Hong Kong has produced a number of outstanding young musical prodigies in recent years, with the likes of 14-year-old pianist Aristo Sham winning international accolades and travelling the world to entertain music lovers. Parents here have long known the value that learning a musical instrument can bring to their children's education, with many encouraging them to take up an instrument at an early age. 'It used to be that most of my students started learning at the age of five, but nowadays parents want them to start earlier, with many starting at three,' explains piano teacher Chan Pak-yuk. 'Learning an instrument, like the piano, from an early age can help improve a child's concentration, and this helps them in various areas of their lives, including school. It teaches them to develop hand and foot co-ordination.' Chan also says young students learn how to read musical notes and scores quickly, and develop the skills needed to critically analyse a piece of music in order to play it well. The piano, violin and recorder are the most popular instruments for children to get started on, with young children typically taking eight months to a year to become competent enough to start taking Grade 1 or 2 exams. She says that a one-hour lesson once a week is enough for beginners, but for very young learners a half-hour lesson should suffice as it is harder for them to concentrate for longer. To improve faster, students need to practise at home. While some instruments may be cheap to buy, investing in something like a piano is a big decision. 'You can rent a piano, but the best option is to buy a secondhand one,' Chan says. 'Secondhand pianos are often better than new ones, as they are made from better wood than modern, cheaper ones. A decent secondhand piano will cost [from] HK$10,000 to HK$20,000.' The Tom Lee Music Academy is one of the most popular places for children to learn not only instruments, but also singing and music theory. It operates 18 music centres around the city and caters to children from two years old and upwards. Its Music Toddlers programme, for children aged two and three years, involves teaching basic music concepts through story telling, music appreciation, creative movement and rhythm training. Parents accompany their children in class and work with them though the programme. Tom Lee covers pretty much every instrument that you would expect to find in an orchestra, alongside modern electronic instruments, such as keyboards and electric guitars. More information can be found at www.tlmf.org . The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts also offers music courses for students of all ages and levels. Music prodigy Sham is one of its stars ( www.hkapa.edu ). Chan, who has taught piano for more than seven years to students of all ages and also to the blind, conducts private lessons in Happy Valley. She can be contacted on 6108 2261.