The most common time for children to be ready for piano study is age 5 to 6, though some children are ready as early as age 3 or 4 if they have strong interest and full parental support. Others may not be ready until age 7 or 8. To ensure a successful experience, both children and their parents need to be ready for lessons.
Children ready for piano lessons need to:
- Know the difference between left and right hands
- Be able to count at least to 5.
- Be able to identify patterns and groupings (for example, groups of three black keys on the piano)
- Be able to focus and follow instructions for up to 30 minutes at a time (15-20 for youngest beginners)
- Either know or be starting to learn the alphabet (A to G)
Parents of children taking piano lessons need to:
- Own an appropriate instrument. Beginners can start out on an electronic keyboard, but they will soon need a true piano (good pianos available on Craig’s List for free or up to about $300).
- Support their child by providing a regular quiet time for practice and encouraging daily practice (a student who isn’t practicing will not progress in skills, and will quickly become frustrated or discouraged by lessons).
- Assist young beginners by sitting in on lessons with full attention, and supervising each practice session (about 10-15 minutes per day).
- Be prepared for the financial and time commitment of weekly lessons.
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Beginning piano lessons require a commitment from more than just the student. It takes the input of the entire family to raise a happy pianist.
Why? Because unlike other activities such as dance or soccer, the greatest amount of learning occurs BETWEEN times spent with the teacher/coach. Without support and quality practice time at home, students will not progress. Instead of finding piano enjoyable and confidence-building, they will become frustrated and discouraged, and start believing they’re not good at piano or even music in general. Not only does that waste the parent’s investment in lessons, it tragically creates a negative experience for the child, the exact opposite of what parents intend.
Because of the above, I expect the following from the families of my beginning piano students:
- Parents must be involved in attending and understanding as much of the lesson as they can (you don’t have to know music to follow along in beginning lessons). That means watching what student and teacher are doing, and taking notes to remember important points.
- Parents must directly supervise practice time—they will need to read/interpret instructions for the child, and redirect, encourage, monitor time, etc. For the 15 or more minutes the child practices, they need the parent’s full attention.
- The family must cooperate in ensuring there is quiet space and time for the student to practice (including turning off the TV, etc., if the piano is in the same room).
If you want your child to find joy and success in lessons, the above is absolutely necessary (it is a VERY RARE child who takes to the piano like a duck to water and goes swimming off alone immediately).
[For parents who are overwhelmed by the above, keep in mind this is just for beginning students. Numbers 1 and 2 above reduce over time, though greater parental involvement is almost always more positive than less. The typical student is pretty independent by age 8, though some students only need minimal supervision and support (mostly reminders to practice) by age 7.]
Parents must ensure their child has a good “piano nest” to support their practice. Here’s what’s involved in making sure you have the best set up for yourself or your child…
- Good instrument – Acoustic piano in good condition, or a full digital keyboard with “hammer” action. Contact me for advice on procuring an instrument that will support skill development and enthusiasm.
- Correct playing height/position – This is the most important part of all and is unique to each player. A bad set-up can be a huge stumbling block to growth.
- Make sure the bench is high enough that forearms are parallel to the floor when playing with good hand position (add FIRM pillows, folded towels/blankets, etc, if necessary).
- Make sure feet are flat on the floor and thighs are tilted downward but close to parallel (add a footstool or stack of books under feet, if necessary).
- Knees should be just under the edge of the keyboard when sitting on the front half of the bench. A good test for distance is to sit up tall, then stretch both arms out in front. If the knuckles graze the fallboard of the piano (or line up with the narrow ends of the keys on a keyboard) without bending the arms or leaning backward at all or forward more than a tiny bit, the distance is probably correct. For more information on proper positioning, see WellBalancedPianist.com
- Good lighting – Make sure the area where the music book sits can be seen clearly.
- Supplies – Pencils, erasers, and a safe place to keep books/papers when not playing. Include a pair of ear-covering headphones if using a digital piano.
- Good Location – Choose a spot that is cheerful and easily accessible so that practice and be monitored and shared (not in a distant part of the house or an isolated area), but yet still has enough privacy to allow for concentration and focus.
The right setup at home can not only support piano learning and growth, but make the whole experience more enjoyable and satisfying for everyone!
The two most important things to know about practicing are:
- It’s not how many times you practice/play a piece, it’s how many times you practice/play it right. Playing it wrong over and over just teaches your hands how to do it wrong.
- It’s not about how long you practice, either. 10-15 minutes of careful, thoughtful practice is far better than 30 or 60 minutes of low-quality practice. Even 5 minutes a day can be very valuable if it is done right!
More Tips for Practicing:
- Practice Makes Permanent! Perfect is impossible, but permanent is easy. The notes, rhythm, articulation and tempo you use in practice quickly become a habit that is hard to break. Better to play it slowly and right than fast with the same mistakes over and over. It’s much harder to fix those mistakes after practicing them into permanent. (Each time you play music, your brain is organizing a layer of cells to tell you how to do the exact same thing again, mistakes and all. Do it slowly enough to do it right and you will program in the correct way to play it the next time. Unlearning programmed-in mistakes is hard!)
- Follow your teacher’s practice instructions. They know you and are the experts on how to get better.
- Have a plan. As soon as you sit down to practice, plan what you want to accomplish. For example: Today I’m going to fix the wrong notes on page 3, increase my speed on the recital piece, and make sure my scales are smooth.
- Use your brain just as much as your fingers! Listen to yourself and analyze what you are hearing. Is there a place where you keep messing up no matter how hard you try? Identify the exact note where you start to mess up. Check the notes, rhythm, fingering, articulation, etc. For example: Did you think it was a step instead of a skip? Write “sk” between the two notes, then start in the measure before, point and say steps/skips until the end of the measure where you made the mistake. Do that a five times in a row correctly to solidify it. Then try playing that section while saying step/skip for each interval. Then go back and play the whole piece.
- If you’re making mistakes, you’re playing too fast. Play as slow as you need to play in order to make no or very few mistakes. This means playing slow enough that you can think through the challenges while you play. When you can play it perfectly when slow, play it a little faster each time until you get to the right tempo. If necessary, use a metronome to help you keep it steady. Remember, your mistakes will become permanent if you’re practicing them over and over.
- Finish your practice session with something fun. Play your favorite piece or exercise you have already learned, or have a family member listen to what you have worked on today so that they can hear the improvement.
With the right kind of practice, you will quickly learn your music and have the joy of playing it well!
Piano lessons are a fundamental way to gain a broad appreciation of music. However, the real benefits that arise from playing the piano are primarily non-musical. – source
Studying a musical instrument, especially piano, has tremendous benefits.
- Help children perfect their natural learning processes. Music is a language, and children are programmed to absorb languages. Piano lessons help children develop the very same skills used in language activities such as reading. Children who study piano also test higher in spatial cognitive development and math skills, and show increased verbal ability.
- Raise self-esteem as they teach children to persevere. Understanding that mastering a new skill or learning a new piece of music is a process that requires patience helps children to approach tasks with confidence and not become discouraged or frustrated.
- Improve mental and physical coordination. Piano lessons develop hand-eye coordination and the use of both sides of the brain. A piano student learns to read two lines of music, using both ears, arms, legs, feet and all ten fingers, with the brain giving each body part a different assignment to perform simultaneously.
- Help children set specific goals and then work towards reaching these goals. Students also learn to think critically and creatively as they decide how to make the music come to life
- Preserve and develop children’s natural creative abilities as they interpret a piece for themselves and even create their own music.
- Help children develop courage. It takes courage to face challenges without letting our anxiety and worries get the best of us. Piano lessons help students learn to accept challenges such as learning a difficult song and performing in front of others.
The best benefit of all? Joy! Being able to create something beautiful and express oneself in a way others can also appreciate is a true joy.
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[The above is a “mashup” and condensation of Cynithia Vanlandingham’s wonderful list and KeyNotes Piano Studio’s discussion. Read both for additional links and more information about the tremendous benefits of piano study.]