Nowadays – more than in previous times – there seems to be a desire for kids to be involved in many different activities and as early as possible. Young kids are like sponges and we want to feed their curiosity and eagerness.
Music lessons are no exception.
Like any activity, each child is different and will be ready at different times, but the following list will help you determine whether your child is ready to start formal lessons:
Can your child sit still and concentrate for 20-30 minutes? Even though most teachers today will vary the lesson with off-the-bench activities as well, it is still a solid half hour of concentration, with much of that time spent at the piano. It’s not the same level of concentration as sitting still watching a movie for an hour.
Reading and writing (and ‘rithmetic)
Fluent reading and writing is not necessary to be able to play the piano. However, confidence in the basics is. The musical alphabet uses the first seven letters and the child needs to be comfortable with their order both forwards and backwards. As well as learning the note names, reading music also involves counting (note values). This concept is based on fractions (eg a crotchet is half the value of a minim).
Fine motor skills
Having the control and dexterity required to correctly hold a pencil helps kids with the fine motor skills needed at the piano. Can they use scissors well? Can they colour fairly well ‘between the lines’?
Reading from left to right
Does your child correctly track from left to right and top to bottom when they read a book?
Being able to see patterns and recognise up and down assist with both reading music and keyboard recognition. The keyboard includes groups of two and three black notes and the patterns within these groups are used to establish note locations. Moving up and down the piano according to tone is important, as well as being able to see that notes written on the music are following a particular direction.
Does your child have enough strength to depress the keys using the forearms without undue pressure from the fingers? Can they support their hands on their fingers? There is a physical aspect of piano playing that needs to be developed and this usually occurs between the ages of 6 and 8.
Does your child sway or move in time to music he hears around him? Can she clap in time? While rhythm can eventually be taught, it is much more difficult to understand how to count music if they can’t hear rhythm.
Piano teachers are generally a caring and encouraging bunch of people. However, doing our job involves correcting errors and teaching new things. We will always do it as nicely as possible, but a child who is resistant to being either instructed or corrected may need to wait a little longer before starting.
Agreement to regular practise
Music is not a one-day-a-week commitment like many other activities. These days there are few extracurricular activities that require kids to daily put in a concerted effort. Before starting lessons, you need to ensure your child will be agreeable to daily practise.
You should also assess your own availability to help them. While your teacher will provide your child with all the tools they need to succeed, when the parents are involved children tend to progress more quickly than students left to their own devices. Particularly with young students or beginners, a parent sharing their interest and giving encouragement goes far in their development.
For all the above reasons, I prefer to not start students until they are around six years old.
Of course, there will always be exceptions to the rule, but objectively checking off the points above and waiting until your child is ready to learn with the least amount of stress possible will usually work in their favour.
If they are not yet quite ready for formal lessons, you can still indulge their passion for music by enrolling them in general music appreciation classes. This will also expose them to a variety of instruments and music and will also allow them to develop a good sense of beat and pitch, which will be a huge asset when they begin piano lessons.
If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.