Introducing Your Child to the Arts: Making Music Together (page 2)

— National Endowment for the Arts
Updated on Mar 14, 2011

Education and Special Programs in Music

For preschoolers, there are programs offered by local educational organizations,music schools, and community centers that encourage musical experience. Many of these programs are planned for parents and children, and are structured around a shared experience of music making—singing or playing simple musical instruments. For this age group, the joy of making music and the shared experience count the most.

If your child is in preschool, that school should offer opportunities to sing and play simple classroom instruments, to respond to music through movement, to create music, and to grow in understanding music. Many preschools provide special training for teachers in early childhood music, but may also hire an outside specialist with particular expertise in exploring elements of music with young children. Preschools should devote space to music activities, instruments, and appropriate equipment for recording and playing music.

By the time your child reaches first grade, there are increased opportunities for a more formal approach to music. In elementary school, every student should sing; play instruments; create music; begin to read and write music; listen to, analyze, and evaluate music; and understand how music is a part of culture. It is at this time that children express an interest in learning more about playing musical instruments and at the same time demonstrate skills that indicate readiness for this new endeavor. Take a cue from your child rather than setting your own desires as a basis for starting music lessons.

Teachers from your child’s school can be useful guides in making decisions about timing for lessons, type of instrument, and other teachers who offer instruction for the younger musician. Another excellent source of information is faculty members from the music department at your local college or university. In selecting a teacher, you should find someone with an established track record with students of your child’s age group. Ask to interview the teacher to make certain that his or her educational philosophy matches your goals for your child. It may prove fruitful to observe a lesson. You may decide to attend a recital or get a list of references from families of current students to learn more about the teacher and his or her style of instruction.

Parents should be supportive and encouraging as children choose to learn to play an instrument. This is not an easy task, but one that many children approach with enthusiasm in the right environment. It is important to remember that the joy of making music should always be at the heart of music experience in the early years.

Interviewing Prospective Music Teachers

Interview a new private teacher to establish that he or she is the right teacher for your child. By asking a few relevant questions, you can be well on your way to making a good selection.

  • How much teaching experience have you had?
  • What is the age range of your students?
  • What performance levels do you teach?
  • What is your professional experience as a musician?
  • What is your educational background?
  • What styles of music do you prefer?
  • How much practice time do you expect from students, and how do you help students develop good practice habits?

Beginning Music Lessons

While interaction with music begins at birth, the decision to start lessons needs to reflect the attitude, interest, skill, and maturity of each child. In any case, early lessons should be tailored to the ways that young children learn—that is, they should be full of play rather than focused on polished performance. The decision about when to start instrumental music lessons depends on both the child and the instrument. Professionals in the field offer a few guidelines for parents that can aid in the decision-making process.

  • Piano. Children can begin piano lessons whenever they can sit on a piano bench and concentrate for a period of time.
  • Stringed instruments. Lessons on the violin or other stringed instruments can begin very early if scaled-down instruments are used. Most schools introduce stringed instruments at third or fourth grade.
  • Wind instruments. The selection of band/orchestral wind instruments can begin in fifth grade. Younger children can gain valuable experience on the baroque recorder beginning in second grade.


Local stores carry—or specialorder—many instruments appropriate for young children. Remember that high-quality instruments are important for children who are learning to distinguish, produce, and manipulate musical sounds. Some reputable manufacturers of instruments for children that go beyond the toy stage are Malmark, Peripole-Bergerault, Remo, Rhythm Band, Sabian, Schulmerich, and Suzuki.

Beginning string and wind instruments are available from retail outlets across the nation. Ask about rental/purchase plans that allow time (typically one school year) to see if the instrument is right for your child before committing to purchase.


Children's Books

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin by Lloyd Moss
Duke Ellington by Andrea David Pinkney
The Bremen Town Musicians by the Brothers Grimm

Resources Books and Pamphlets

Many books define what’s possible in music education, contain songs and pieces specifically chosen for young children, and present activities and strategies useful in helping children grow with music. Among them are:

Music for Young Children by Barbara Andress
Music in Childhood: From Preschool through the Elementary Grades by Patricia Shehan Campbell and Carol Scott-Kassner.

Web Sites

MENC: The National Association for Music Education
MENC’s Web site has information on the benefits of music education, resources for helping your child (including activity guides), and links to manufacturers, publishers, and distributors.

Sesame Street Music Works
This site has online activities and ideas for children, as well as resource kits.

Bash the Trash
Bash the Trash is an organization that provides information on building musical instruments from unusual materials. This could include just about anything, ranging from recycled junk to discarded stereo components to old children’s toys.

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