I don’t remember a time that I haven’t played the piano. My parents–neither of them with any kind of musical background–started me with piano lessons when I was four years old, and it’s been an enormous (and wonderful) part of my life ever since. It taught me at a very young age how to work hard to learn something new, dedication, responsibility, and getting over some of my fears. I performed and played all through high school, and then into college on a piano scholarship. I taught piano lessons for many years–all through college and up until my last baby was born two years ago. The ability to play the piano has given me many opportunities–to play, perform, serve in my church and community, and to teach. It helped support us through college and graduate school, and then helped with the extras when we were finished with school. But even more than that, it has filled my life with immeasurable joy, and our home has always been filled with the sound of music. How grateful I am that my parents gave me this gift!
Why do I tell you all of this? You may be wondering what the real-life benefits of piano lessons are, and I could probably go on for much longer if you needed me to! If you have been considering lessons for your child, you may be asking “how do you know if your child is ready for piano lessons”?, and I’m here to give you a little guidance. I get this question a lot from people in my real life, and I thought I would pass on that information here.
I will start off by stating that I’m not an expert–I’m simply giving you my opinion based on all of my years of experience playing and teaching. Every single child is different, and this is just a guideline.It will come down to your child, and their specificities, but hopefully this will be a help to you as you’re making your decision.
These are the six main things I look for:
1. They know the alphabet
A child doesn’t have to know how to read to start lessons, but knowing the alphabet is essential. The notes have letter names (A-G), and and they need to be able to recognize their letters.
2. They know right from left
When you play the piano, you play something different with each hand, and the notes are written differently for the left hand and right hand. Being able to distinguish which hand is which is important.
3. They are able to sit for at least 15 minutes
This is a big one! It’s also what can sometimes be a determining factor in the age of a child beginning piano lessons. Some three year olds are ready, and others might not be ready until age six or seven. It’s the reason my six year old twin boys haven’t started yet–but will this year. They need to be able to sit through a lesson, and then sit at home each day to practice. Every teacher will be different, but if they’re very young, I start with 15 minutes a day, and then work up from there.
4. They have physical strength in their fingers
It does take strength to push down the weighted keys of a piano, and those little fingers need to be able to do that! It doesn’t mean that they can’t start when they’re young, but it is something to consider–especially if they can’t push them down at all!
5. They show some interest
At our house, learning to play the piano is like math…it’s a required subject. So this one doesn’t really apply here. :) But…in general, a child should show some interest in either the piano specifically, or in music. If they like it, they’ll want to do it!
***And as a side note–even kids who love to play the piano might not love to practice. That is totally normal, and doesn’t mean that they don’t enjoy the piano. It just means that they’re a normal kid who wants to be playing or running around! We approach it like doing homework, and that works for us.
Personally, I like to start kids on the younger side. It’s like learning anything new–they just soak it up when they’re young. They also get used to practicing from an early age, which makes it easier as they get older. I think there are many advantages to starting around four or five if they meet the other criteria above, and then going from that point. My boys will start now that they’re six–they weren’t ready before now, and a lot of boys aren’t–but that’s a generalization.
That said, there is not a right or wrong age, and it’s NEVER to late to learn! One of my favorite students was a man in his 50’s, and he seriously impressed me with how hard he worked to learn how to play.
Some other tips…
*The teacher makes a difference! Just like children, teachers have different personalities, and their teaching styles will also be different. If your child needs someone more structured, or if they need someone that’s willing to be a little more flexible and laid back, that’s something important to consider. Make sure that they know how to teach beginners, and that that’s something they are comfortable with. Asking about expectations up front can also be helpful, as it will vary from teacher to teacher. Rates will also vary depending on your area, and how much experience (and education) the teacher has.
*Are you looking for a teacher? A great place to look for help is your local elementary school music teacher. They usually have a list of teachers in the area, and can be a great resource. Whenever we move and need a new teacher, that’s the first place I look. Our school’s music teacher is actually my kids’ piano teacher! A local piano or music store should also have a list of teachers–just give them a call or stop by and ask. One of the best methods is word-of-mouth, and asking other parents who their child’s teacher is. I’ve asked people at church, neighbors, and moms at school for info on piano teachers, violin teachers, etc.
*Do you need a piano? Don’t feel like you have to buy a brand new piano (although if you can, that’s awesome!) in order for your child to play. My kids are actually learning to play on the same piano I learned on, thanks to the graciousness of my parents for letting me take it when I got married! Search the classifieds–your local newspaper, Craigslist, etc.–for pianos that are for sale. You can get some great deals–I’ve seen many that are less than $500, and some that are actually free if you’ll move them! Just check the keys to make sure they all play and that they are intact. You might need to clean it up a bit (I painted mine!), but the most important part of the piano is how it sounds. I prefer an acoustic piano (a traditional piano) over a digital or electric piano for technique’s sake, but if that’s what you have, that’s okay! Just let the teacher know what they’re playing on.
*If you’re considering the Suzuki method, talk to the teacher about their guidelines and requirements a new piano student. Their method is different, and this can impact when a child starts.
Now getting kids to practice? That’s another post for another day! :)
I hope has helped answer some of your questions, and if you have others, please let me know–I’m happy to help!