Amber Diggins, 8, works through guitar lesson at Long and McQuade Nanaimo store’s music learning centre. Diggins started taking lesson on ukulele when she was six and has since progressed to electric guitar. CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

No minimum age to start a child’s musical journey

Family Magazine: Certain instruments more accessible than others for kids

Whether it’s merely listening, singing along or learning to play an instrument, music can be a big part of a child’s development.

With an approach toward keeping it fun and focused on what will keep the child engaged, it’s never too early to start children on a musical education and in Nanaimo there are plenty of programs for even the youngest budding musicians, even those too young to really handle an instrument.

Nanaimo Conservatory of Music offers a number of options for children. Some programs are offered as part of a partnership between the conservatory and the City of Nanaimo.

“We have a lot of programs for little ones specifically,” said Barbara Livingston, NCM executive director.

Kindermusik, offered at the conservatory through Nanaimo parks and rec, is tailored to children ranging in age from newborns to seven-year-olds.

“That’s always a popular program that we offer,” Livingston said. “Parents participate and there’s a lot of success with Kindermusik.”

Kindermusik is based on development principles defined by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The conservatory’s full seven-year curricula involve the full range of development, including language, motor and social skills, emotional growth, cognitive development and musicality.

The conservatory also offers courses for stringed instruments, flute and piano based on the Suzuki method, a teaching system that focuses on the child’s total development.

“It’s quite remarkable listening to some of the little Suzuki students play at a very young age – very sophisticated playing – it’s quite exciting,” Livingston said.

Nanaimo Conservatory of Music also offers several other children’s instrument and choir programs, including Nanaimo Youth Choir for kids 5 to 14.

To learn more about Nanaimo Conservatory of Music programs, visit

Once children start on their musical journey, the key to keeping them engaged is to let them play instruments they’re interested in.

Colin Darling, Long and McQuade Nanaimo’s music centre learning coordinator, says a child should start with an instrument they have a genuine desire to play, not the instrument his or her parents assume is the proper one to start with.

“A lot of parents are tempted to want to start their kids with piano, for example, regardless of the fact their kid absolutely wants to play drums, but they them to start with piano because they think piano is the way to start,” Darling said. “The unfortunate part there is if their child absolutely does not want to play piano then they just end up being an adult who used take piano lessons when they were a kid.”

Whatever instrument the child shows interest in is the place to start, but Darling says there are some qualifications to that advice, mostly based on physical restrictions. A guitar, for example, might be too large for a small child who also might lack the strength and dexterity needed to fret notes and form and hold chords, whereas a ukulele’s smaller size and easier playability might be just right.

Good options that offer fun and simplicity for young budding musicians are piano, which offers the immediate reward of playing a sweet-sounding note with the simple strike of a key, drums and ukulele, especially for those who might want to progress to guitar later.

“They don’t need any specific co-ordination to make a musical sound from [a piano], as opposed to, say, guitar or violin – violin being the toughest of the bunch – where a lot of things have to come together to make a musical noise, so it can be quite frustrating for kids at first,” Darling said. “Of course, you want to make it fun for them at the beginning so that they want to continue on.”

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