Music is something every child should learn. But, when should you start thinking about music classes for your child? Is there a right age to begin? Is it 12, 8, 5, or 3 years? You might be off by years!
The right time to start music for children
Studies say that the earlier you engage your children in music, the better it is.
There’s a good chance that your baby’s first introduction to music was through your voice. You might have sung to your unborn child.
When babies begin making sounds beyond gu-gu-ga-ga, you might be able to discern the composer in your infant – as they make varying tunes with aakaaras and ookaaras. That unique sound will remain stamped in your heart – and perhaps only your heart forever as you might be the only one who remembers that tune! But make sure that even if the tune was not recorded and copyrighted (!), you notice and encourage the beginnings of musical inclination in your baby.
Studies indicating from when children are receptive to music
A study of pitch-making was conducted on 23 infants between three and six months of age. They were observed three times. The third time, all 23 babies were presented with 2-3 sung tones and they all responded by vocalising to different tones – D, F, A and above middle C – significantly often. This provides a case for early introduction of music education in children.
Age-wise suggestions for music
- By the time children are about 1.5 to 2 years of age, they will be able to mimic sounds they hear. They might explore toy instruments at this stage – the xylophone, drums, and keyboards – with their improved hand-eye coordination.
- At ages 3-4, they respond well to movement like swaying, tapping, beats, dance, rhymes, short songs, and shlokas.
- Between 4-5, you could try group activities and performances. They will be able to memorize shlokas, chants, mantras, and short songs. They can also play some basic notes and songs on key instruments such as the keyboard and piano.
It helps when parents are part of the music classes up to this stage to set the child’s mind at ease. Up to this point, you might have been experimenting and interested in exposing your child to different musical forms – song, dance, drama, instrumentals and so on. Keeping it informal is a good idea without aiming to train performers. The focus is more on allowing children to enjoy themselves and find their expression through sound and movement.
By the time your child is 6, you will probably have a fair idea of what he/she has an aptitude for and interest in.
- So, at 6, your child can explore learning one of the classical forms of vocals (like Carnatic, Hindustani, Western), instrumentals (key, string, percussion), and dance (like Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Mohiniyattam).
- Some parents consider signing up for certified exams – as many schools begin testing at 7 years of age. The objective is to build a solid technical base rather than start them on the endless rigmarole of examinations. Exams encourage children to practice scales and learn theoretical aspects of music that might get neglected in the normal course. Since these lay the foundations of your understanding of music, it is important that children master them as early as possible.
- By the time children are 7 years old, they can also explore string instruments such as guitars and violins. Try to get them instruments suited to their size so that they can manage the weight and reach higher notes.
- 8 is a good age to start wind instruments like the flute and trumpet. They could also participate in bands and orchestras. This will teach them patience, team work, coordination, the importance of sticking to beats, the subtle art of listening to another person while playing your own instrument or while singing at the same time, and the thrill of clicking together as an ensemble.
|How to choose the right vocal music/ & instrument for your child|
When you give your child this much exposure to music, you might find that they will come up with their own notions of ‘good music’, the right instrument for them, and the form of music that attracts them. It definitely depends on conditioning – what have you been exposing them to? But as they grow up and look around them, they will be most influenced by what their peers and friends are up to. Which brings the question of company into the picture. Mix with musical groups to further their interest in this line.
By the age of 8 or 9, children can graduate to larger-sized instruments. They are likely to play and sing with more control over their chosen art form. By the age of 10, they can try larger string instruments like the cello which will require balance and stamina to play. At this age, children become more focused and goal-oriented. It is a good time to give them a chance to perform to an audience – solo or in a group. You can gauge their flair, talent, and potential by this time and decide to take it forward to more advanced forms of music and towards improving their performance skills.
This is the age when children tune in to music that their friends are listening to. So, if you hear rock, rap, hip hop, and jazz, don’t wonder why! You can almost see the improvements in their physical movements and fingering abilities, and note the new control over their voice. There is a transition during adolescence more noticeable with the voice change in boys.
If you are a Bharatanatyam dancer, you might explore giving an arangetram at this stage.
Ages 17 onwards
By this time, you might have decided to pursue music as a career, or decided that you love it, but as a hobby. You can play in concerts either way. It will help you build and nurture your skills and keep you abreast with the latest in the musical scene.
What parents can do to encourage music in children
- Play classical music to your baby – there are DVDs which teach alphabets, shapes, and colors with classical music in the background. These time-tested tunes tend to get ingrained in your child as they grow up.
- Sing the alphabet song, and rhymes in your mother tongue.
- Imitate the sound of animals and put it to song. Old MacDonald is a common favorite but explore the regional rhymes – they are catchy and funny too!
- Sing lullabies or play tunes as they sleep.
- Use simple la-la-la’s in your tune – the tune is what attracts children when they are very young. And it stays on in their mind – consciously or unconsciously.
- Allow your child to sing in gibberish. They seriously believe they are the lyrics of the song so, just smile along. There is no point in correcting them as when they realise and understand the actual words they might not like the song anymore!
- Introduce shlokas and chants as part of their early education – children enjoy the specific pronunciations (uchcharanam) and rhyming words. The meaning is insignificant at this point.
- Take them to short concerts – these could be interactive to ensure they don’t have to sit still for long
- Attend playgroups where children sing. Listening to others sing helps children imitate it.
- Try group songs. The shy ones also feel comfortable singing in groups where they are not likely to be heard! But, the point is that music is seeping into their mind and soul.
Music classes and the push and pull strategy
Many parents worry that they are pressuring their children to learn music and are afraid to push them as they grow older, as academic demands and pressures also increase. If you are worried about becoming Tiger Mom, take a step backwards and loosen the reins a bit.
- Keep lines of communication open with your child. Ask them if they are enjoying music classes. Most kids dislike practising but they enjoy the applause at concert time! Ask them at different times. For instance, children feel a sense of accomplishment when they complete a piece on the instrument or when they strike the right chord or even when they maintain swarasthana during the arohanam (ascending scale) and avarohanam (descending scale)! (Practising with a tambura can help with this.)
- Ensure you mix it up allowing them to experiment on their own for some time. They just might come up with their own compositions or try to play a tune they heard somewhere. Or hum a ragam that they found familiar. Unorganised time can be more productive at times. Teachers, usually, give children the space to explore on their own as they understand that the path in creative pursuits is not always linear. Music learning definitely goes through waves that are not just about sound!
At SaPa, we have a variety of courses in vocals and instrumentals. If you would like to explore our courses, we warmly welcome you and your child to a world of learning, discovery, and fun!