Perhaps you were one of the many people who were forced to take piano lessons and dropped out as soon as your parents let you. “I wish I had stuck with it” is what I hear frequently when people compliment my playing. Why did you drop out? Was it lack of interest or did you despise practicing? Did you expect it to be easy when it was actually hard?
If you’re considering starting your child in piano lessons, here are some considerations:
Can your child focus on an activity for a long period of time (thirty minutes)? I’ve had students do gymnastics on the piano bench, lay down for a rest, or stare off into space. After a full day of school, focus is difficult for any child, but especially a child under eight. Make sure your child can make it through a lesson with minimal distraction. The teacher will appreciate it.
Does your child have an interest in music? Motivation is a huge component of success. If your child wants to learn, he will focus and practice. I wanted to learn. I had watched my sister take lessons and I couldn’t wait until I was old enough (which was eight in my case). Sometimes you don’t know if interest exists until you try. It’s okay to do a trial run, just make enough of a commitment that you give your child a chance to develop an interest. To garner interest, take your child to a concert or recital, or introduce him to local piano performers.
Does your child try many activities but quit them quickly? Some families foster a potpourri environment: try something until you get tired of it then move on to something else. The more activities the merrier! This does not work well with piano lessons (or anything musical). Playing the piano takes years to learn. It’s okay to quit after a while if the child doesn’t have the gifts or interest, but don’t let your child’s whims determine his activity schedule or you’ll be driving him to piano one month and soccer the next. Perseverance is part of character building.
Does your child have time to commit to practicing? This is a big consideration. If your child has gymnastics on Monday, soccer on Tuesday, piano on Wednesday, Cub Scouts on Thursday, and friends over on Friday, I guarantee piano practice won’t happen. Daily practice is best, especially for young children because they learn through repetition. If your child has a lesson on Monday but doesn’t open his book to practice until Thursday, he’ll likely have forgotten his assignment and then not be able to practice (properly at least). If you’re considering lessons, please make sure your child understands the practice commitment.
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Be Aware of Common Snares
Starting Too Young
How old is a good age to start piano lessons? It depends. Like I mentioned above, attention span and interest are important. Your ability to patiently practice with a child also factors in. Starting a child too young may cause frustration and end up turning them away from piano. Some parents are eager and will start their preschoolers in lessons. Generally, at this age their hands are too little and lack the coordination. Basic music introduction programs, like Kindermusik, may be the best route for a small child. I started at eight (third grade) and struggled for a few years before things clicked. First or second grade is a good average age for starting a child.
Wanting It to Be Easy
We all like things easy, but learning something new seldom is easy. We also like the path of least resistance, meaning that we'll cut corners on practice and still hope for the same results as the person who is diligent. Piano lessons is a great opportunity to develop a hard work ethic. Know up front that your child will be challenged and prepare her to accept this. Some of my young students are easily frustrated when they realize they can't sit down and pound out Bach. Plan to encourage your child often and help her focus on the end goal.
Lack of Discipline
Make sure your child understands the commitment of piano lessons. He won’t get anywhere without consistent practice. Lessons will be a waste of your money if your child can’t understand the importance of practice. Create a practice schedule. Reward diligence.
Lack of Encouragement
Patient help is what a child needs to succeed. You may know nothing of music, but I guarantee you that you can do a simple beginner piano lesson. If you start your child’s lessons when she is really young (4-6), you will need to be involved in her practice. She’s too young to remember and follow practice instructions. Also, if she sees your interest in her activities, she's more likely to respond with her own interest.