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Parents frequently ask how to determine whether their child is ready to learn to play an instrument. Readiness is dependent on a variety of factors including age, physical development and ability to focus, and may vary by instrument. There are two distinct educational approaches for beginning instrumental instruction, Suzuki and Traditional.
Levine’s Suzuki department includes lessons in piano, strings, flute and guitar, and can accommodate students as young as 3 years old. The Suzuki method is heavily reliant on aural-based learning at first, with reading introduced along the way when it is appropriate for the age and level. Students and parents begin by observing lessons. When the prospective student can do this for 20-30 minutes and when they begin to ask “when is it my turn?” or are asking the parent repeatedly for lessons, this is a good indication that they are self-motivated and ready. Parental support and involvement is required and essential as the parent is the “at-home teacher.” Learn more about the Suzuki method.
Most traditional method private lessons begin at age 6 or older, although there is a range based on the instrument. Certain elements are consistent from instrument to instrument:
- Students need to be able to remain focused for 30 minutes;
- Students need to have a true desire to learn (not just a desire to please their parents);
- An ability to read and write is helpful in all cases and necessary in some.
A consultation with the department chair is the most important tool for determining your child’s readiness for private lessons. This meeting will provide an assessment of the child’s musical preparedness, ability to handle the instrument physically and ability to focus.
Key elements to consider regarding traditional private study:
- Piano: In most cases, students are at least 7 years old; they must be able to focus for at least 30 minutes. The child’s fingers should be strong and s/he should be able to move each independently.
- Guitar: Age is less important than the ability to read, write and concentrate on an activity for 30 minutes. Some children are ready at 4 ½ years old and others at 6. The child must have good fine and gross motor skills.
- Strings (violin, viola, cello): Students are typically 6 years old and above, and must be able to focus for at least 30 minutes. Good physical dexterity, coordination and ability to match pitch are essential.
- Percussion: Student must be 9 years old or older.
- Winds (recorder, flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, saxophone, French horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba): With the exception of flute and recorder which can accommodate younger children, student must be 9 years old or older with fully developed upper two and lower four adult teeth. The student must be able to hold the desired instrument comfortably and have fingers large enough to cover open holes.
- Voice: 30 minute lessons can begin at age 13. Levine teaches classic vocal technique (on the breath and project naturally). Repertoire is chosen to reinforce basic musical building blocks (line, phrasing, pure vowels, etc.). We are conservative in what we expect a young voice to do and generally concentrate on issues of technique and blending the “voices” (chest, middle and head) to produce an even tone. Students who have not studied piano or sight singing are strongly encouraged to do so before beginning lessons.
- Composition: Students must have adequate piano skills, be able to read in treble and bass clefs, have a desire to write music (not just improvise at the keyboard), have good aural skills, be able to play simple tunes by ear and be engaged in instrumental or vocal study (not necessarily piano).