What’s the Right Age to Begin Music Lessons?


We’ve all heard the stories of famed musical prodigies, from Mozart writing his first symphony at the age of eight to Stevie Wonder signing with Motown at 11. Even if your child isn’t performing with the New York Philharmonic or the Chicago Symphony by age 11 (like violinist Midori and Herbie Hancock, respectively), your family is undoubtedly exposed to talented children in the neighborhood. Whether it’s the church preschool choir or an elementary school band concert, it seems as if parents must immerse their children in music lessons from birth if they want them to succeed, and in a way, they’re right.

That being said, parents often hear complaints from other parents that influence them to postpone music lessons until their child is older, such as “My parents forced me to play an instrument when I was young. … I hated it then and still hate it now.” In order to avoid this negative attitude, parents opt to delay music lessons until their child is older and can choose their own instrument or make the decision that they even want to play an instrument. They too are right.

These statements may seem contradictory. In reality, the issue is how you define music lessons. To better understand this, it’s important to look at the underlying reasons a parent might want their child to take music lessons.

There is a growing (and convincing) body of research that indicates a “window of opportunity” from birth to age nine for developing a musical sensibility within children. During this time, the mental structures and mechanisms associated with processing and understanding music are in the prime stages of development, making it of utmost importance to expose children in this age range to music.

The important question then is not when to start lessons, but what is the goal of music lessons for young children? For instance, very young children are not exposed to instruments in order to master them, but to gain experience and learn to develop meaningful relationships with music at a young age. If this is your goal, then the “lessons” can and should start soon after birth and certainly within the child’s first year.

These “lessons” do not have to be—in fact, at first probably shouldn’t be—very formal. A parent can serve as guide by immersing the child in a musical environment. You should help your child focus on the music with simple mo