The obvious answer is,"when the child is ready"! However, difficulties begin when we attempt to assign a chronological age to this "readiness" stage.
Recently, there has been a series of posts which would seem to indicate that psychologists and "educators" feel that it is probably useless to begin instruction to 3rd and 4th graders, because students who are not "started" until the 6th or 7th grade, very quickly "catch-up" to those who began to play in the 3rd - 4th grades. This is alleged to be true because of physiological and psychological differences. Plain old "readiness".
Within the context of the discussion which has taken place thus far, I find myself to be in agreement. Having just spent 35 years in instrumental music classrooms, I can assure you that these are, indeed, the expected "norms".
But - I fear that there is great danger lurking in wait for a mentality which adopts this kind of thinking. It is a kind of thinking which is pursued, and easily subscribed to, simply because it is viewed as being "scientifically valid". "And what could be more rewarding than having one's actions "scientifically validated?".....Hmmmm?
(1) Implicit within the above framework is the idea that there is a standard which "all", can and should attain. Sounds OK so far? But I confess to the belief that the goal of education is NOT to see that everyone achieves at the same level. Rather, the goal ought to be to have each child achieve to the extent of his / her God given abilities. Are you really excited about "average", when it comes to your child's life achievement?
<(2) We live in a society which abhors inequality. And our educational systems tend (or is it pretend?) to presume that we are ALL capable of achieving at the same level. When it becomes patently clear that this is NOT the case, what happens? The teachers, the books, and even the entire system are castigated for the inability to "bring everyone up to 'THE' standard". In the commonwealth of Virginia "THE" standards are the SOL's.
Does anyone need to be enlightened as to what happens next??? Can you spell "dumb-down"? Anyone who has spent even five minutes in a classroom knows that far more time is spent on those who "don't get it", than on those who do "get it". Take a good look at your child's "Band Book"! (read, "banned book") In many of them you will have a hard time finding a written-out major scale! The emphasis is upon the memorization of little tunes - rather than technique and and other skills substance.
(3) We play right into the hands of over-frugal School Board Powers because they adopt our arguments as a rationale for drastically cutting the elementary instrumental music budget.
(4) A couple of people tried to make reference to the (comparatively) astounding success of child prodigies (sp?). Little children are capable of AMAZING musical success, when nurtured. But you'll never know, if you wait until the 6th or 7th grade to reach out to them. Yes, it is not possible, in most cases, for a third grader to play the clarinet or flute due to physical constraints. BUT - many of them "can" reach that little shepherd-crook cornet or the violin! Or at least they can buzz the mouthpiece, or play the recorder.
(5) If it is true that, "everything I needed to know I learned (by) kindergarten", then it may well be that readiness often comes much sooner than commonly believed. Another important factor is that by the fifth and sixth grades there are a myriad of other activites, including sports, that vie for their interest, time, and attention.
(6) Don't we now have enough research re. instrumental music to know that children need to be involved in the discipline and neurological benefits from playing an instrument - at an EARLIER age, not at a later age? This is the hottest topic around! How can we justify "waiting"? There was a post somewhere along the way suggesting the appropriateness of the Suzuki Procedure. What is so fascinating to me, and so germane to the performance levels of these young children, is that they are being taught the physical skills of playing the violin - with little or no reference to (the academic understanding of) "music"!
Anyhow - I really enjoyed watching my little sister, standing up there in her cap and gown, playing the Vivaldi Violin Concerto in E minor - at her graduation from Kindergarten.
You want "REAL" results? Get 'em while they're young!!
Thanks for listening!
Clyde E. Hunt
Keep 'Em Flying!
Where to begin ? Genesis 1 - 1. Breathing - the Buzz - the Attack - the Release.
"Short-cuts will INSURE shortcomings!!" Herschel
Having said that, you are of course correct in your suspicion that the virtuoso players started as children. In the case of the trumpet, many of these children were "immersed" in other facets of music before they were actually able to play the trumpet (due to baby teeth, etc.). Perhaps the best analogy I can muster is with the speaking of a foreign language. We as adults can learn to imitate reasonably well, but NEVER well enough to fool the "native" during a conversation of any length. And are we ever able to "think" in our adopted language?
The American Congress of Strings used to say (my guess is still so) that 4 yrs. old is too late to begin training - if we expect the child to be able to play in a major orchestra.
I like the Biblical injunction, "Train-up the child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it". Talking about other kinds of things, you say? No, I don't think so.
So are child prodigies "born" or "made"??
A bit of both is my guess. But then, you'll never know, if you fail to extend the opportunity for the gift of music to your very young children. The growing trend in the public school systems, to increasingly delay, if not eliminate, instr. music instruction, is based upon financial expedience and short sightedness - not the capabilities of children.
Thanks for listening!
Clyde E. Hunt
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