In this no-frills blog post, we’re going to dive in on the specifics of starting your child’s music education based on how old your child is.
Whether you’re a 7 year old just getting into the piano, or a 7 month old just getting your mouth on a piano, different ages call for different approaches to meet kids where their interests and strengths are.
As a parent, you might be thinking “when should I start my child’s music education?”
Well the answer, for the most part, is now! Carpe the diem! Seize the carp!
Depending on how old your child is right now, you have different options and jumping off points to consider. That’s what we’re going to explore today!
Of course, all kids are different and different learning styles will change exactly how you want to implement the following strategies. That said, here we’re going to focus on your child’s age when he or she starts playing music and how that has an impact on where to start.
Please share your thoughts in the comments section and we’ll get a conversation going about everyone’s specific situations and questions!
Ages 0 – 2
For infants and toddlers, musical play and music lessons can take many forms. The choices at this point are very personal, and as somehow who is not yet a parent, I obviously encourage everyone to defer to their own personal judgements and preferences.
While music lessons in their traditional sense are not appropriate for kids of this age group, I would encourage parents at this age to consider any of the following steps as a constructive leaping off pad for a music education.
1. Use color coded instruments like bells and Boomwhackers to give your child consistent and memorable play with individual musical notes.
I’ve written extensively on both the bells and the benefits of exposure to individual notes. To recap quickly, babies and toddlers can learn to predict musical sounds by playing with color coded deskbells, handbells and tubes that ring individual pitches. Eventually they know what sound the red bell will make as opposed to the yellow bell, and the consistency will help develop a finer sense of pitch.
2. Play tapping and clapping games like “Patty Cake” and “Sweet Beets“
Whether it’s Daft Punk, Barney, Taylor Swift or Lion Guard, you can clap along to just about anything. Getting your kids to clap at a consistent tempo is a huge head start when it comes to keeping time. Teaching the idea of a beat or a pulse is kind of abstract and difficult, so getting lots of fun and natural practice during infancy is super helpful!
3. Visit BrillKids.com and check out the Little Musician software as it’s highly effective for teaching babies music.
The software here is really amazing at teaching young kids how to read the staff and how to recognize notes and chords.
4. Sing and hand-sign with the Solfége hand signs.
Babies are natural hand signers and learning to sing and sign with Do-Re-Mi isn’t that hard for kids as young as a year old.
5. Find a Local Music Program
I taught music classes with a dozen different programs in Delaware between 2009 and 2015 and all of them shared a similar level of success. This wasn’t thanks to me necessarily, but rather to the directors and the teachers I worked with. Whether it’s a Saturday morning class at Gymboree or an after school percussion and piano program at the Boys and Girls Club, if you get involved in any local music education program, you and your kids are likely to learn a lot about music. It really boils down to finding good teachers with good intentions, as they will always bring something valuable to whatever program they’re teaching. Obviously for the 0 -2 age range you’re leaning more toward the Gymboree music and play classes than the after school drum circle, but search your local area for some music programs and I’m sure you’ll come up with something!
6. Using Preschool Prodigies with Infants and Babies
Kids at this age are still a little young for the curriculum we’ve designed inside the PsP Playground. While the colorful videos and instruments are still enjoyable and give kids meaningful exposure to individual notes, and while the songbooks are still playable and fun because of the big and colorful music, there is a certain amount of reading and language understanding that has to be developed before PsP is truly effective. Using Sweet Beets, you can get kids between 1 and 2 to start clapping and singing “Ta Ta Ti Ti Ta” as well, which is pretty darn cute once they get going with it, but the workbooks and pace of the videos is more appropriate for the next age group.
I would love to hear other about other activities, programs that you’ve tried with your infants and toddlers!
Ages 2 – 5
This is the age group that Preschool Prodigies was designed for! As kids phase from being toddlers to preschoolers, they have the listening skills needed to follow simple instructions, they have the ability to recognize colors by name and they have the motor control for hand signs and playing an instrument.
For anybody who works in a preschool, this age range might seem a bit wide. While it’s true that the amount of notes and difficulty of the music kids learn will scale as they go through this age range, the core activities and principals remain the same.
1. Make sure you’ve looked at the 0-2 age range, as many of the same ideas still apply to kids 2-5.
Using color coded instruments, call and response rhythm games, and the Solfége hand signs all still apply to kids around this age, it’s just that now children are able to follow 2-3 step directions, which make them much easier to guide. Free play and exploration with musical instruments is obviously beneficial, but a guided musical experience will result in a more developed ear long term.
2. Meaningful Exposure to Pitch (again!)
According to the Taneda method, which has been giving children the skill of perfect pitch since the 1980’s, children who take a structured approach to developing their musical ear can develop perfect pitch in about 2 years of practice during this age of life.
Research from Diana Deutsch confirms this idea, by comparing music students who got pitch exposure before age 5 with music students who didn’t get pitch exposure until age 5. The research shows that meaningful exposure to pitch during the 2-5 age range was critical for developing a life long sense of pitch.
So what can you do with your 2-5 year old to develop their sense of pitch? Well this is what the Preschool Prodigies Playground was designed to do; to give kids 2-5 meaningful exposure to pitch while they learn to play their first musical instrument.
You can implement the methods and activities yourself by playing listening games, memorizing simple melodies, and practicing with short but regular practice sessions.
You can practice connecting your child’s voice to their ear by signing with the Solfége hand signs, which is an easy way to start building your child’s sense of pitch right away.
3. Reading Music (and not reading music)
One of the most difficult things to teach about music is how to read music.
I have been working with preschool kids for 10 years and in all of that time, I’ve only met a few preschoolers who responded positively to learning to read the grand staff. Reading the staff is basically a practice in memorization and frustration with learning to read music is the #1 reason that students of any age quit playing.
For the most part though, black and white music with subtle differences in placement on the staff is too nuanced for kids to grasp quickly and confidently. While I know that there are music literacy programs out there that work and that some of you are inevitably outraged that I would suggest musical literacy isn’t essential, that’s exactly what I’m about to suggest.
While kids 2-5 are going through the critical period for developing their auditory centers, I believe it’s better to focus on giving them meaningful exposure to pitch through ways that are error-proof and enjoyable. Reading music without colors or without a ton of memorized practiced is neither error-proof or enjoyable for little kids.
On the flip side, school-age children can memorize more acronyms and expressions to help them identify notes on the Grand Staff with greater ease. Kids at this age are also past the critical window for developing perfect pitch.
With all of that in mind, I believe that the 2-5 years should be focused on developing a musical ear and not on reading black and white sheet music.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below; I know there is a serious discussion here waiting to happen!
4. Playing the Bells and Starting to Play the Piano
I’ve said it half a million times before, but the Chromanotes Deskbells are the best instrument you can buy for kids in this age range, especially if you don’t know much about music yourself. They are labeled, durable and they stay in tune! Plus the fact that each note is it’s own bell means you can play with just one or two notes, which greatly increases your child’s sense for predicting and memorizing the sound of the bell.
At the upper end of this age range, kids can start moving toward playing the piano or violin in a more formal setting. In the next section, we’ll look at some good piano learning tricks and tactics that will apply to kids phasing from the bells to the piano.
Ages 5 – 7
Once children hit age 5, the window for developing perfect pitch starts to close. Therefore, you’ll want to move away from focusing on pitch development and focus instead on the fine motor techniques and skills involved in learning an instrument.
1. Playing the Piano
By age 5, children should be moving from playing the bells to playing the piano. Even at age 3, 4 and 5, you can start children playing the piano with the tactics we’re going to talk about here, but it’s worth pointing out that preschool children get easily frustrated with the piano (due to a lack of fine motor control) and that you’ll probably run into some serious plateaus along the way. When your 3 year old’s 15 minute attention span runs out, having the bells (and/or the PsP Playground to turn to) will ensure longer, more error-free and more fruitful musical practice.
When it comes to playing the piano specifically, here are the tips, apps strategies and books that I have found to be the most useful.
Piano Maestro, Simply Piano, and Dust Buster 2
These three iPad apps by JoyTunes changed how I teach piano in a such an amazing way. While there’s not much by way of technique or exploration inside these apps, it is the best way I have found to get kids to enjoy reading music.
Piano Maestro is great because it’s super robust and has lots of options, while Simply Piano is more of a guided step by step kind of learning experience. Dust Buster is a student favorite because it’s highly gamified, though I tend to lean toward to other two because they are a bit more serious and give you more control over the experience.
Piano Adventures by Faber
If you’re looking for piano curriculum, the Piano Adventure series by Faber is definitely my favorite. The concepts and difficulties of the songs are set up really well so that each piece scaffolds into the next.
Chord Based Learning
While lots of musicians learn to read music, many never do. Instead, lots of musicians, especially in the world of folk music, learn to play from chord charts.
If your child doesn’t enjoy reading music and would rather just jam out with their favorite folk or pop tunes, you can look up the chords to thousands of songs on the internet. Simply type in the name of the song + chords. My favorite site is Ultimate Guitar Archive, thought these days I just use their app, which is totally awesome.
While you need to learn some basics about piano chords to get going with these charts, they do provide an easy way to play your favorite radio hits. All of my musician friends and I each have binders upon binders filled with plastic inserts and chord charts. Granted tablets and phones are making these less and less practical but it’s hard to beat a binder full of your favorite songs when it comes time for a good jam session.
2. Preschool Prodigies for Children 5+
A lot of you out there are elementary school music teachers wondering how to use PsP with your K-2 groups.
As our name implies, Preschool Prodigies is definitely designed for the 2-5 age group. That said, if you’re a teacher dealing with lots of students at different levels, PsP is an amazing way to get everybody on the same page.
It’s also a really great way to get your kids playing together as an ensemble. If you’ve ever wanted to put the Boomwhackers in your classroom to use, PsP makes it super easy.
Sure, your second graders might think it’s a bit lame to do something with the word preschool in it, but I think as teachers we’re all used to trying to make educational things look as not-lame as possible, so hopefully you’ll find a way to make use of it anyway.
To recap real quick, infants and toddlers are developing their musical ear and their knowledge of colors, letters and sound in general. Help them out with color coded instruments, positive musical interactions, and lots of love.
Preschool kids are not quite ready to read music, but they are definitely ready to develop their musical ear and they can even learn the skill of perfect pitch. Use the bells, Boomwhackers, some piano and the Preschool Prodigies Playground to give them the ultimate music primer from the comfort of home.
School age kids are past the point of learning perfect pitch and on to reading music, playing more complicated rhythms and learning about music history. While you can pursue guitar and drums, piano is the ultimate instrument for school-age children to learn as it will set them up for musical success on any other instrument they might choose.
I hope this helps to answer your questions about when to start your child’s music education! Leave follow up thoughts and questions in the comments below!