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If you’re asking this question, then the answer is “Yes.” It’s never too early to expose children to music and it’s never too late to begin. The biggest question is what qualifies as music lessons.

For toddlers under the age of three or four, music lessons can include just singing songs together, listening to music, and playing around with a piano, xylophone, or musical toys. At this age, formal music lessons are not much better than informal experiences. A child doesn’t have to start learning the violin at age two to get the benefits of music.

According to PBS Parents, formal music instruction should start sometime between the ages of 5 and 9. This can take the form of piano lessons or learning some other instrument. Music lessons begun after age nine are still valuable, though a child may not pick up the skills so quickly the older he gets.

But at any age, there are clear brain-based advantages of music instruction. Studies by Northwestern University have shown that college students who had music lessons as children have stronger and quicker brain responses to auditory information than other students, even if they haven’t played music in years. Additional studies have demonstrated that the brains of people with musical training communicate more readily across the two brain hemispheres. This implies that they are more flexible problem solvers.

Studies seem to demonstrate that children who take music lessons have better auditory discrimination and this helps them be better readers. They not only can identify musical pitches, but they also can sound out words better. Other studies propose that music and math abilities are connected in the brain and that musical children have a math advantage.

So while there’s no truth in some sort of “Mozart Effect” – music doesn’t make a person smarter all over – there are specific abilities that are supported by early musical training. The earlier this training begins, the better.

The good news is that the music children learn to sing or play doesn’t need to be classical music. Any music works. And any musical instrument works too, especially if it is a tuned instrument. An unturned instrument, like drums, increases a child’s rhythmic abilities and may increase physical coordination. But it won’t have all the benefits that a tuned instrument like a piano, violin, guitar, or horn would.

And consider making music a family activity. You’re never too old to start and there is evidence that playing an instrument protects against brain declines in old age.

Music lessons. Yes!

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.