My son’s starting Reception class in September, so the “Tiger Mother” in me contacted the school to ask when he could start learning an instrument. Apparently, his school has a policy of not starting children until Year 2, so if I want him to begin learning before then, I’ll have to do it independently.
It got me thinking about a few questions. What is the best age to start learning a musical instrument? Which instrument is best for your child? When do I know if they are ready? How much practise should they do per day?
To get some expert advice I contacted Benjamin Glassberg, founder of The London Youth Symphony Orchestra. A virtuoso percussionist, pianist and conductor, Benjamin had the brilliant idea of founding this high quality youth orchestra which puts on three concerts per year with only a few rehearsals before each one.
Ben told me that any time from five years old is a good time to start. Children are naturally predisposed to learning a musical instrument but it’s often difficult to know when they are individually ready to do so. He advises a “suck it and see” approach suggesting taking them to a child-friendly concert or even just arrange for a lesson and see their reaction.
Ben also recommends starting with a string instrument as woodwind and brass are difficult due to the mechanics of teeth and lips at an early age. Apparently, most children start off with the piano so, if you can bear the ‘strangled cat’ sound in the early stages, why not try the violin, viola, cello or double bass?
As far as practising goes, it depends on how seriously you want your child to take their instrument. When under ten, little and often is the best approach – around 10/20 minutes per day. If your child shows a particular ability then that should be built up to one hour per day (although school work should always be a priority).
Ben was very keen to stress thought that there’s also no such thing as too old to start either. So, if your child is in their mid-teens and is showing an interest then go for it. He also believes that, while parents do need to push their children a little for them to see the benefits themselves, overly pushy parents are not ideal. About 10% of their spare time should be the right balance.
LYSO’s next concert “From Stage to Screen” is on 23rd September at Goodenough College in Central London. All profits go to Great Ormond Street Hospital so do go along and support Ben and his young players. Who knows – it might be the catalyst to discovering a great musical talent in your child!