Thursday, June 9, 2011

Is My Child Old Enough To Take Piano Lessons?

     If you are a piano teacher, you have heard this question...probably many times. I know I have, and it always amuses me a bit that people have the idea of there being a 'majic age' when children can learn piano. Now, I strongly advocate that children be exposed to music from even before birth, and continuing on through toddler-hood.  But when are they ready for the bench?

     Here are a few things  for both parents and teachers to keep in mind when making decisions about music lessons:

     1. Every child is different. Some, like my husband, start lessons at age 5, but not all 5-year-olds are ready.

     2. The parent knows their own child's learning and focus capabilities better than anyone else.

     3. Lessons for small children do not have to be 30 minutes long. How about 15 minutes, or even just 10?

     4. Sometimes group music lessons are better than one-on-one lessons.

     5. There is nothing wrong with giving lessons a try, having to stop, and trying again a year or so later.

    6. Once a child is enrolled in lessons, a routine is better than just a casual music session here and there. Make what they are learning in their lessons a part of your child's daily/weekly schedule.

     7. Lessons do not have to be given every week. 

     8. Simplify concepts and introduce one concept at a time. Small children can sometimes be overwhelmed with all of the details that learning music involves. 

     9. Realize that when children start lessons at an early age, constant repetition of concepts is absolutely necessary and vital to their success. Be prepared to say "That's a half note" about 50 times or more. :)

     10. Write notes in an assignment notebook for the child's parents (even if they aren't musical) so they can help reinforce simple concepts at home.

     11. Communicate with the parents (and likewise parents with teacher) about the child's learning strengths and weaknesses. Although it's sometimes hard to discuss those things, we will be better teachers if we know how a child "ticks" and what their strong and weak points are, so as not to frustrate them unnecessarily.

     12. Give curious parents some tips on how to tell if their child has a "bent" toward music, and may possibly be ready to start earlier than average. For example, our 4 year old has been good at rhythm since before he was 2. He can hear a song and reproduce the beat with a sentence of his own with or without music. Sometimes he makes up his own tune for his new words. I definitely want to maximize his potential by getting him more involved in music and helping him understand some simple theory behind what he is doing. My husband has worked with him some at the piano and I plan to start formal lessons with him this fall.

     I have personally never experienced having to tell a parent "I'm sorry, but I don't think he/she is ready for lessons yet."  That tells me that the parents I have worked with have generally done a good job of evaluating their child's readiness and capacity for formal lessons.  Nonetheless I think parents like the security of hearing from a teacher, in answer to the query of when their child is ready..... "It's really up to you!"

    Do you have any thoughts on teaching small children? Feel free to share.


Wendy Chan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wendy Chan said...

Leah, most of my students are between the ages of 4-9. They participate in the Music for Young Children program and attend with their parents for an hour weekly. I am amazed at what these children are capable of doing today. In the past I used to think that a 5 year old is too young for piano lessons. I strongly think the key to success is the parental involvement and supervised and consistent practice at home. An average 5 year old is able to play hands together, recognize musical patterns, , dictate rhythm (love this one), name about 25 notes (most of the time in under a minute), harmonize 3 scales and be familiar with basic terms and symbols. Very fun watching the 10 month transformation!!
Composition is also a component of the program and I really marvel at their work. I have designed a template and included each composition to present as a gift for the upcoming recital :)

Leah said...

I absolutely agree! I think children are capable of grasping a lot more than we give them credit for. In my post I was speaking more in terms of formal piano lessons where a longer attention span is needed. There is definitely a difference in having a parentally-involved music time with a group of toddlers, and having a more formal lesson at a bench that the parent drops the child off for. Perhaps I didn't differentiate the two enough in my post!

Wendy Chan said...

No you absolutely did, I think I was viewing it at a slightly different perspective, sorry if it was a little off topic:)
I haven't taught many 5 year olds privately prior to MYC but the one student I had did quite well with a lot of support from mom. I had mom sit in on all classes so she knew exactly how to help her little boy at home. But again I agree every child is different so perhaps an assessment will help the teacher and parent gauge the child's readiness. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts:)

Leah said...

I'm glad you shared, Wendy. In fact, I may be getting some tips from you in the future about your MYC classes. I have had so many moms ask me about teaching their toddlers that I've been brainstorming a bit about starting some sort of toddler class in the future. I have no solid plans- just in the 'thinking' stage now. I don't really want to have a bunch of 2-3 year olds in private lessons Just watching my own two children I think it would be stressful...hehe!), so group classes seem like a good alternative.