From Research

Common Music Lesson Questions Answered

Please enjoy these answers to a handful of common questions I hear as a piano & music teacher from parents & adult students curious about music lessons… 


Q. What about my 3 year old? 

A. Everyone believes their 3 year old is a genius (mine certainly is 🙂 There are always exceptions of course, but generally private music instrument lessons are best waited until recommended ages found in my Parent Guide. However, most music teachers are happy to give a short assessment of your child and will give recommendations for appropriate instruments and how much longer (if needed) to wait before starting on an instrument.

Q. What are most teachers looking for in music instrument readiness (regardless of instrument)? 

A. Universal of all instruments; Recognition of letters A-G and basic numbers 1-4 (no need to be writing or reading yet, however writing is preferred to have begun), Left and Right hand distinction, a particular level of fine motor skills is expected depending on the instrument (can they touch each of their fingers individually to the thumb? do up a button?), ability to listen, respond and follow instruction, genuine interest in music (do they like to sing or dance?).

Q. How do you know if it is the right instrument? 

A. Please see our Parents Guide. Generally if they meet the minimum age, show an interest and meet any physical requirements they are good to begin. To note: Sometimes, the minimum recommended age is still too young for the particular child (could be for any number of reasons such as maturity, behaviour, physical size, etc). If you are curious if it is a good time for your child but are not sure, it never hurts to get a professional music teacher to assess them and give their opinion.

Q. My child has been told to wait to start private music study – what should we do in the meantime? 

A. Parent led singing and musical activities at home are the number 1 best thing. Sing, sing, sing, dance and play music of all kinds in the house, oh and sing. Having small musical instruments around the house mixed in with their toys – egg shakers, maracas, keyboards, xylophones, recorders, drums and more encourage your son or daughter to make up songs as a play activity or jam along with the radio – aiding natural rhythmic and melodic development in a fun way. General Group Music Lessons are also instrumental in preparing children for school readiness – learning to be a part of a group, following direction and more. There are many different systems for Group Music Lessons, Suzuki, Kodaly, Kindermusik, Music Together, to name a few. We love our Music Kids Club – it is a perfect bridge to instrument learning and a wonderful supplement music program for those entering or in preschool or kindergarten.

Q. My child has a disability, can they still take lessons? 

A. Yes, most definitely. Music teachers (speaking at least of our studio) are generally familiar with working with children of different abilities, will often have special training or experience with different abilities such as blindness, autism, arthritis, speech impediments, hearing loss, MS, and more. Music training can be both therapeutic and highly successful with people of any ability, creating wonderful musicians, performers and teachers.

Q. What about group instrument lessons? 

A. Group Piano, Voice or Guitar lessons can be a wonderful and cost effective way to begin an instrument. However after the fundamental basics are learnt, immediate entry into Private Lessons is necessary as long term group classes can no longer keep stride with all learning styles, learning speeds and individual development and should not replace private study. Instead I reccomend Individualized Instruction where the student can grow at their own pace in private lessons and then bring their skills to activities such as Choirs, Bands, Ear Training Classes and Performance Groups as they provide excellent training and social elements. Music is meant to be played and performed in community after all 🙂

Q. My son is 6 and wants to learn piano but I still don’t think he’s ready for lessons yet. Should I still put him in? 

A. No. Wait until you think he is ready. Parents know best, if you have reason to believe he wouldn’t do as well now as in a year or 6 months, there is no need to rush it.

Q. Is it ever too late? 

A. No, not at all. Do not worry – starting piano at 7 instead of 4, or 30 instead of 4, or 74 instead of 4, is not a problem. The most important factor to success in music is starting and persisting, regardless of age. 


Do you have a music q? You can reach me at or

Enjoy music!


-Vashti Fairbairn is a local New West music and piano teacher, wife, mother, owner of Music Box New Westminster’s Music Academy at the River Market & a new Second location to serve you at 630 Carnarvon. You can learn more about raising your children musically at

Why play the Piano first? Why not the Flute? A parents guide to Private Music Lessons

Why consider some instruments at an earlier age over others? How does one assess if it is the right instrument?


Piano is the generally the most popular and successful instrument to start with from a young age. Most children can successfully begin at age 4 (this was me many years ago!) or 5. Occasionally, some children can begin as young as age 3.5 (lessons for ages 3-5 year olds generally incorporate a number of off the piano activities to reinforce piano skills in new and interesting ways. Instruments, colouring and movement may be incorporated depending on the teacher and needs of student). Skills to have mastered; Left/Right hands, recognize letters A-G (no need to be reading yet though), strong fingers with a high level of finger independence (how would you evaluate their fine motor skills? can they do up a button or zipper yet?). Piano is a great foundation for all instrument study, music reading is transferable to any instrument, the finger strength, rhythm and theory skills that piano study builds alone are irreplaceable.


Ukulele is a wonderful instrument for young children. Generally speaking, this instrument is best started at age 5 and can sometimes be started as early as age 4. Skills they should have mastered; Left/Right hands, be able to recognize letters A-G. Strong fingers, with good finger independence (though not as important as it is in Piano). Ukulele is also a wonderful instrument for children who would eventually like to move to Guitar. Do you have a child who loves to sing but not yet ready for voice lessons? Children can learn (mostly from example) to sing and accompany themselves at a young age. Take for example my daughter *gushing mother* who is 3.5, she is not ready for voice lessons, but I am considering placing her in Ukulele lessons this Fall so she can have more fun singing along with herself 🙂


Guitar is a great instrument to begin at age 6 or 7, (to note for petite children – only with the right sized guitar – please speak to an instructor about the best size for your sized child). At this age it is best to start on an acoustic guitar with nylon strings, then transitioning into steel strings or electric guitar if desired. Children must have strong fingers (much stronger than Ukulele to fret the notes) and be comfortable with developing calluses.

Flute or Clarinet

Flute is a wonderful great first wind instrument, best started at age 8. Children need time to develop lung capacity and grow their little bodies (holding instruments away from your body for extended periods of time is tiring!) so no earlier is recommended. A wonderful precursor to the flute or clarinet however is the Recorder, which is great to begin at age 6.


The Violin can be very successful at age 5 if the child shows an interest. Unlike the piano, the violin is not as initially gratifying to listen to 😉 However, this beautiful instrument is great for developing a keen sense of pitch and heightened listening as one must be diligent on each sound made being in tune. Fine motor skills must be well developed here for a small fingerboard, good wrist flexibility for careful bowing and acknowledgment that sometimes arms will get tired from holding the instrument. Thankfully violins come in a large assortment of sizes, all the way down to 1/16th of the original size, be sure your child is fitted properly and always playing the correct size. The violin is also a great precursor to the cello, which is best started at age 8 or 9.


Voice lessons are best started at age 8. Much like the Flute and Clarinet, time is needed to develop lung capacity and grow! However, lessons can sometimes be started as early as 6 years old with the right teacher who takes care to guide the voice gently with repertoire and technique that is age, voice maturity and range appropriate. Voice training has many benefits, but less known to point out are – aiding in speech impediments, lisps, dealing with a new retainer or braces and finding a full voice for speech. To note – voice lessons are a wonderful compliment to piano or guitar learning where one can eventually learn to accompany themselves while singing and can provide a sound theoretical base for the voice.


Private drum lessons at age 8 are great if there is strong interest shown. Aptitude for rhythm can be indicated very early on in life (perhaps a gift of a toy drum they love to sing and play with?) and generally speaking you may be able to tell if your child is naturally rhythmic much earlier than 8 years old. Things to look for – strong coordination, beating beats on the kitchen table, love of dance, can clap (or tap, or beat on the table, etc) a steady beat, can clap back accurately what you clap, can clap along in time with music. However, the beauty of music training is – these things we look for to see if there is a natural tonal or rhythmic ability with any instrument – can all be developed with desire & study! Hooray!

-Vashti Fairbairn is a local New West music and piano teacher, owner of Music Box New Westminster’s Music Academy at the New Westminster River Market & a new Second location to serve you at 630 Carnarvon. You can learn more about raising your children musically at

Lighten’ Up!

Before we get into the nitty gritty of it, let’s play!

With someone near you try this. Countdown from 3 and after 1 both people say an animal. Then take a few minutes and discuss what a combination of these two animals would be called, and what it would look like.

Where are you? At work? At home? Of the office supplies on your desk, which one would you be and why? Or if you were a kitchen appliance which one most represents your personality?

Foolish, no?


The work of Dr. Stuart Brown in his book “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul” has been one of the most influential reads of my career.

In it Dr. Brown discusses why we play, why it is a vital practice that need not be dropped after adolescence in favour of becoming a “grown up” (whatever that means). Alternatively this book promotes play at all ages for a myriad of health and social reasons. The work of play has become so highly regarded there are institutes dedicated to its study ( and therapy regimens in place for a number of difficulties from depression to relationship crises.

Have we forgotten how to play? Can we remember? Can we help the future generation never lose this ability and create communities where our leaders have grown up with a sense of play and all the benefits it carries?

I believe the answer is yes to all of those questions. One of the most well known facets of performing arts has it right there in the name, a “play”! A dear friend and colleague of mine have found ourselves imparting this awareness to our performance students. At this point they have all heard us say “it’s called “a play”! Not “a work”, not “a suffer”, not “an insecurity”” Let’s play!

It is my firm belief that children who are exposed to performing arts and who choose to continue its study through adolescence, whether it be dance, music, or theatre, are more likely to retain the ability to play. Play, believe it or not, is practiced. Children, of course, don’t know they are doing it, but it’s practiced nonetheless. Myself and my staff are blessed to “work in play”.

It need not be complicated, something as simple as the games outlined above can provide a car ride’s worth of entertainment with hilarious discussion to further emphasize to your child the importance and delight of play. And when can it start! Early! Below is a link of ways to engage your infant in play, long before they are using monkey bars and scaling the slide in the “wrong” direction.

See Dr. Stuart Brown talk about his work in play here:

Engage your infant (and yourself) in play with ideas from here:

And find out a few surface scratch reasons to encourage and emphasize the importance of play in your home here:

Those Crazy Tweens!

We have all found ourselves wondering why teens do the things that they do. Where do they get such hair-brained ideas and why do they follow through with risky behaviours? Reflecting back on my teenage years, there are definitely a few things that in hindsight I wonder why I thought they were good ideas. But are those years of teenage risk actually necessary? Do we need to always protect our children from taking risks?

New research published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is starting to give a clearer understanding of how the minds of teenagers work and why. Lead author of the study, Agnieszka Tymula, explains: “Relative to adults, adolescents engage more in unknown risks than they do in known risks.” Could this type of engagement in risk-taking behaviour actually be a part of the evolutionary process?

 Read More…

(source: )

Is “Background TV” affecting our kids?

We have all heard of the potential negative effects of our children watching too much TV, but the latest research shows that even when your TV is on in the background, it can affect development. This research demonstrates that many kids are exposed to television – even when they’re not actively viewing it.

This is the first study of its kind, published in the journal Pediatrics, by Matthew Lapierre, an assistant professor of Communications Studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and his colleagues. Its main goal is to quantify how much TV children are exposed to on an average day. 

While several previous studies have focused on the effects of direct TV viewing on children’s behaviour and development, Lapierre’s was the first to investigate what might be considered “secondhand” TV exposure, defined as any exposure to television that the child is not actually watching. 

In the survey of 1,454 parents with at least one child between the ages of 8 months and 8 years, the scientists found that children were subjected to nearly four hours of background TV a day. Parents answered questionnaires about the activities of their children in a 24-hour period, and were asked about whether a television was on during any of these activities. On average, background exposure amounted to 232.3 minutes a day, with exposure being greatest for younger children.

There were a few significant patterns in the responses:

  • Kids living in single-parent homes were exposed to more background TV than those in two-parent households
  • Children in the poorest households were exposed to the most background TV

Infants and toddlers were exposed to more background TV – 5 1/2 hours compared to 2 3/4 for kids 6-8.  

(Source: )

Eastside Hub Study

Available now, read the 2012 New Westminster Eastside Child Development Hub Needs Assessment .

The study, which included a survey and consultation with residents and service providers, will be used to assist decision makers in addressing the needs of families on the Eastside of New Westminster. The report is a project of New Westminster Early Childhood Development Committee, and funded by the United Way of the Lowermainland.

 For more information about Child Development Hubs, check out this page:

Mom & Friends

Emotional Support for Mom creates positive outcomes for kids

Is there someone in your life that you can turn to for day-to-day emotional help with parenthood? It’s a question that may not seem that important, but as proved by a recent large-scale US study, having support with the challenges of parenting plays an important role not just for parents emotional health, but also for children’s development.

Recently, researchers in the US posed this question to more than 67,000 parents of tween and teen children.  Then they asked those parents about their children’s behaviours, social competence, and level of engagement at school. Their findings?  Children and adolescents have better social and behavioral outcomes when mothers have emotional support with childrearing challenges.

The study, published this month in Child Trends, notes that mothers who receive emotional support:
    *    are less likely to experience stress
    *    are more likely to demonstrate confidence in their parenting
    *    are more likely to be well-adjusted
    *    are more likely to employ effective discipline strategies.
Read more….

(source: )

Right to Play

Here’s something we hear a lot these days: kids need to play outdoors more.  But what about children who don’t live in safe neighborhoods?  What about children from economically disadvantaged families,  whose parents
must spend long hours working just to ensure the day-to-day survival of the family, and who may be to exhausted, or too stressed, to play with them or to supervise their playtime?

In a new report published in the journal Pediatrics, authors Regina Milteer and Kenneth Ginsburg recognize that the complex interplay of social, economic and cultural factors underpinning the gradual disappearance of playtime from children’s lives defies easy solutions, but they warn that solutions need to be found fast, as children in low-income families are being left at risk of missing important learning and development that happens only through play.

Play, both the structured kind and the creative, unstructured unvariety, is critical to children’s healthy development of mind, body and social competence. During play within the family, understanding and bonding between parents and children is deepened; as well, play helps children learn to negotiate and resolve conflicts with their peers, leading to important lessons in empathy and cooperation.  Yet, as Milteer and Ginsburg point out in The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bond: Focus on Children in Poverty, in our society’s drive to ensure and increase academic success across the socio-economic spectrum, playtime is too often sacrificed in favour of more formal educational encounters. Read More…



Young Parents

What contributes to resilience for teen mothers and their children?  To answer that question, researchers from Vancouver Island University have been talking with some of Nanaimo’s young mothers.  It’s well known that young mothers frequently face many challenges — the interruption of their schooling, difficulties with housing, ineffective transportation and limited finances for living and daycare. In this study, the researchers’ goal was to explore the experiences of adolescent mothers from their own perspective — what worked for them, what didn’t?

The study, Adolescent Mothers II: An Investigation of the Experiences of Adolescent Mothers in Nanaimo BC, is an overview of the lives and experiences of adolescent mothers with the community and its perinatal services. Among the vital supports in the community, the young parent program Little Ferns Early Learning Center was noted as being pivotal for the adolescent mothers in achieving their educational goals.

For the 14 mothers that participated in the study, becoming a mother was a transforming experience: it gave a sense of purpose to their lives, motivated them to do well in school, and reduced their participation in high-risk activities such as  excessive substance use. Read More…



Child Safety Online

Child Safety Online: Global Strategies and Challenges is a new report from UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Centre. It examines children’s online behaviour, risks and vulnerability to harm. The report states:
The responsibility to protect children in the online environment should not be borne only by parents and children. Policymakers, professionals such as teachers and social workers, law enforcement agencies and the private sector all have a role in creating a safe external environment that allows children and young people to benefit from the use of modern technologies without experiencing harm.
Download the report