Recently, I wrote this article for a local newspaper:
These days, there is much pressure for parents to begin their children in activities from an early age. We know that children tend to pick up new skills easily and we want for them to have an opportunity to become experts at these new skills. We also see curiosity, desire and eagerness to learn in our children and want to capitalize on that.
Music lessons are no exception. We often get calls asking the question, “When is the best time to enroll my child in piano lessons?” The answer to that is a tricky one, and varies for each child. The right age for one may not be the right age for another. Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you are considering enrolling your child in music lessons:
1. Does my child have an attention span to sit still for chunks of time and listen to instruction?
Many teachers today are very creative in using off-bench activities during lessons and have a plethora of activities to make lessons fun and engaging. However, the fact remains that your child will need to sit at the piano for some periods of time during the lesson. It is important that your child have the attention span to do this.
2. Can my child see patterns and recognize up and down?
Part of the early learning at the piano involves recognizing groups of two and three black keys and patterns within these groups, as well as up and down on the piano, and later on the music staff. If recognizing patterns is problematic for your child, it may be better to wait a year or two before beginning piano lessons.
3. Can my child read and write?
I do not believe that reading and writing is necessary for piano lessons. I have had many non-reading students begin lessons successfully. However, I do think that if your child can identify some letters and write a few letters, it makes piano study much easier. We use the first seven letters of the alphabet as our “musical alphabet.” It is helpful if children recognize these letters. Also, I believe the control and dexterity required to hold a pencil help children with the fine motor skills needed at the piano.
4. Can my child respond positively to criticism?
We piano teachers are a lovely, caring, encouraging group. However, some of our job involves correcting and teaching new things. If your child is resistant to criticism or resists learning new things, it may be better to wait to begin lessons.
5. Are my child’s fingers physically developed enough to operate the mechanics of the instrument?
Years ago, I interviewed a very small child who had very small fingers. She was not able to make a sound on the piano because her fingers just weren’t strong enough to push the keys down. There is a physical aspect of playing the piano that needs to be developed. This usually happens between ages 5-8.
6. Will my child be agreeable to completing daily practice?
In this modern era, there are very few activities that require children to work hard daily to make progress. We all are very used to instant gratification. To succeed in piano study, your child will need to spend some time each day at the piano. Before starting lessons, you should assess whether your child will be agreeable to this.
7. Am I ready to give some assistance to the piano practice?
We at NSMS like for students to have the tools they need to practice independently. But, the fact remains that things are just easier when the parents are somewhat involved, even if it is just making sure the practice is completed. With very small children, parents will need to be even more involved and sit with the child to complete the practice. In that way, it is important for the parent to be committed to the lessons as well.
You may notice that the one thing I haven’t mentioned is whether your child seems to have a natural talent or affinity for music. At The New School for Music Study, we believe that every child can learn to play and enjoy music. Music is for everyone!
The ideal time to begin lessons is around ages 5-8. Each child may experience a different point of readiness, but by age 8, most children are ready to begin. Children who start at these ages often move more quickly, easily, and independently than children who start at ages 2-4. If your child is still under age five and you would like a musical experience for them, you might consider a general music class, such as Music Together, Musikgarten, or Kindermusik. Also, don’t underestimate the power and importance of early musical experiences in the home. Singing, dancing, listening to music, and experiencing music through play are very important early experiences for all children.