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Why should people of all ages learn to play a musical instrument?

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

We have all heard of musical geniuses like Mozart or Stevie Wonder who began creating musical masterpieces as young kids. More recently, we have heard of Emily Bear who started playing Piano professionally since the age of five years old. She appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show at the age of six years. Hearing about stories of prodigies such as Emily Bear definitely makes us wonder if musical ability only presents itself at a very young age. 

Does this mean that musical training should start as really young kids? Is teenage too old to start? What about people in their late-30s or 40s? If these are questions that plague your mind, let us help you understand it. If you ask, is there an age limit for when people should start learning to play a musical instrument? Put simply, the answer to this question is no. It is always a good time for people to start playing musical instruments and with each age there is an associated benefit that presents itself. 

Let’s break it down broadly into three categories — kids, young adults, and adults, for analysis. 

For Kids

If your kid is musically inclined from a young age, that is great news. Even if not, there are activities that you can start making them a part of from as young as a few months old. It’s not just us, even experts say that activities with music can start within a few months of the child’s birth. And this goes a long way towards helping them develop cognitive abilities, motor skills and meet other developmental goals.

In an article for Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Kids, Dr Robert Cutietta, author of Raising Musical Kids said, “Informal activities with music should start soon after birth, followed by more systematic classes around age three, and lessons with the goal of learning the instrument should start between six and nine.” He adds that these are only guidelines; exceptions will undoubtedly occur based on the child and/or teacher. 

Cutietta also said, “Musical experience at an early age is extremely important in a child’s developmental process. Like riding a bike or learning a language, these skills can be learned later in life, but they will never be ‘natural’ in the way that is so important for fluid musical performance.”

Starting young is definitely the best way to go about it. If possible, enroll your child in summer camp activities that help them gain access to the musical parts of their young brains.

For Young Adults

Teenagers are most likely to pick up a guitar at some point or another. We’ve all seen teenagers, who start learning guitar to impress their peers and soon begin to enjoy the activity. A study conducted by Dr Nina Kraus PhD at Northwestern University states this. 

Dr Kraus and her team assessed the musical and language processing abilities of a group of incoming high school freshmen. Then the group was divided into two. One set was asked to join a band class, while another was sent into a fitness class. 

As this article in It’s a Noisy Planet, a program of the National Institutes of Health notes, both the band class students and the fitness class students had improved “phonological awareness” (a term to describe one component of language skills) after three years, but the band students improved more. This suggests that musical training for high school students may also have a positive impact on their literacy down the road.

This proves that learning a musical instrument or getting musical training as teenagers has beneficial effects that are not just limited to increased musical prowess.

For Adults

There are a lot of adults who aspire to learn music. They either think of it as “too late” for them to start learning a new skill and have fear of failure. There are definitely challenges for adults. Adults might not have the same learning abilities but that is hardly the biggest hurdle in their way. In this article titled ‘Never Too Late To Learn An Instrument’ in National Public Radio (NPR), Scott Hawkins, a piano teacher said "Adults come in with exorbitant goals about what they can accomplish, and how quickly. We want to skip steps one through five, and get to step six."

In the same article, Norman Weinberger, a neuroscientist at University of California Irvine says that while it is harder for the mature brain to learn an instrument, it's not impossible.

Hawkins adds, “that ability is low on the list of what's required for adult students. Instead, attitude — especially patience — is everything.”

That’s true. Hawkins notes in this article that while adults supervise children and teenagers and encourage them to practice, there is no one to do that for adults. Self-motivation is key for adults to get musical training of any kind. 

If you are an adult that encourages your children to practice music, it’s time to bring that motivation to your own learning process. 

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