Recently I had the privilege of talking with a reporter Margie Sheedy from Australian Newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald on the subject of young children learning instruments in school as a compulsory subject.

The topic has come about because an independant school in Australia has made learning an instrument a compulsory part of the school curriculum in the early years of schooling. This means that children as young as year 1 (approx age 6) have a choice of playing either the violin or cello and by year 2 (age 7 years) each student chooses to keep the instrument they started (or they can choose a wind instrument) and they are pulled out of class to participate in a private instrumental lesson.

A parent from the school commented:

“ From the moment they start school, it’s drummed into us parents that the curriculum is packed and we can’t take our children out of school for a long weekend. Yet there’s no choice about them being taken out of class – or which class they’re taken out of – for a private music lesson.”

There’s no doubt that research shows the many benefits in music and in starting young. I also believe that children having a positive start to learning is also a crucial factor. When children start in school at this age together, they’ll all be at pretty much the same ability level. There may be one or two children who may have started playing an instrument early, but they can still be easily extended and they’ll have fun learning and playing with their classmates. In my opinion every child should have the experience of learning an instrument in their lives in this positive environment.

So what is the right choice for young children learning instruments in schools?

Developmentally children at this age are still very small. I’ve always believed that a small instrument such as the violin or a foundational instrument such as the piano are the best for this age group because a violin is made for small hands, while with piano it’s easy to make a good sound on it straight away.

I also know there are never any hard and fast rules on this as many instruments such as the cello and wind instruments such a the clarinet can be made smaller to fit the size of a child. Its also well known that an instrument such as the recorder is a great small, cheap instrument to get started with young- however recorders don’t always fit well intonation wise with a band program.

Generally full sized wind instruments in my opinion require small children to have to think of too many things at one time as they need to incorporate breathing, fingering and embouchure which they will be able to adapt to more easily at about ages 8 or 9. Likewise Instruments such as guitar or drums require a large amount of co-ordination. I also know that there are exceptions to every rule- there are some kids who are just busting to play drums and guitar, but I would look at a foundational instrument such as piano at first with a go from time to time on a ukulele or smaller drum kit for motivation.

I thought this was generally the consensus of most music teachers, but I would love to know your thoughts. Would you be happy to see a child play a cello a drumkit at the age of 6 or 7? Feel free to add to the discussion by using the comment box below.

Click here to view the published article featured in the Sydney Morning Herald.