Parenting: Get your child to play an instrument

September 29, 2011

Years ago, he mastered "Chopsticks" on the piano, but otherwise Jake hasn't shown any deep interest in being a musician. Now it's part of the curriculum.

All 60 kids have to try an instrument for one school year. The good news is they got to pick whichever one they want. So Jake is giving the alto saxophone a try. They're just starting to have a few music sessions now to get familiar with the instruments, learn how to blow into the instruments and learn some basic notes/fingering. No practicing yet at home, but that's coming and I don't mind. I learned the piano late in life, and I always wished I'd tried an instrument sooner.

Experts say it's a great idea for every child to try to learn to play an instrument. Which instrument isn't important. But if helps if the child gets to pick for themselves, so that they're interested.

Professor Nina Kraus of Northwestern University says learning sound patterns correlates to a child's reading skills, and helps their reading. And she says a child's nervous system responds to the acoustic properties of speech within a sub-millisecond of precision. So learning to focus on the sounds of an instrument actually help kids process language skills better too. The benefits help normal children, as well as those with dyslexia and autism.

"Playing music engages the ability to extract relevant patterns, such as the sounds of one's own instrument, harmonies and rhythms, from the 'soundscape," Kraus says. "Music training is not only beneficial for processing music stimuli. We've found that years of music training may also improve how sounds are processed for language and emotion."

Some instruments are more difficult than others. Here are the top 10 instruments and the suggested minimum ages to try them, according to industry experts:

6 years old & up:
Violin
Piano
Guitar
Harp
Cello
Double bass

10 years old & up:
Clarinet
Trumpet
Flute

12 years old & up:
Saxophone

Also, music teachers say when you take up a new instrument, you should rent or buy the instrument (we rented the alto sax through a company my son's school uses.) You should keep the instrument in a main room in the house where you'll see it each day. That helps you to get comfortable with it. As you play the instrument, listen for the sounds you like and concentrate on some notes or rhythm patterns that excite you. Try to recognize simple chords and scales.

You can ask a friend to show you some note combinations, watch free lessons on the internet, or go to music classes. Then it helps if you find another friend who is learning the same instrument and practice with them regularly. Try making a game or friendly competition of it, just like you would with sports drills or ballet foot combinations.

Parents will need to be patient during the learning stages... there will no doubt be lots of wrong notes and frustrations along the way. But with a bit of patience, experts say any child can learn to be proficient at the most basic instruments.

I'm looking forward to the Holiday concert to see what Jake and his classmates have mastered!

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