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When it comes to making music a part of a child's life, educators say there's no such thing as starting too soon.

Studies have shown music education can improve everything from children's long-term focus to their grasp of foreign languages, said Mike Blakeslee, the senior deputy executive director of the National Association for Musical Education.

Beyond these benefits, however, music is so embedded in most cultures that familiarity with it is almost a social requirement, Mr. Blakeslee said.

"It's inherently part of the human condition," he said. "If you don't know how to deal with music, how to both listen to it and have hands on achievement with it, you're kind of not fully socially interacting because it's a part of what we are."

KINDERMUSIK PROGRAMS

Kindermusik programs specialize in helping young children (newborn to seven years old) learn to interact with music.

* University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Cadek Conservatory of Music, 725 Oak Street. Semester fees are $161-$215. 425-4624. www.utc.edu/kindermusik

* First Baptist Church of Chattanooga's School of Fine Arts, 401 Gateway Ave. Semester fees are $190-$225. 265-2257. www.fbcchattanooga.org/kindermusik

* Christ United Methodist's Cadek Conservatory (8645 East Brainerd Road). Semester fees are $160-$263. 892-9363. www.kindermusikatchristunited.com

* Musician Training Center, 5515 Highway 58, Harrison. Semester fees are $200. 326-3476. www.musiciantrainingcenter.com

SAMPLE RENTAL FEES

The rental price for the first 9-12 months will usually apply to the purchase of a new instrument. Monthly rates generally include tax, insurance and repair fees. Some stores require a security deposit. Depending on the store, additional equipment like music stands, valve oil and bow rosin may be included with the rental.

Flute, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, violin, viola or drums (bell or snare kit): $23

Cello or alto saxophone: $52

Oboe: $67

Tenor saxophone or piccolo: $77

French or baritone horn, bass clairnet: $77

With all the elements of musical education to consider, however, parents who want to give their child a head start are bound to have questions.

Music education experts sounded off on some of the most common.

Q: At what age should I start teaching my child about music?

A: As soon as possible, Mr. Blakeslee said. "All you have to do is listen very actively with infants, sing to them and move the child in time with music. That constitutes some of the earliest music education that is going to stick with the child," he said.

Q: My spouse and I can't play music. Does that mean our child won't have any musical talent either?

A: Not necessarily. "Given the opportunity, we can see if they do," said Jenny D'Andrea, who retired as band director at Ooltewah Middle School four years ago after more than 28 years teaching.

"It doesn't necessarily take talent," she added. "It takes a desire to want to learn."

Q: How do I know what instrument is best for my child?

A: A child's age and size may make them better suited to certain instruments. Larger hands might make a viola a better choice than a violin, and most young children don't yet have the breath control for brass or woodwind instruments.

Once the semester starts, school band directors will let students try the instruments they are interested in as well as make recommendations, Ms. D'Andrea said.

Q: When is my child old enough for private lessons?

A: Whenever the child can follow multi-step directions and focus on a task for about 15 minutes at a time. The younger they are, the more supervision is needed from parents outside the lesson, said Anne Hendrix, a kindermusik instructor at the Cadek Conservatory of Music at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

"You don't tell a 5-year-old to go practice and set a timer and leave them alone," Ms. Hendrix said. "The parent is in the lessons learning and watching, so they know what to listen for and what their child should be doing."

Q: Are lesson rates negotiable?

A: "It depends," Ms. Hendrix said. "If they teach for an organization, it's probably non-negotiable. If they teach on their own, it never hurts to ask."

Q: What should I look for when buying an instrument?

A: Look for obvious defects in workmanship, but make sure the dealer will let you return the instrument if your child's instructor doesn't approve. Parents should also ask if the instrument can be returned and its value applied to a newer instrument once the student outgrows it, Mr. Blakeslee said.

Q: How should I select a private instructor?

A: Ask friends or the school's band director for recommendations of teachers who have experience working with children your child's age. Ask for credentials and to sit in on a trial lesson to see how well your child interacts with the instructor, Mr. Blakeslee said.

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