Learning an instrument is like learning a language; the earlier one starts, the better. At birth, the brain forms neural connections at a faster rate than any other time in a person’s life, making the first five years of life a critical period of development during which an incredible number of skills are learned. Exposing your infant/toddler to music during this time is undoubtedly one of the best things you can do for their neural development. (For more details refer to The Benefits of Music: Through the Ages- Part 1. This remains to be true throughout childhood.
While it is truly never too late to reap the benefits that music can bring into your life, the sooner the better! It is easiest for a child to start learning to play an instrument between the ages of six and twelve, at which point the neural processes in the brain slow down considerably. It is important to note that brain development does not stop at age twelve- it never stops! However neural processes decelerate as we age, which is why it becomes harder for us to learn new skills quickly as we grow older. Learning to play an instrument provides countless benefits for a child far beyond simply developing the skill of learning to play the instrument; not only for their cognitive development, but for their academic success, emotional growth, creativity, personal development, mental acuity, physical development such as coordination, dexterity, etc. and much more. In essence, playing an instrument promotes the connection between Mind, Body and Soul, and the benefits that emerge from this learning process carry over into every aspect of a child’s life and personal growth, and remain with them throughout their academic careers and into adulthood.
Simply put, music nourishes the brain. The beauty of playing an instrument is that doing so engages both the right and left sides of the brain simultaneously. While the left side of the brain governs logic, analysis, language, math, reasoning, music reading, right hand control, objectivity, motor skills, etc., the right side of the brain governs creativity, intuitive thinking, imagination, color, rhythm, subjectivity, left hand control, visualization, expressing emotions, etc. Playing an instrument increases the crossover link between the left and right sides of the brain, allowing the brain to function on both levels at the same time, ultimately strengthening a child’s ability to be creative while functional; a quality that is essential for success in any field.
One of the most significant benefits of learning to play an instrument at this age is the development of problem-solving skills. Essentially, problem-solving is the ability to discover new ways to look at things differently. As musicians, whenever we make mistakes, whether technical or musical, we find ourselves thinking of different ways to overcome them. Every new piece of music comes with a unique set of challenges that will be resolved slightly differently by each musician. This becomes a creative “figure it out” process unique to each individual. At the beginning of the learning process, a good music teacher will set a path through which, in time, the student will learn how to become an independent problem solver, teaching them how to make choices and how to approach and overcome each hurdle as they arise.
The beauty of being a music student is that the problem is never entirely solved. As one skill is mastered, there is always another challenge around the corner to conquer. This idea is what fuels what is arguably the most significant benefit that comes from music training: building character by developing self-discipline, grit, perseverance and determination. The development of self-discipline starts with creating a structured routine for practice, always working towards a pre-determined set of achievable goals which will vary with age and level. When a child is first starting to play an instrument, it takes time to establish your rhythm with practice. As you are creating the practice routine at home, consistency is key and parent involvement is essential! It might be difficult at first, which is normal, but practice will become a habit in time. Once the child starts getting results from their practice, they are usually not only willing, but excited to put more time into it.
Learning an instrument provides an organic process that takes years of effort, repetition, endurance and consistency of practice to achieve results which, in time, will translate into perseverance, grit and determination. Furthermore, music instruction promotes the development of growth mindset, or the basic idea that we can improve with effort, oriented towards meaningful long-term goals. As each piece of music is learned or as challenges are conquered, the student gains mental, physical and emotional growth and fulfillment. No matter what you choose to do with your life, the ability to persevere through any challenge is an invaluable quality to have.
For these reasons, and countless others, music instruction is the best gift you can give to your child, a gift they will take with them throughout the precious journey of life.