Honestly, I do not remember a time when I did not play an instrument.
Was I a child prodigy? No way. Am I a virtuoso? Hardly.
No, I did not “come forth from the womb strumming a guitar.” My Dad used to say something like this when people wondered how my siblings and I learned to play instruments.
“Children do not come forth from the womb playing banjos,” he would
boom authoritatively. “They have to be taught.”
The only reason I cannot remember not playing a musical instrument is because 1) my parents started me on the piano at three years of age and 2) I do not have a great memory bank like some people I know, such as my younger brother, Matthew. (He can remember events that happened when he was two. But then again, he is a genius.)
I also have no recollection of my first mandolin lesson. My dad picked the mandolin as the main instrument I would learn and my older sister, Becky, gave me mandolin lessons after I began learning the piano. During one of my lessons, I asked, “How many miles to the next page?” Talk about being a “legit” evangelist’s daughter! My question sounded like I comprehended mileage and the price of diesel at the tender age of three.
I do not remember asking that, either. I only know that I did because my sister told me.
The point of this post is not what I can remember, thankfully. The point is that my parents started teaching my siblings and me how to play instruments at such an early age that I do not have a “first mandolin lesson” memory.
In some ways, I feel like music is my second set of clothing. I slip into singing or playing like I am wearing music. I know I heard a lot of music before I even entered the world, as Dad, Mom, and my six older sisters and one older brother played their instruments or sang. The music floated its way to me inside my mother’s womb.
My Dad could usually guess our vocal range by the pitch of our cry when we were babies. If we had a high-pitched cry, he’d say, “That’s a soprano.” If we had a low-pitched cry, he’d say, “She’s going to be an alto.” With only two brothers in our family, we ended up with one bass and one tenor each . . . thank the Lord!
But beyond guessing what range our voice would be or choosing an instrument for us, I doubt whether my parents had an actual blueprint for teaching us music. It wasn’t like they pulled out a growth chart and said, “At eight months, let the baby touch the piano keys.” Or, “At thirteen months, put a mandolin pick in her right hand.” I believe their plan grew organically.
But somewhere deep inside of me is a love for music that never wanes, and I believe it is because my parents fostered that love early in my life.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was quite the musical genius. He began playing the piano at three years of age and started composing at five. And Ludwig van Beethoven gave his first public recital at seven years of age. But even Mozart had to take piano lessons from his father, and so did Beethoven.
If you are an average parent with an average child, you are probably just happy when your child plays something that resembles “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” even if their violin squawks and squeaks or their trumpet bleats and blares.
Starting your child on an instrument at an early age does not guarantee incredible virtuosity. But it does give little Billy or Susie a good chance to develop their ability sooner rather than later while fostering an early love for music.
You may not know what to do or where to start. Begin at the beginning to expose them to good music. Start at whatever stage they are at now. If your child is unborn, play good music at home while you are doing dishes or cleaning. If your child is still a baby, begin showing her different instruments and teaching her how they work (and if you do not know yourself, find someone who does). If your child is a toddler and you are near a piano, let him touch the keys and hear what happens when his fingers push down on the keys.
Expose your child early to the wonders of good music. Start early. Start today.