22 Nov 2016

When is my child ready to learn an instrument?

If your child has an interest in learning an instrument, let them go there. That's the message from music education expert Linda Lorenza.

"As soon as a child has interest and wants to play with sound sources they find around them and has the dexterity in their fingers, I think it's worth letting them go there," says Lorenza, SSO Director of Learning and Engagement. "If you have a school that has instruments then let them go and discover."

Lorenza trained as an opera singer before moving into arts education. Having taught in schools for more than 20 years, she previously explained to BSN+ that children tend to respond to learning in three main ways: aurally, visually or kinaesthetically. And when it comes to music, kids respond through moving and making sounds.

"They like to mimic, to bang and tap things and are curious as to how sound is made," she explains. "Children may progress very quickly from the saucepan cupboard to an instrument. For children the exploration of making sound is fun, it is 'play'. Listening, pitch recognition and hand-eye coordination combine as they explore an instrument."

When Lorenza was a child she recalls having a big piano in the home. She was always fascinated by sound and as soon as she could say the word 'piano' she was pestering her mother for lessons.

"I didn't start learning properly until I was seven because I had very small hands. But in my own teaching I have taught children as young as three and a half or four."

SSO trumpeter Anthony Heinrichs says his four-year-old son Luca has been interested in discovering sounds since he was born.

"When he was a baby he would sing to himself a little bit – he would also hear sounds and try to copy them," Heinrichs says. "He's always shown an interest in the piano – always wanting to go up and play it. If I play he'll go up and sit with me."

Recently Luca had his first piano lessons.

"We thought Luca might have been a little bit ready because he has great coordination and is tall," Heinrichs says. "Reading notes was still a bit beyond – five or six would be a better age for that."

First Violin Léone Ziegler, whose now adult sons both played instruments at an early age, says finding the right teacher is important, as is the right level of parental support.

"You need to find a teacher who can relate well to little kids," she says. "When you're little you need a parent there to encourage your practise. It then becomes something you share with someone else. If they can read a few letters of the alphabet it can also help them read notes."

Ziegler's eldest son Douglas started piano and cello lessons on Saturday mornings when he was four and a half. He particularly enjoyed the cello – although you could say that music was in his blood given he came from a family of musicians. A positive atmosphere of music in the home was also conductive to learning an instrument.

"When he was very young we used to play beautiful nursery rhymes going to sleep," Ziegler says. "He'd also see us practising at home and music was part of our lives so it wasn't a chore or separate thing."

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra's Family Concert series will return in 2017, with three brilliant concerts for 5-12 year olds to share with their families. All concerts at the Sydney Opera House.