According to child development specialists Rebecca Parlakian and Claire Lerner at Zero to Three, experiencing music at a young age helps develop the brain connections established in the first few years of life. Music teaches skills like self-confidence, and improves gross and fine motor coordination. Music engages the senses and helps your toddler develop memory and language skills. Teaching your toddler to play an instrument gives these benefits as well as an opportunity for bonding time with your child.
Choose the instrument you want your toddler to play. You might have to make this choice for your toddler, but also listen to his requests or instruments to which he gravitates. Purchase a toddler-size version of this instrument when applicable; your toddler cannot play an adult-sized violin, but he should play a piano with full-size keys, even if it’s not a full 88-key keyboard. Consider instruments like a toy xylophone, ukulele, drum, recorder or harmonica as other options that don't present size challenges.
Encourage your toddler to explore the instrument and listen to its sounds. For example, on a piano you can explore high sounds and low sounds. Play some age-appropriate music on your stereo and have your toddler play along with the tunes.
Teach your child to play a few simple tunes by memorization. Even if you cannot read music, you might be able to pick out a song like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or “Three Blind Mice.” Play bits of the song and ask your toddler to repeat it back to you. Continue until he has learned all the parts of the song and can put them together.
Purchase a lesson book to help teach you and your child about music and the chosen instrument. A representative at a music store should be able to help you find the most appropriate book for your toddler’s age. Go through the book slowly and don’t move on to the next song until your child is comfortable playing it. Remember to make playing time enjoyable, but also remind your child that he must practice to improve. Finish each “lesson” with a jam to encourage free play. If you also play an instrument or can share the same instrument, such as a piano, improvise together.
Praise your child often and give encouragement through positive reinforcement. Give stickers for pages of the lesson book that he has completed or put stickers in a chart. Give your toddler a prize when the chart is full.
If you are not an expert at a particular instrument and you want your child to learn at a more serious level, consult a professional; improper playing can result in pain and injury.