Readiness for Formal Music Instruction


Parents, we are often asked about what’s next for children who have been at The Rhythm Tree for a while and appear to be ready for more.
Here are some of the frequently asked questions and some (hopefully!) helpful answers.
“As my child is over three now, should I continue at The Rhythm Tree or move on to something else?”
Just as your three-year-old is still developing language, he is still developing his basic music skills as well, and he needs ongoing support to reach his full potential. At The Rhythm Tree, we believe that participating in music activities is a basic life skill, as essential to being human as walking or talking. We believe that all children are musical, not just those who show early signs of being high achievers. And we know that, just as with language, music develops over time and requires a rich, supportive environment. So, while your child is acquiring music information beginning in the womb, he or she is not fluent in music until much later. Continued exposure to and experimentation with music experiences is crucial for this fluency to occur.
“Is my child ready for formal instruction?”
In most formal music instruction situations, children begin by learning to read music. Imagine if we asked your child to read language before she learns to speak or even understand it? Children acquire language through a logical sequence, as follows:
1.) Listening
2.) Speaking
3.) Reading
4.) Writing
Imagine how ineffective it would be if we were to introduce the last two of these before the first two were mastered. Yet, when it comes to traditional music learning, that is essentially what we do. For many children, their first experience with music education is notation—before they’ve even begun to speak the language of music. 


“How do I know when the time is right? What are the readiness signs?”
• Does your child have Basic Music Competence? Once children can sing in tune and can move with accurate rhythm, they have achieved instrumental readiness. At this point, a musical instrument functions as an extension of the child’s internal musicianship. Beginning formal instruction without this readiness requires the child to essentially learn two instruments concurrently—a daunting task!—the audiation instrument (the instrument in her head) and the skill instrument (the instrument in her hands). Too often, the first is never learned, leaving the second to be played mechanically and unmusically. This can lead to frustration and, ultimately, to abandonment of the instrument.
• Does she have adequate fine motor skills? 
• Is his attention span developed enough to allow him to sit still for a 20-minute lesson and for practices in between lessons?
• Is she temperamentally suited to music lessons?
• Is he asking for lessons or is the desire coming from elsewhere (a parent or grandparent, perhaps)?
• Does the child’s teacher have experience working with this age group? Teaching piano to a young child is very different than teaching an older child or an adult. Find someone who understands this difference.
The good news is: It’s never too late!
We recommend that parents wait until the child is at least four to even consider formal music instruction. Most children in this culture are not ready until age four, five, or even later. Keep in mind that it’s really never too late to start. However, you can frustrate a child profoundly by starting too early. Err on the side of caution!