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Commonly asked questions on music education

1. What is the best age to start learning music?

Research has shown that 3 is the magic age to start learning music as benefits of music can aid in brain development. However, as students of this age are too young to learn instruments like piano or violin, their lessons would typically focus on group music appreciation classes where they can learn basic music concepts in a fun way.

Learn Piano from ages 5 to 7

Normally students from age 5 can start learning music instruments, but age 7 (primary 1) is more optimal as students at this age tend to be more focused and understand concepts better. It depends on what parents are looking for. There is no right age to learn music as a more interested learner with a strong discipline to practise will always learn and reap more benefits than one without. Hence the interest and passion for music will still be the most important.

2. Give us 3 to 5 reasons why you think a child should pick this up. (How can the child benefit from learning this?)

1) Music not only improves motor (especially coordination), auditory and visual skills, but develops one’s discipline, which in turn further enhances these three skills. These are important skill sets that can be applied to any other activity that one engages in, which makes learning much more effective.

2) This is why we have seen many case studies where students who play classical music do better academically than their peers in school as they can focus and understand concepts faster.

3) Neuroscientists have proven that learning music (as compared to any other arts activities like painting) provides maximum benefits to the brain as it is the only activity that engages almost every part of the brain. These benefits are further enhanced when children start young as their brains are still developing. It is also interesting to note that playing music exercises the brain like a full body work out. We all know the benefits of exercising our bodies, but many are not aware of the need to exercise our brains as well!

4) Research has shown that piano helps improve mental health. It can help relieve stress, making one feel more relaxed and less anxious. The good news is that it only requires less than an hour playing the piano in a week to lower one's stress level, thus weekly piano lessons can be really beneficial, especially for students in Singapore who have heavy academic workload.

5) Piano is one of the easiest instrument to learn compared to violin or a woodwind instrument. As compared to other instruments like the violin or guitar, each note is always played at the same spot whereas in violin or guitar, the same note can be played on different strings, which can be confusing for children. It also helps when a child does not need to worry about intonation in piano as compared to violin where it can take years to build up. Similarly, in terms of understanding music concepts for children, it is also easier to learn using the piano as the keys start from low to high (left to right).

3. Are there specific characteristics in children that you think would enjoy this more than the others?

Students who: - Can sit still (ie unlike the type who are hyperactive or like to run about) - Have strong discipline and focus - Are "perfectionists" as they will usually ensure they play the correct notes as compared to students who do not care as much - Have the ability to delay gratification as learning the piano is a long term investment and the benefits and results may not come immediately - Have interest in music which means they will be more keen and willing to put in effort to improve

However, this does not mean students without these characteristics will not enjoy piano as much. As children are still growing and developing, they may build an interest or become more disciplined as they become older. At the same time, if they start piano learning from young, they may also be able to develop the above characteristics over time.

4. Tell us the most common myth/expectations that parents come with, you think should be busted.

-You can self-learn piano: There are many people who never went through formal music education but can play really well by learning from Youtube or playing by ear. However, without any formal music education, they can never reach their potential because most of them are unable to read scores or get instructions from a teacher on how to improve and play with better techniques. So it is important to have a professional teacher when learning piano. This can be face to face lessons or online.

-Too old to learn: After a certain age, parents may think that it is too late for their children to start learning because most people have the misconception that piano learning has to start at a young age like 4 years old. However, there have been many older students (even adults) who take up piano and still learn well, or even better than their peers who started young.

-Piano practice involves long hours everyday: Parents may be happy to know that just twenty minutes each practice session may be sufficient and more sustainable in the long run. Long practice sessions may not apply to everyone learning piano but more to professionals, music majors, piano competitors, or students looking to perfect their craft. Also, while students should practise regularly, they do not have to practise everyday as it could lead to burnout and a decreased level of interest. It is perfectly fine to take breaks as and when needed.

5. What are the qualities of a good parent that would help the child excel in this?

Parents who usually put in time and effort to develop their children's music interest can see results very quickly. This can include being involved in their piano practising, bringing them out to watch piano concerts, taking time to track their progress, or treating piano education as important as their academic education.

6. Getting ready for the class - tips. How can parents and child prepare for the class? What are the things they should take note of?

For parents sending their children for piano classes for the first time, they do not really need to prepare anything but just explain to their children why they are going for the class and what they are going to learn. Parents can also sit in during their first class if their children prefer. At home, parents can help to ensure that their children practise what they have learnt in their previous lessons to make their future lessons more effective.

How to help your child practise:

1) Go slow to go far: For learning or practicing a difficult piece, most students would just play the entire piece over and over again, often having little or no improvement. It is usually best to practise one bar at a time, and at a slower tempo, and only proceed to the next bar after mastering the preceding bar.

2) Play favourite songs: Choosing pieces that students like is also important as interest can be easily lost if the pieces are boring to the students. It would be good to let the teachers know their favourite music pieces so they can learn them concurrently with their exam pieces.

3) Practice shorter durations more frequently: In terms of practice length, do not subscribe to long hours of practice if you know you have a short attention span. Depending on individuals, it may be better practicing 10-20 minutes a day as compared to 1 hour at 1 shot once a week. This is because with shorter practice duration, we tend to focus more and ensure that we make the best out of the practice time. It is also easier to find the motivation to practice 10 minutes as compared to an hour. This allows a habit to form more easily as studies have shown that it takes just 21 consecutive days for a habit to form.

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