Did You Know? Musical Notes from the Penn State Laureate

Q: What is the best age to begin learning to play an instrument?

A: Although I am not an expert in child development, my opinion is based on my experience and that of friends in the profession. I think the best time to start a child with music lessons is when a child shows interest in learning to play an instrument. I asked to start piano lessons at age 6 after I heard my sister practicing, and when I was 9, I took up cello in the public school program in a summer string workshop. One way to encourage children to develop an interest in music is to take them to concerts. Did you know that the School of Music at Penn State hosts more than 350 concerts each year? Most are either free or have a nominal charge. In almost any city that has a university, you can find free concerts by students and faculty of the music department. I also recommend showing children photos of different instruments, and/or playing recordings of the sound of each instrument. (Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" and Benjamin Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" are good options.) Then let your child help to choose which concert they would like to hear. An orchestra concert is a good way to introduce a student to the many different instruments. Many city orchestras have some kind of children's concerts, which are specifically designed to appeal to children.

Most professional musicians I know started at an early age. Some studies of the brain have shown that before the age of 12, children have an easier time integrating the precise motor skills that are necessary for playing a musical instrument. The most important part of learning an instrument is to keep it fun, and to make it an adventure.


Please send any other musical questions that you always wanted to know but were too shy to ask to Penn State Laureate Kim Cook at kdc3@psu.edu. For more Musical Notes questions, visit http://live.psu.edu/tag/Musical_Notes online.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010