Shinichi Suzuki’s simple but profound observation, that universally, all children are fluent in their native language at a very early age is not only inspiring, but also gives us an opportunity to rethink current models of early childhood education. If this feat is possible with language acquisition, then this exceptional “Mother Tongue” model can be applied to any skill. Like speech development, Suzuki believed that it is ideal that music education also begin at birth. In utero, the fetus can already hear by 6 months. Hearing is the most exercised sense in children until about age 10.
“The baby is born. Does he start to say ‘Mama’ the next day? For months, he just listens.” ~ Suzuki
At What Age Should I Start My Child on an Instrument?
Although most parents agree about the benefits and start of early, interactive music classes, there is often a discrepancy about when to begin Suzuki instrumental study. When I inform parents that the Academy starts teaching the flute at age 3, they often ask, “Why should I start my child so young when they will learn faster at age 6 or 7?” Or ” I’m not going to start her until she is ready; when she is older.” I’ve also had parents withdraw from lessons until their child is older because he was not acquiring instrumental skills at a certain rate. As an experienced Suzuki teacher and therapist, this often saddens me.
At a young age, a child’s brain is a clean slate, seeking input by absorbing everything in his environment. During times of silence or observation, the child is making important brain connections. This is the most essential time to build a foundation of skills that will last a lifetime. Repetition, modeling, and consistency are crucial during this period of development. If we miss this opportunity, the ease of new brain connections is lost forever. For example, as and adult, it is very difficult to learn another language because our brain connections are already formed and solidified. We have to work twice as hard and need consistent practice in order to become fluent.
When children are learning language, parents don’t stop talking to them until they are older because they are not yet reciprocating or not understanding the meaning of those words. Quite the contrary, we talk to them more! As adults, we inherently know that the more language a child hears, the sooner he or she will speak and a larger vocabulary he or she will have. It is the same with learning music! With instrumental lessons, it seems that somehow adult expectations change and become more result oriented, and the value in ” the process” of learning is sometimes forgotten about. There is also a common belief that a child needs to have certain skills in place before beginning lessons. Instead, what about considering instrumental lessons as a vehicle for assisting the child to acquire these skills?
Early Suzuki Lessons Support Brain Development
In 2013, a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that “musicians who started early, showed enhanced white matter in the corpus callosum, a bundle of nerve fibers that connects the left and right motor regions of the brain. It was found that the younger a musician started, the greater the connectivity.”
In 2012, a study published in Science News found that “very early musical training benefits children even before they can walk or talk.” They found that one-year-old babies who participate in interactive music classes with their parents smile more, communicate better and show earlier and more sophisticated brain responses to music.