When to start learning to play

When to start learning to play

What do people think is the best/optimum age to start learning a folk instrument? It obviously depends on the instrument and the standard you want to achieve, but what are people’s experiences/advice? Bearing in mind the size of some instruments (such as a 34 string clarsach) should we get half-size versions or just wait until the child is bigger?

Re: When to start learning to play

I’d have thought whenever the child wants to start.

Re: When to start learning to play

If you want “the child” to learn the uilleann pipes, you’ve only got one shot – get ‘em while they’re young.

Re: When to start learning to play

Start them as soon as they show an interest.

As for instrument sizes - talk to a teacher.

Form my (very limited) experience I don’t think there is any particular problem with harp size, my younger sister must have been about nine when she started with a lever harp, it was probably about 35 string, and certainly wasn’t a ‘child size’ instrument By the time she was 12 she was playing a 76“ pedal harp.

Re: When to start learning to play

I agree with Danny above – the ‘child’ (even if of pensionable age, Tøm ) will start learning as soon as and whenever he sees people playing, especially if the players are thoroughly enjoying themselves. More people have been put off by enforced lessons than enough.

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Re: When to start learning to play

I started my son on open-tuning guitar when he was 2. He’s interested in mandolin and banjo now, also piano. He’s 4.

Re: When to start learning to play

If music is a big part of their home life, children will (usually) love music and want to play. Same goes for books and reading. I notice, Mally, that you have a great musical background, could probably do the initial teaching of an instrument to your child, and would be even more special to him/her if you would join in on their practice sessions. Music, to me, really comes alive when someone is playing along. I think, in America (where I live) a lot of parents see music lessons as one more activity on the child’s list, rather than something to nurture & cultivate. It very often becomes a chore for the child, practicing isn’t “fun,” and, after a few months, music is forgotten. I don’t see that happening in your household, so I’d say, if your child shows an interest in your playing, regardlesss of age, it’s time to start teaching.

Re: When to start learning to play

the answer will vary.
I started playing, at 7 years of age.
it depends on the interest of the child.
quite a lot of it, must come from themselves.
if they show an interest at a young age, then you are up and running.
it will also depend on the influences that they are exposed to.

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I really don’t think age matters as much as other key factors.

I’ve heard of some people who started playing music at 4 or 5 but on the other hand, a well-known local banjo player who passed away just before Xmas at the age of 75 didn’t even pick the instrument up until he was in his 50’s.

I myself started playing guitar at 17 and mandolin barely a year ago at the age of 33. It was about two years before I could confidently gig on guitar but I was playing tunes in sessions within a few months of picking up the mandolin.

The right time to learn an instrument for an adult depends on:

- whether the person learning has the interest/enthusiasm to learn it,
- whether the person leaning it has the time to learn and practice regularly,
- whether you have played any other instruments before/recently,

When it comes to children learning an instrument it massively depends upon whether they actually want to play the instruemtn or indeed to play music (an oft overlooked point).

It also comes down to whether the learner (child or adult) listens to the right music. I feel you can’t play a type of music if you don’t listen to it - but again this is often overlooked with younger learners.

A key aspect is whether the learner will get the chance to play the music with others. This has such a positive effect on your development but again I hear of and see so many people trying to learn an instrument without playing in front of anyone until they think they have ‘mastered it’.

Playing moderately well and even making mistakes in front of other people is often more motivating than playing a piece perfectly in your bedroom with no one to hear you.

Age is not really a consideration unless you are trying to teach elaborate instruments to toddlers or trying to teach a 90 year old an instrument that takes years to get the basics right.

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Re: When to start learning to play

The earlier the better. Younger people have more time remaining for learning than older people, naturally.

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Give the child the instrument and they will find a way to play it if they want to.
I am reminded of the story of the boy who wanted to play the cello, but they only gave him a violin. He stuck it between his legs and played it the way he wanted to.

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Kids can start playing as early as 2 to 3 years old. I think the fiddle is ideal at this age because they have varying sizes, it makes them rather universal.

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I’d say what-ever age the child has an interest. I fully intend to have several musical instruments about the house and I fully intend to continue playing when I have kids. Hopefully some of them will find it as amazing and wonderful as I have found music to be.

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I think somewhere around the age of 27 should be appropriate. Hopefully by then, your child will have outgrown youthful distractions like rock and roll, country and western, rhythm and blues, or any other musical form whose names are linked by a conjunction, and can focus upon playing proper tunes.

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I really like what Marcia Coan said above about making music a social activity for children. That makes so much sense to me.

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“I think somewhere around the age of 27 should be appropriate. Hopefully by then, your child will have outgrown youthful distractions like rock and roll, country and western, rhythm and blues, or any other musical form whose names are linked by a conjunction, and can focus upon playing proper tunes.”

Unless they’ve joined the 27 club: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/27_Club

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I started playing banjo when I was 20. I don’t mean to brag, but im DEFINITELY the best banjo player the world has ever seen!!!
I agree about letting the child see experience a full on session first, get the music into their head. I think that seeing a full on session is impressive to watch at any age. theres a danger in starting them early though, they might eventually resent it.

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Hamish, I think you should put a sample of your banjo playing in your profile, and give the children something to aspire to.

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Keyboard and fiddle at a very early age, the bigger instruments once they are physically able to hold them…perhaps 10 or 11 depending on their size.

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It really depends upon the student (be it child or adult). Intrest is one thing, but the dedication to hours of practice (or minutes per day for a child) is not something that can be taught. When I was actively teaching, I seldom accepted students under ten years of age. This was just a general rule of thumb that I varied from only when there was a child that seemed exceptionally gifted. Muscle development, dexterity, coordination and the ability to follow directions just didn’t seem to be there for the younger children on average. I know that there are teachers using variations of the Suzuki method that will take children as young as four. At that age, usually a 1/4. or 1/2 size instrument is necessary.
The thing I hated to see, is parents spending a lot of money buying an instrument that after a few months is relegated to the closet. So if the child is really interested, see if your local music store has rentals to try for size and see how far the child is willing to go before you spend a lot of money for a shelf ornament. Ebay and Craigs list are other places you might be able to find a reduced size instrument for less.

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Thanks everybody.
However, the basic dilemma remains:
“Get them early” versus “Wait til they show an interest”.

The former implies mild coercion, and the risk of putting someone off music for life, which would be very sad.

The latter may allow a child to grow up without having been given the opportunity they never knew they wanted!

Perhaps Marcia is the closest: surround them with music, without ever forcing it on them, BUT spring with alacrity upon any hint of musical curiosity.

My three children were all offered music lessons, the two girls took up the offer and reached a good level of musicality before boyfriends and exams distracted them, the boy preferred to “play out”.
None of them now plays an instrument. It’s not for everybody, I suppose.

I suspect rare is the child who knows what they want to play and is prepared to put in the time and effort to excel at an instrument, and I fear that to become a virtuoso, or at least earn a living from
music, you DO need to start young, and receive masses of encouragement.

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I beg to disagree with your last comments, MallyG – to earn a living from music you do not need to start young; but you do need to be able to entertain people. And rather than masses of encouragement, all that is necessary is for the learner to enjoy learning. If by ‘excel at an instrument’ you mean ‘be better than other excellent musicians’, then that is all relative. It is getting to the stage now that you have to have started in a previous life in order to make it as a professional. Thankfully, people still like to play for fun.

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