiencing it with your child. Not only is your child benefitting from the music, they are benefitting while also bonding with you. Other suggestions for early music education classes include, Kindermusik, MusikGarten (Canada), and Kids' Music Round.
At my music studio Vivo Strings in North Grafton, Massachusetts, we offer Beginner Suzuki Group Classes for violin specifically. Suzuki beginner classes consist of five students ages [ ]. The hope is that young students will become familiar with their instrument and have age-appropriate instruction in a group setting that will set them up for success in one-on-one private lessons, which is the ultimate goal once they complete the group class! In our Beginner Suzuki Group Classes, students learn how to hold and use their instrument with a foam violin. They learn how to sing some of the first songs they will learn to play on the violin, which includes Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Parents learn right along with students, just like other beginner music classes of this age group, but parents will also learn how to use the violin! The beginner classes then transition into Twinkle classes with real violins! A music class such as this is considered a step above those that MusicTogether offer, because in this class we are focusing specifically on one instrument, the violin, and preparing students ultimately to either play violin, viola, or cello through private Suzuki lessons. Click here to read more about the Suzuki Method!
What are the differences between music classes and lessons?
Although I have suggested a few different companies for music classes, there are many different types of music classes out there for babies and toddlers if you search on Google. You especially may want to search for your specific area. As I mentioned before, these classes are group classes and include a teacher and many children with their adult guardians, but you may ask: when is the right age to start private music lessons? What are private music lessons? Private music lessons include choosing a particular focus, whether it be voice, piano, or violin. Believe it or not, the best age to start private music lessons is between 3-6 years old. We stress the importance of reading to our children and exposing them to books during their pre-school/early elementary years, so why not also stress the importance of exposing them to music as well? Studies show that learning to play a musical instrument helps children do better academically in the classroom, needless to say, starting private lessons before kindergarten like reading will help improve a child's development once they get to the classroom.
Although you may say, I have no idea whether my child should play cello, or piano, or the tuba or whether or not they will even enjoy playing one specific instrument, do not fret. Oftentimes, children will decide after a year or two, or even more, that they would rather play a different instrument. The time spent in lessons and on practicing their original instrument is a major building block in their musical journey and education. In fact, it is not uncommon for musicians to play several different instruments. All that matters is that we start somewhere. There are many ways to find private music teachers. If you have not heard of a music program or school near you that offers lessons to students under certain ages, try Googling it! Music & Arts is a chain music store that along with renting or selling you an instrument also offers private music lessons. There are about 150 locations around the United States, many of which have in recent years taken over small business music stores. They offer private lessons for all different types of instruments. I would also recommend doing your research before you decide on where and with whom your child will take private lessons. This individual will become an important role model in your child's life if they continue to take lessons, which could be well into their teenage years! There are many small business music studios with teachers who specialize in specific instruments and particular methods of study, such as the Suzuki Method. I currently work in a small music studio, Vivo Strings, consisting of three teachers in North Grafton, Massachusetts.* I also travel to most of my students' homes and have used the website Thumbtack in the past to find students and have been very happy with the outcome! With the help of technology you are able to find programs as well as teachers that may even come to you and teach your child from the comfort of your own home! In 2017, you have many options for private lessons. To figure out what is best for you and your child you need to know exactly what you are looking for and what options work best with your schedule!
*Although we are discussing the differences between beginner music classes and private lessons, it is important to consider that your child may also benefit from particular group classes associated with their specific instrument alongside taking private lessons. If you decide to hire a private teacher to come to your home you may be foregoing the opportunity for your child to also benefit from group/ensemble classes unless that teacher has a studio nearby. At Vivo Strings, we offer group lessons ranging from beginners to advanced levels: Suzuki Beginner Classes, Chamber Ensembles, and Theory & Composition classes. Part of the Suzuki Method is taking same instrument group lessons alongside private lessons, as well as eventually also being a member of an ensemble and/or orchestra. For your child to develop into a well-rounded musician they must actively practice, take private lessons, and play alongside other musicians in groups and orchestra. This is something you definitely want to consider while researching private lessons after you agree and your child agrees to commit to one instrument exclusively, at least one instrument at first.
How do children benefit from early childhood education?
We've touched a bit on the benefits of early childhood music education but haven't really dived into the results of the research I mentioned. Lately I've been doing a lot of my own research on the benefits of music education. I personally began taking private violin lessons when I was 4 years old and continued to do so until I graduated from high school, 14 years later. And now as a music educator myself, I want to know exactly how and why music changed my life and how it will continue to shape the lives of my students as well.
Research has proven that listening to music just isn't enough: "A new study from Northwestern University revealed that in order to fully reap the cognitive benefits of a music class, kids can't just sit there and let the sound of music wash over them. They have to be actively engaged in the music and participate in the class." To activate and strengthen neural processing, students must become active in their music education. This is why music classes and lessons are so important for brain development. Babies are able to shake a rattle and bang a drum, they are able to vocalize and sing a "song" before they can even speak.
According to data collected by Wheaton College, researchers at the Boston Children’s Hospital worked with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and found early musical training enhances the areas of the brain responsible for executive functioning. And this leads to success academically as students seem retain information better and have more control over their behavior in the classroom.
I find it difficult to even begin to discuss specifically how music changes lives, especially how it specifically alters the development of an individual (on many different levels) because it does so in so many different ways that you may not even consider at first. Grammy nominated music educator Anthony Mazzocchi encourages others especially parents to advocate for the musical arts because of the fact that studying music helps children develop, "creativity, responsibility, discipline, perseverance, composure, pride in results, collaboration, confidence, social and communications skills." He also points out what I believe is one of the major benefits of becoming a musician: emotional maturity. Something that even many adults lack.
Part of the reason the Suzuki Method has been so successful is not only because of its focus on perfecting the musical technique of the violin, viola, cello, and various other instruments, but because Shinichi Suzuki believed that the ultimate goal of a music educator should be to help a child develop and grow into a loving and compassionate human being. That is why, like I mentioned earlier, it is truly important you consider the major influence your child's music teacher will have on their life. They will be one of the most important adults in their life, especially if they continue to take lessons for years. I cannot thank my teachers enough for the time, patience, and love they invested in me as a musician and as a human being. I hope I am able to do the same for my students so they will grow and develop. Even if not every child who takes music lessons grows up to play in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, or to compose famous pieces of music, or to become a music educator themselves, the cognitive, academic, and humanistic benefits they have developed throughout their musical studies will forever impact what they do and who they are.