At what age should children start their music education? (Part 1)

In my research on music education, I’ve discovered there are different ages at which education begins, different instruments taught at different ages, and of course different qualities of education offered. The majority of the research agrees that music is essential for educational and developmental growth. So, I’ve decided to look at two programs offered to school students – one in Australia and one in Seattle, WA. How are they different? How are they the same? And could the Seattle Symphony offer something similar to what the Australian Chamber Orchestra offers?

Australian Chamber Orchestra, 2017. Credit Simon Davidson

First, the Australian Chamber Orchestra — ACO, offers an intensive foundations course starting when children are six years-old. Music education expert, Dr. Anita Collins, developed this program based on her research that demonstrated music instruction started before age six creates significant changes in the brain as it continues to develop.

This intensive foundations program is currently being taught at only one school – St Mary’s North Public School in New South Wales. Collins chose this school based on its location in a low socio-economic area. The program began five years ago.

Music Instruction at St Mary’s North Public School, Facebook

When the child begins the program, the ACO provides either a violin or cello to the student, offers weekly instruction and daily practice, includes visits from orchestra members, and provides opportunities for the students to demonstrate their mastery. The program continues until the child has reached their third year of primary school with the use of technology and dedicated music environments.

In addition to the transferrable developmental and educational skills students can gain in the music program, it is hoped that the children will develop discipline, a sense of self, and the inspiration to continue a lifelong learning of music in whatever format that might look like. And, it is hoped that the general educators have a better understanding of the link music has to cognition along with their own learning to play a musical instrument.

Certainly there must be quality engagement between musicians and general educators for this program to be successful. Collins understood that valuable piece and personally taught professional development and teamwork instruction to both groups as part of the implementation of the ACO program.

“In 2022 the full program expansion was realised with all of Years One, Two and Three – approximately 150 students, four ACO instrumental educators, and six classroom teachers – participating in the program on a weekly basis.”

Anita Collins, 2023
Dr. Anita Collins

For me, this demonstrates learner analytics in action. Collins conducted research and made observations about music education and children. She then implemented a program in coordination with the ACO, and now she is evaluating the outcome. At this point, she would be looking at what changes are happening, if they are positive changes for both the children and the school, and what changes, if any, need to be made to improve the program. In her report, she provides both anecdotal and evidence-based results from this program.

“Many boys [around age 11 or 12] might have a hero that is a superhero, like Spiderman. Jaxson’s hero is Richard Tognetti, Artistic Director and Principal Violin of the ACO.”

Anita Collins, 2023

Jaxson started the program with sensory overload issues, contributed to by autism. He also struggled with reading. Through the music program, he learned how to manage his emotions, follow instructions, and operate as part of a team. Of course, his ability to handle sensory overload also improved, and playing his instrument was the highlight of his day.

Students who participated in the ACO program showed fewer absences, improved feelings about school, improved ability to learn in both reading and math, greater focus and attention which led to better behavior in the classroom, and increased motor development.

In my next blog, I’ll talk about the program that the Seattle Symphony offers to Seattle students. I have already sent their education team some questions in preparation for what I will write.

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