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From Bach to Beatles - Your Music Education Questions Answered
By Jennifer Levine

You know that you want to integrate music education into your child's life, but don't know exactly where to begin. You want him or her to play an instrument but you don't know which one would be the best or at what age to start. Relax. Here are the answers to help your child begin the path to their music education.

What are the benefits of music education? There are many. However, according to Dr. Harry Steckman, Artistic Director of Steckman Studio of Music located in Oak Park, IL, the three greatest benefits of providing music education are academic achievement, improving self-esteem and promoting good social skills.

Why do babies and young children respond so positively to music? Dr. Steckman points out that our brains are wired for music. It is humankind's most elemental instinct. Ever listen to a baby babble? You can hear the highs and lows, ups and downs, and loud and soft ranges. The development of language begins with music.

When should a child begin music lessons? Music classes can begin at birth or with tots if you can find a local parent/child class. At age three and a half children can begin the Suzuki approach, usually on piano, cello or violin. It was developed over forty years ago by Shinichi Suzuki who called it "Talent Education". The Suzuki Association of the Americas compares the Suzuki approach to acquiring language. Children learn to speak their native language much earlier than they begin to read and these basic principles are applied to music. If you decide to take the Suzuki route, you must be willing to take an active role in their instruction. Parents usually attend the lessons and take notes and become the "home teachers". The SAA points out that loving encouragement, parent responsibility and repetition are some of the underlying features to the Suzuki approach.

How do you choose the right instrument? Dr. Steckman says you should expose your child to music and live concerts at a young age and let them take an active role in choosing the instrument. If you decide not to sign up for Suzuki lessons, Dr. Steckman recommends the following: wind and brass instruments at age nine, piano at age seven, drums at age seven to eight and guitar at age eleven. Voice lessons usually begin after adolescence.

Does playing an instrument improve a child's performance at school? Absolutely. Studies have shown that children engaged in music education perform higher on academic tests. Learning music is a multi-disciplinary subject. Children learn to listen and concentrate, channel their energies through performance and learn to work with other children. Surveys show that teens that play an instrument are less likely to have discipline problems.

So what can parents do to promote music education at home? By playing an instrument themselves, listening to music, taking children to concerts and signing up their children for private or group lessons. So when your four year old starts taking Suzuki cello and you hear the screeching sawing on the strings, remember what is going on in his or her little brain and that there just might be a Mozart in the making. For more information visit www.steckman-studio.org

Jennifer Levine is a freelance writer and mother of two in Richmond, Virginia.

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