We reached out to friend of Kidz Central Station, Nora Tombalakian, to gain her insight into how to recognize and nurture musical talent in our children. Nora offers piano and vocal instruction as the founder of the musical school, HighNoteNYC.com. She is committed to nurturing music enthusiasts through a foundation and love for music that can last a lifetime. She has taught hundreds of students, with some for as long as 10+ years.
As a mom and a music teacher, I’m often asked the questions, “Is my child musically gifted? If so, how do I nurture his or her talent? What age is the right age to get started?” We’ll get to those answers in just a moment. First, the most important thing to recognize is that music benefits every child, not just the gifted ones.
The Benefits of Music
There are numerous documented benefits beyond the sheer joy of listening to beautiful music. Ok, you are probably thinking, “Hmmmm, my child is thrashing at a drum kit or pounding notes on the piano … that’s NOT music!” It is music. At least it is the foundation for beautiful music, self-confidence and pride which is buoyed each time a child plays his/her piece perfectly for the first time. The light-bulb goes on – they connect the dots – with practice, they can improve and they can even achieve perfection; an experience of mind – body synchronicity. Earning that sense of accomplishment does wonders for a child’s personal development and self-confidence.
Structured music lessons significantly enhance children’s cognitive abilities and are correlated with better academic performance. Specifically, mental focus, attuned listening, enhanced memory, planning, language-based reasoning and more (if anyone would like the scientific research articles documenting these benefits, please contact me). Body-mind coordination is sharply improved through ear training as children learn to listen carefully with deep focus. The slight inflection of sound, the distance between sounds, the movement within a phrase of music all drive memory performance and boost pattern-recognition capabilities. Children with learning disabilities often display improved behaviors and cognitive function in response to instruction through music.
Of course, beyond the fundamentals of music theory and application, there is a universal JOY of music! Children are encouraged to have fun while learning, be happy and to embrace self-expression. I aim to inspire freedom of expression, to feel the music and encourage spontaneity and structure musical sounds. The personal growth and development, coupled with the positive change in self-esteem, is apparent to anyone who has observed a child before and after six months of music lessons. As a teacher who has witnessed this on countless occasions throughout my career, it also brings me deep, personal satisfaction and delight to observe the evolution of my student’s abilities. 😊
How to Recognize Talent
Talent may not be as obvious as a Eureka! moment where your 6 year old sits at the piano and plays the new symphony s/he composed overnight. But, even as a parent who may not have much experience or knowledge with music can recognize talent if you know what to look for. When considering which age is the best age to get started, the earlier the better as they say …
Often, it is the child who makes his/her interest in music known to you. They may do so overtly with behaviors like turning music on, demonstrating an interest in a variety of music genres, singing while they are doing other tasks or simply asking you for music lessons. If you have musical instruments accessible within your home, your child will naturally gravitate towards them and attempt to self-learn. The other signs are more subtle.
For example, you may notice your child singing on pitch with startling precision and/or self-correcting when they realize that they are off-pitch. Does your child hum or tap constantly? Did they start singing and making rhythmic sounds and movements at a young age, maybe even before they were speaking in complete sentences? Perhaps s/he has an overall rhythmic way of speaking and moving. Unaided, they can play back melodies on the piano or sing songs they heard with great accuracy demonstrating terrific musical memory and melody recall. As a mom or dad you might be particularly dialed into the level of focus that your child demonstrates when s/he is listening to music.
How to Nurture Talent
Okay, so you’ve established that your child has musical talent, or is at least showing some clear signs of musical interest. Now what do you do? You can take several steps to inspire a love of music and learning and a foundation that will last a lifetime.
First, talk to your child about the amount of time, dedication, discipline and concentration that is required to master a musical instrument or voice. It’s not easy! Children often get discouraged and they need positive reinforcement to keep them focused on the joy of learning music through a shared appreciation of the work it requires. Your talented child’s skills and concepts of music are already developing naturally, do whatever you can to encourage them to recognize how much they are improving and learning.
Next, select a teacher that connects with your child, inspires them and encourages them as an aspiring young musician. Good teachers understand a child’s abilities and can recognize where effort is required to master the craft by ensuring the proper level of instruction balanced with practice. Supportive parents play an equally critical role in providing the environment required to develop a talented young musician. Here, the saying, “it takes a village” certainly rings true!
Individualized instruction plus commitment are the 1-2 combination essential to develop a talented child. Musical ability is significantly correlated with amount of practice: everyone needs to recognize that this takes years and a significant investment. Rhythmic independence is also an acquired talent, not typically an innate one. Children need to practice the synchronicity of the movement of their limbs. You can count the number of musical geniuses in history on just a few fingers … for the rest of us; it takes more effort and hopefully a joyful and enriching process.
About the author
Nora Tombalakian has a centered and holistic approach to singing, speaking and piano playing which enables her students to organically find their own creativity through supported process learning. Nora designs personal, goal-oriented curriculums with great care for each of her students to address their personal needs and learning objectives. She encourages self-expression in combination with developing technical skills such as reading music, theory, and musicality and solo performance competency.
Nora Tombalakian obtained her Masters in Music from the Manhattan School of Music in NYC. Nora is currently working toward psychotherapeutic licensure in order to further hone her teaching skills and help connect with students who have learning disabilities, anxiety or other behavioral challenges that can benefit from the joy of music.