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   Rod & Keryn Christensen
by Rod Christensen (Musician and Music Teacher for over 40 years)

Age & Instrument Information for Children Learning a Musical Instrument

At what age can a child start learning a musical instrument ?

Children have to be able to focus on the skills of learning a musical instrument and also be prepared to put in sufficient home practice on an instrument. Most children are not physically or mentally ready untill they are at least 6 to 7 years of age. Just because a child may say they want to learn an instrument doesn't mean they are ready to learn an instrument ! 

Can it be detrimental to a child to start too early on an instrument ?

Yes ! If a child is not ready within themselves to learn an instrument it can become tedious and hard work for the child and even cause them to totally lose interest in learning an instrument. There's no rush. Children's first start with music needs to be easy and fun. They need to discover music and musical instruments and build their confidence with music before embarking on learning a specific instrument.

What instruments can a child learn for their age ?

Children from 6 to 7 years are physically able to learn keyboard, guitar, ukulele and violin. From 8 years they may be able to handle flute, clarinet, trumpet or saxophone but would need assessing to be sure. From 9 to 10 years of age they can learn larger instruments such as cello, bass guitar and trombone. Drums are better left till children are at least 10 as younger children tend to just bash on drums and also they don't learn as much about music on drums as it is solely rhythm.

How should a child first start when learning an instrument ?

Initially children need to discover and relate to their instrument, become confident with key and note positions, learn basic techniques relative to their instrument and simply have fun on their instrument playing basic songs by 'ear' and developing their natural feel and rhythm. This is very hard to achieve if they are having to focus too early on the reading of music which is all visual, and is the approach adopted by schools and many private music teachers. The reading of music needs to be introduced gradually and supported by a thorough understanding of music signs, symbols and other essential elements of music which can be achieved with fun quizzes and activities.

Creativity .. music from the soul !

It is essential that children become creative at their instrument. This means being 'expressive' on an instrument .. being able to vary a simple melody and add natural rhythm and feel to make a song sound pleasing and not mechanical or boring .. being able to improvise .. being able to hear a song and work out the notes on their instrument and play it by 'ear' ..  being able to play along confidently with other young musicians .. and in general, being able to make an instrument sound so good that people stop and listen, and especially tap their toes. This is called music from the soul !

Music must be fun !

It's so important that children are enjoying music and gaining personal satisfaction from playing their instrument. It must not become a hard arduous task as it so often can be particularly with a formal approach and exams. Exams in particular make music a difficult task and can put unnecessary stress on a child. There is little to no value in doing exams in music. Children also only learn to suit the expectations of the exam and gain a very limited experience and skills with music. They become very 'mechanical' players. Creativity can be totally suppressed by doing exams !

My Background

Music started for me from when I was about 4 years of age but I didn't begin learning an instrument till I was about 9 years old. I first started by playing songs by 'ear' and just having fun on my instrument. I also made up my own songs and learnt to improvise and make my instrument talk ! Later I learnt the reading of music but still kept up the playing of songs by 'ear' and having fun with music. I began playing in bands when I was in my late childhood years and also learnt other instruments during my teenage and early adult years. I now play about 10 instruments.

My performing career has included playing in numerous small bands across many genres including jazz, blues, latin, rock, calypso, rock n roll and modern groove. I have played in brass bands, large orchestras and was musical director of a 12 piece country rock/caribbean performance band on the Sunshine Coast. I've performed extensively as a soloist for many private occasions, business functions and events on various instruments. I also present and perform children's music shows and musical instrument demonstrations and play-alongs at children's venues, events, early learning centres and kindys.

My teaching career has spanned over 40 years and includes teaching through our privately owned music schools, employing and administering other music teachers, teaching for Education Queensland, and presenting music workshops on specific aspects of music. 

We (Keryn and myself) are consistently working on producing new and innovative learning material to foster and achieve our goals with music education.

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