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  • Writer's pictureGavin Stewart

When to begin lessons

Updated: Nov 11, 2021

During my time working abroad, I met and taught many children who could switch from their mother tongue to English and back again with ease. I was talking to a five-year-old pupil’s mother along with the school administrator one day, and the child spoke to me in English, his mother in Russian (his native language) and to the administrator in Mandarin. He’d heard two of these languages at home from birth and acquired the third at school. He’d also been exposed to music early on.

Children can learn languages with ease when they’re very young, and the language of music is no different. When children are immersed in music from a young age, they not only gain fluency in a range of musical skills, their brain development is also enhanced. A child as young as four, and in some cases three, can be ready to start lessons.

So what are lessons like at this age? I advise 30 minutes in the beginning, and activities are kept to no more than 5 minutes. This way the time will fly by for the child as they absorb the information in a multi-sensory way. It’s essential that they learn through play and are encouraged to use their imaginations. Ear training, singing, understanding of pulse/rhythm, improvising and composing are all essential ingredients. The crucial thing is that musicianship skills are developed first and pianistic skills second. Activities such as marching/clapping in time, singing action songs/chants and inventing sound stories ensure that a solid grounding in musicianship is established before focussing more on the instrument. I use a method called Dogs and Birds (see which uses a Kodály-based approach, covers all these elements and has always been a big hit with my younger pupils.

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