It’s a question – and the variants – that is asked quite often… what is involved in learning the piano? What is the commitment? How do we approach the early weeks and months? What will happen? So let’s have a look at what is required for a solid start.
These days there is an increasing trend to treat learning the piano the same way as any other extracurricular activity. On the surface, it’s another activity that ticks the educational box and it is “the done thing”. However, learning an instrument and particularly the piano, is a big commitment, even for the pupils who are just doing it for a bit of fun on the side. In fact, if piano is not practised regularly, pupils usually give up pretty quickly.
The reason for this is simple. Learning an instrument requires the use of three different types of memory:
- auditory; and
- kinetic (muscle/movement memory).
The three must all be activated for a child to remember how a specific piece of music works. If a pupil doesn’t play or rarely plays during the week (for instance, just once at the weekend), the kinetic memory will not work and the student will not remember what to do. This usually results in them feeling discouraged. Chances are the lesson will be virtually the same as the previous one, the child will be disappointed and a vicious circle begins. A study determined that a pupil will forget 80% of the piano lesson if he/she does not practise within the following 48 hours. This is consistent with all types of research on learning and memory. A pupil who does not practise daily will not only feel bad, but will not play well at all and get frustrated. Think about how educators map out core lessons at school. In maths for example, if a child learned their times tables just on Monday morning they would struggle to remember them if they aren’t reinforced. Maths lessons are spread out throughout the week for a reason.
As you can see, practising regularly at home is crucial for the child’s enjoyment. It is absolutely necessary because a weekly half hour lesson will never be enough for them to make progress.
On the flip side of this is the good news… you don’t need to practise a lot if you practise every day. For a beginner, 5-10 minutes is fine. Of course this will increase with time, but it’s a good start and gets them into the habit. Children usually respond well to a routine so think about a fixed time such as just before dinner or straight after school. A little bit of patience and dedication is all it takes to both do well and get a real joy from their musical abilities.
There are so many benefits to learning to play an instrument, but they aren’t all going to happen overnight. Because of this, it is not really appropriate to take the, “we’ll try it for a few months and see how it goes” approach. The commitment needs to be made for at least a couple of years. It’s about being realistic about what it takes to gain musical skills.
Besides, you have made a substantial investment in not only time, but tuition fees, music and possibly even an instrument. You want it to be worth it!
It is important to follow your child’s progress and help them to have a bit of fun and focus during their practise sessions. Most teachers write notes on the music and/or provide a practise sheet, so check them out and use those notes as a starting point. I have written a number of blog posts about making practise fun, using different incentives and mixing it up a bit and you can check them out by checking out past blog posts.
Finally, make sure your child brings their piano books to every lesson. While most teachers will have books that can be used during the lesson, no individual notes can be written in them and sent home with the child so the continuity is interrupted and the child will start their next practise session trying to remember what they were told.
Nobody wants piano practise to be a battlefield, so start out as you mean to carry on and establish the routine early. Then everybody can enjoy it.
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.