To Practice or Not to Practice?

by Kim Kuhn

Some of the most common questions I get as a music teacher are how old does my child have to be to start learning an instrument, what instrument should they play, and how much should they practice?  Here are what I hope to be some answers.

In my opinion, there is no one particular age for someone to start playing. This depends on what instrument and the readiness of the child.  My first lessons with piano and violin are always free and I call them “trial” lessons.  It helps me to know if the child can sit still for about half an hour.  I have one student that started off with only 15 minute lessons.
If they want to learn a brass or woodwind instrument, they might not want to start until after age 9.  These instruments require lots of blowing air so you hardly see a child age 5 playing the trumpet.  Children as early as age 3 can start the violin, but they would be learning using the Suzuki style.  This is when the student learns to play by listening to a note and then copying it.  They do not learn note reading until later.

As for the piano, there are students starting at age 3 or 4 with the Suzuki style, but most start later.  I have had a student that started with me when she was 12 and she did great.  However, I learned she had a previous teacher when she was younger that told her she would never be good in playing piano.  It’s sad to think there are music teachers that discourage the love of music by saying things like that.
In deciding what instrument your child should play, please be aware of what their interest is.  If they start off on violin, and after a good year of learning and practicing, they want to switch to cello or viola, let them.  Many times this switch is what will help them find that instrument they really have a passion for.

To practice, or not to practice.  That is the question so often thought about in the minds of parents.  I suggest consistency, a set time and something fun.  For example, practice for beginners can be 15 minutes and either right after dinner or before a favorite TV show or even before school starts (that’s when our family gets music practice done).  After practice, the kids can have a snack.  My 10 year old daughter insists on a snack during her practice.  This can be done 5 days a week.  Depending on how their music teacher feels their progress is going, they can increase practice time to 30 minutes after a few months.

The key is to be consistent.  I had a student once that had gymnastics one day, cross country another day, and I don’t know what on the other days.  Dinner was never at the same time every day.  She could never get a practice in because first, her schedule was so hectic and second, her parents never created a consistent time for her.  Needless to say, she didn’t stick with the music.
The last thing I want to mention is finding the right teacher.  It’s ok to check around for a month to find the right teacher for your child.  You can check out your friends’ recommendations, but if it’s not a right fit, don’t feel obligated to use them.  We saw several different voice teachers including one that was recommended by quite a few people before we found the right fit for my 15 year old daughter and we think she’s amazing.

Hopefully I have answered the basic music questions you may have concerning starting an instrument and practicing.  Good luck with your music!


If you have any suggestions for future articles, whether it’s for music or art, just let me know. You can leave your thoughts, comments or suggestions here on my feedback page. Thanks!

- Kim