Updated: Jun 28
Learning to play a musical 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, and the first five years of life are a critical period of development. So many skills are learned in this period that it’s no surprise that the brain is wired to absorb so much so quickly.
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 information, please see our article, The Benefits of Music Education, Part I (Infants and Toddlers).) This remains true throughout childhood.
And while it is never too late to benefit from introducing a child to music, progress is easier to achieve if a strong foundation is established early. Most children find it easiest to start learning to play an instrument between the ages of 6 and 12, even though neural processes have slowed to some extent. This is because of the physical and social development that is needed for successfully studying music.
As with music education for infants and toddlers, elementary school students benefit from music instruction far beyond learning an instrument. Along with musical skills, students gain cognitive skills that support their academic success, emotional growth, creative thinking, physical development (coordination and dexterity), and overall personal development.
In essence, playing an instrument promotes the connection between a child’s mind, body and soul, and the benefits they gain are long-lasting and have an impact on nearly every aspect of a child’s academic and personal growth.
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, and motor skills, the right side of the brain governs creativity, intuitive thinking, imagination, color, rhythm, subjectivity, left-hand control, visualization, and emotional expression.
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 establish the tools a student will use to become an independent problem solver, learning how to make choices and how to approach and overcome each hurdle they encounter.
By its very nature, music remains an engaging challenge as students progress. The problems that once seem daunted are mastered and new, more challenging material presents new opportunities to apply creativity and analytical thinking.
As your child continues to progress through their musical education, they are building character as they conquer each new challenge. They learn the value and power of self discipline, grit, determination, and perseverance.
This development is fostered by the creating and sticking to a structured routine for practice, and by setting and working toward challenging but achievable goals. As your child develops consistent habits they will begin to see results from their practice, and will gain even more enthusiasm over time.
A great deal of time and effort are required to play a musical instrument well. Even if your child does not aspire to the concert hall, they will benefit tremendously from the growth mindset that develops through the positive reinforcement that learning an instrument provides, and those benefits will impact their academic and professional careers for the rest of their lives.