Kathy Kucsan, Education Director
What is the right age to start learning to play a musical instrument? We get this question every day. There are lots of opinions and a variety of answers.
For children, whose brain and fine motor physiology are developing and growing, some instruments can create more success than others.
With the Suzuki method, children as young as 3 can start on piano or violin and do very well. For very young/small children, we start them on scaled-down instruments (1/2, 1/4, 1/8, or even 1/10 size violins – see the photo above).
Generally, musical instruments are built for adult-sized humans, and sometimes we have to either adapt the instruments or wait for physical growth to happen. Starting to play trumpet or harp or tuba in 2nd grade, while technically not impossible, can be a tougher path to success. But small fingers can handle piano keys, and there are ways for children to learn violin, guitar, flute, and other instruments. (Check out the flute and guitar photos below.)
A child can learn quickly and make good progress on a smaller sized violin or guitar. As she grows, so does the size of her instrument. Note that the flute with the curved headjoint makes the instrument shorter and more manageable for a child. Other instruments (trombones, oboes, bassoons) don’t come in gradations like this, so it’s better to wait until your child sizes into them. Hands, arms, lung capacity – these are considerations for a number of instruments. We’re happy to talk over specifics with you any time.
Our local public schools start instrumental music programs in 5th grade, when kids are ten. In other areas of the country, students start in 4th grade or earlier. It just depends on individual curricula and priorities.
Around this time, many schools have instrument fairs or other events where students are matched to instruments. Think traditional band/orchestra instruments – flute, clarinet, trumpet, violin, etc. My preference is for kids to choose the instrument they want to study, rather than having one chosen for them.
(The Center for Musical Arts has a collection of instruments available for low or no cost rental for students who might not be able to afford the cost of rental or purchase from a music store.)
But I digress. The best age to start playing? As soon as a child shows interest or starts gravitating toward an instrument. Starting lessons can be an exciting time of growth for kids. Start with the expectation that your child be allowed to explore music and instruments.
For sure, discipline is part of the process. But so is developing a love and appreciation for music through learning to play. If lessons or practicing become a chore, there are ways to reignite interest. (Practice – that’s another topic we will cover in a future blog post!)
When it comes to adults, beginners can start at any age. Start any time that you have the time and inclination. Really. It is never too late to learn to play. I find that the adults I’ve worked with are motivated, interested, engaged, and excited to make progress.
Are you someone who’s always wanted to play piano (violin, drums, oboe, flute, guitar, any other instrument?) Are you nearing retirement and always wanted to learn? It is NEVER too late. It’s worth exploring through a few lessons. It becomes clear fairly quickly if it will “stick” or not.
Exploring a new instrument raises all sorts of other issues, such as practicing (there’s that practicing thing again), goal-setting, and making sure that you or your child has a good instrument. But first – choose the right time and the instrument that you or your child really want to learn.
Don’t let age be a limitation. Pick up that trombone or cello and soar!