DEAR MR. DAD: I hear that children should have some formal music study. Is that true? What are the benefits, and how young should they start?

The best reason to get your child involved in music is that it’s fun! And when it comes to exposing a child to music, there’s no such thing as too young – so keep your CD player and iPod well stocked with a wide variety of musical styles (yes, even some you aren’t wild about yourself) and just allow your child to listen.

Starting when your child is about 2 years old, you can take the next step and begin having your child actually participate in making music, through classes that feature movement, rhythm, and group singing. No need for anything more formal than that. What’s important is that the kids have a chance to hear, make and respond to music.

As for formal lessons, kids as young as 4 or 5 can start piano or violin. But never push it, especially at this age, or you risk turning them off entirely. If your child does express a strong interest, find a teacher with the experience and temperament for youngsters.

Piano is a great foundation for the study of other instruments. Many parents start their children on piano to learn the basics, then give them the choice to switch instruments when the time is right.

School instrumental programs usually begin with strings in fourth grade, then winds in fifth grade, when the teeth and lips are ready. Even at this age, let your child’s interest be your guide. But once he or she has made a commitment to study an instrument, there’s nothing wrong with insisting that they stick with it.

Making music requires self-discipline, and that’s something that will serve the child in a hundred different ways later on. It also gives practice at problem-solving, understanding symbols, physical coordination, emotional communication, judgment, and even math fractions.

Evidence is mounting that kids are more efficient and adaptive thinkers if they have experienced active, hands-on training in music. A key study at McMaster University showed gains in mental efficiency and memory among preschool-aged children who took piano lessons for one year compared to students without formal musical experience. Other respectable studies have linked music lessons to higher achievement in high school math and science.

All these benefits are wonderful, of course – but the main reason to have your kids take music lessons is for the pure joy of it. Sure, they’ll whine and stomp and fuss at practice time. But in the end, in addition to all the other benefits, they’ll have a lifelong talent that (believe it or not) they’ll thank you for.

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