At All Times-Psalm 34:1

May 19, 2014

When should I start piano lessons?

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Whitney Standlea @ 2:16 am

*This article focuses mostly around my thoughts on what you can do to prepare your younger children (ages 3-6) for piano lessons, and it includes reasons for why children this young are typically not ready for lessons. As a teacher, I do start children as young as five or six under specific circumstances, and have other factors for when/why to start children in the more conventional age range (7-10), but that is not the focus of this information. These thoughts are my initial response I share with families of 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds interested in piano lesson.

It is always encouraging to see parents who value the early influence of music in the development of their children. I frequently receive inquiries from parents and my friends about the ideal age to start children, and I have given this subject much thought as I have three children of my own. Most piano teachers fall in to two camps on starting piano lessons: Early start (ages 5-6 years) and a later start (ages 7 or 8). I think this article expresses some of the general reasoning behind waiting to start piano lessons till age 7 or 8. That is also typically what I recommend to parents, although I think there are reasons and situations that warrant starting early. I do have experience teaching 5 and 6 year olds, and it is not for every child. For a child as young as three or four, you will have a hard time finding a credible teacher willing to start them that young. But there is SOOOO much you can do to prepare them for a great start at piano lessons. Here are some reasons why, as a teacher, I believe you should wait to start you child for a few more years, and what you can do about these things:

1. Her hand is not big enough. I keep a close eye on the growth of my children’s hands as we play around at the piano together week after week. Threes and Fours do not have the hand size to start playing. (Nothing to do there).
2. Her hand is not strong enough. All those basic activities that help develop the fine motor muscles for writing are also important in developing hand muscles for the piano. Just enjoying regular time with play-dough is simple, but important.
3. She does not yet have the foundational general music/developmental skills to start the instrument. There are many key developmental skills that are a part of learning an instrument and grasping music. If a child starts music without these skills, you are paying a professional in a very particular field for a particular service, but they are actually having to spend a large portion of time developing general skills that could be developed more effortlessly, enjoyably, and less expensively in other settings. Some of these skills include pitch and rhythm awareness. Through consistent exposure to these types of activities you can help your child develop these skills:
  • SING! Sing! Sing! Sing often to your child.
  • DANCE! Dance! Dance! Dance to all sorts of music. This allows her to feel the music with her body and “see” the rhythm of the music as she watches you dance. Dance with her in your arms so she can feel how you sway and move. Dance with scarves.
  • Use instruments. Buy a cheap set of children’s instruments (or make your own!) and have times to sing together with them, or play them along with recorded music. This alone will also show one of the reasons why it may not be time for piano lessons. It is a very difficult skills to be able to tap along to the beat, and it is difficult to start piano lessons without an internal awareness of feeling the beat to a song. You don’t have to correct, just encourage them to listen and model you as you tap along. It takes lots of time, and children don’t need to be perfect at this skill to be able to start learning an instrument, but they need grow to a basic awareness and feel for the beat.
  • Nursery Rhymes. Another developmental essential for reading, these are great for a sense of rhythm as well.
  • Expose her to classical music. Purchase a compilation CD of classical music and use it when in the car, coloring, ect. Spend time doing activities that allow her to think and notice things about the music. Have her paint to the music. While she paints, point out things like “This music is loud!” “This music is slow. It makes me feel peaceful.”
  • Play Simon Says. Imitation is a huge part of music learning. Teaching her to observe and imitate is an important skill.
4. I highly recommend to anybody who inquires about music lesson for younger children that they place them in a general music enrichment program such as Kindermusik or Music Together. These programs have teachers that specialize in teaching younger children the very skills listed above. It is a stress-free, fun, warm way to expose your child to music lessons and start growing their interest in music in a very age-appropriate way. My oldest son participated in an after-school music program once a week during kindergarten. He acquired so much of the pitch recognition and rhythm recognition skills he needed during that nine months. He also grew over the last few months of the school year in his interest in the piano and I just started teaching him when school let out. Which leads me to my final thought…
4. I usually recommend for children under the age of 7 or 8 to have a prolonged interest in taking piano lessons. I think parents can require a 7 or 8 year old to start lessons simply “because mom knows what’s best” and things can still go well. However, it is not easy to take piano lessons and 5 and 6 year olds need to be excited and eager. How can you fuel their excitement and see if they are really eager to learn? Have a piano in the house and let them explore freely without rules, assignments, or inhibition (we do have two rules in our home: nothing touches the piano except our fingers and our fingers must touch the piano gently). This allows their curiosity to grow. Allow them opportunities to see other kids and adults playing at church or school or houses of friends who play. As they grow in interest, try pointing out positive reasons to start lessons, but meet their inquiries about lessons with negativity. For example, when a child first starts expressing interest, respond with “Oh that would be so much fun. Learning the piano is neat, but you have to do it every day. Are you sure you want to work hard at that?” (It was several more months before my six-year-old son was sure he wanted to take lessons, after he had started talking about it. He waivered several times.) I think this helps prepare them for the reality that it isn’t a walk in the park, and also allows you to see whether or not they are persistent in their desire to play.
In conclusion, music exposure and development at an early age is fun, rewarding, and beneficial, but private  piano instruction is, in my opinion, neither the first step nor the most effective means for experiencing these benefits with children under the age of seven.

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