You may have noticed that your baby gurgles and waves excitedly when she plays with a musical toy, or perhaps your toddler bobs rhythmically to the radio. When your preschooler tries to play songs by ear on his toy piano, you may wonder whether it is time to send him for formal music lessons. To help with your decision, we spoke to several music teachers to find out why, when and how to start your child on music.
1. Benefits of Learning Music
Music lessons were once seen as a luxury, or only for the musically-talented. However, an increasing number of parents are signing their children up for music classes these days, and some are starting their children off at a younger age than before. The benefits of learning music go beyond merely enabling a child to master an instrument or accumulate examination certificates.
A child who learns an instrument gains an outlet for expressing emotions. In addition, music training helps a child learn to be disciplined in practising the instrument. Learning how to play the piano or violin also challenges and develops a child’s motor skills in a manner that few other activities would, as both the right and left hands are required to perform different roles simultaneously.
Some researchers have also found that children who learn music tend to have better linguistic skills than those who did not. Others suggest that listening to and learning classical music may possibly help children develop their spatial ability, which in turn, enhances their capacity to learn and understand mathematical concepts.
2. Starting Young
It is never too early to expose your child to music. You can start by playing classical CDs during your baby’s waking hours and drawing attention to the various instruments that are being played. You can also select music which invokes different emotions and ask your toddler to sense if the tune is happy, sad or angry.
Encouraging your toddler to shake a rattle in time with the beat of a song or to dance along helps to develop rhythmic sense, while allowing your little one to experiment with a keyboard encourages the recognition of different notes of the music scale. You may also like to bring your child to a live orchestra performance. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s Babies Proms and Concerts for Children are specially catered to young listeners.
Some schools, such as Kindermusik, offer courses for babies, in which music is introduced through story-telling, dance and hands-on exploration of musical instruments. Preschoolers around the age of three may also enrol for Christofori’s Music for Baby Mozarts, Manderville’s Baby Music, or Yamaha’s Music Wonderland.
While music classes for this age group do not teach the child to play a specific instrument, they lay the foundation by teaching the basics of rhythm and tone recognition through singing, percussion playing, and exposure to various genres of music.
3. Beginning Formal Lessons
Many children begin formal music education at the age of four. Parents who are unsure of their child’s interest or abilities may choose to send their children for group lessons, while those who want their children to progress faster will send them for individual classes.
Mrs Y. M. Wong, a private piano teacher with 29 years of experience, observed “most children at this age enjoy group lessons, although some may not because of their temperament. It really depends on how your child responds to the classes. While it is possible to skip group lessons altogether and go straight to individual lessons, the child will miss out on the fun of music making.”
Mrs K. Chen, who has been a full-time musician for more than 10 years, also felt that for children between three and six years of age, “it’ll be good to have a course that teaches music through movements, aural and playing skills in a group format, considering their short attention span. For older learners with better concentration, parents could probably consider private lesson as more attention will be given to building up proper playing and musical techniques according to the individual’s ability and progress.”
Whether you are choosing group or individual lessons for your child, Mr Y. Chua, who has been teaching music for the past nine years, suggested going for a holistic music education which includes the teaching of theory, practical, aural and scales, and to find a teacher who inspires the child’s interest in music.
Given the wide array of music courses available, we interviewed several mothers to find out what they enrolled their children for and present their responses below:
Mrs B. Ng, an executive and mother of two girls aged 11 and 5
Age when children started music lessons: 4
Music Course Attended / Attending: Christofori’s Music for Mini Mozarts (elder child), Edvox’s Funtime Doremi (younger child)
Reasons for choosing the course:
“I chose Christofori for my elder daughter as they do not require parents to sit in with the children, unlike some other schools. I felt that this will encourage independent learning in my child. If I were to sit in the class with her, she may not pay attention and will depend on me to reinforce what the teacher has taught.
I sent my younger daughter to Edvox because they give the flexibility of transiting to individual lessons when the child is ready. Thus, my daughter can start taking piano exams at a younger age. Hopefully, this will help her to complete her Grade 8 before she reaches Upper Secondary and free her from having to juggle the increased demands of school work and music exams.”
Mrs V. Tjahjono, a Communications manager and mother of a 4-year old
Age when child started music lessons: 3
Music Course Attended / Attending: Yamaha Music Wonderland (from 3-4 years old), Yamaha Junior Course (currently attending)
Reasons for choosing the course:
“I find that Yamaha has its own syllabus and a unique way of teaching young children to read notes and play the keyboard. Children at this age tend to be forgetful, but the drilling and reinforcement during each lesson help them to remember what has been taught.”
Mrs K. Chen, a full-time musician and mother of two children aged 11 and 13
Age when children started music lessons: 5
Music Course Attended: Yamaha Junior Music Course
Reflections on the course:
“I found that this is a good course as it focuses on developing the students’ musicality through movements with music, rhythm, singing with solfège ‘fixed-doh’ method, aural skill and playing on the keyboard (though the child needs more parental supervision in gaining a correct hand shape as the teacher couldn’t really give too much individual attention in a class of about eight to 10). The whole class session is a smooth flow from one learning element to the next and it depends greatly on the teachers’ teaching experience and preparation. I observed that the teacher has to be enthusiastic in engaging the young children and inspire them to learn and respond.”
4. Furthering your Child’s Music Education
Upon completion of group music courses, some children continue with individual lessons and prepare for examinations by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM).
While some parents may like to fast-track their child to complete the syllabus in the shortest possible time, Mrs Y. M. Wong cautions against merely drilling examination pieces throughout the year, explaining that “it is important for the child to be exposed to different composers and learn to interpret various styles of music. It is very sad if the child only plays exam pieces and misses out on learning the songs which they actually enjoy, such as Disney pieces or light music. If we set our expectations too high, the child may lose interest in learning music altogether.”
Concurring, Mr Y. Chua shared about how he was initially uninterested in music as a child. His interest was only ignited at a late age of 13. He started learning the piano then and attained his diploma within five years. He subsequently pursued a university degree in music and now holds a Masters in Music Composition.
He advised “Learning music is a costly investment. Don’t do it just to keep up with the Joneses. If your child is not interested, it is better to spend your time and money on areas that he is interested in.” After all, music is to be enjoyed. There is a greater sense of achievement when a child develops a love for music in his own time and makes it his lifelong passion.