How Young Is “Too Young” to Start Piano Lessons?

early music educationThis is another FAQ that should be addressed. The short answer is that it depends on your child. I’ve seen kids start as early as three and as old as 15. I started when I was five. But here’s the long answer.

Most children begin recognizing and writing letters by ages four or five. They start recognizing rhyming patterns and developing a vocabulary. Reading doesn’t really kick in until ages 6-10.

How does this tie into learning music? If a child cannot see that the letter ‘A’ is an ‘A,’ it will be nearly impossible to teach him or her how to read musical notes and symbols. There is an extra step beyond just recognizing the letter ‘A.’ He or she would have to translate that from the space or line on the musical staff which is the musical note ‘A’, and then find the corresponding ‘A’ on the keyboard. That process would include three steps of translation in all!

Very young children naturally listen to and imitate new sounds. They have fun saying and singing these sounds repeatedly, and then they stick. Most children begin to learn to read when books are read to them out loud. Shouldn’t we teach music to non-reading children in a similar fashion?

Instead of having non-readers painfully decipher one note from another on the staff, they could listen to different musical melodies and rhythmic patterns and attempt to sing or play back what they hear. Children love games, and this could be an easy way to capture his or her rapt attention while exposing them early on to music education.

I find that young non-readers excel in group lessons that are short, fun, and aurally-based. It’s difficult to pursue private lessons for this type of child, as one-on-one sessions can be rather intense and lacking in the social interaction department. Children love being around their peers and can learn from them in this type of environment. It’s more about ‘play’ and less about ‘work.’

In order to pursue private lessons that cover a comprehensive curriculum (including note reading), not only does your child need to be a reader (or at least have the ability to recognize letters and numbers), but he or she must have the ability to focus for short spurts of time. It’s natural for children to get distracted by the smallest of things (and believe me – they have no filter). But if your child is consistently interrupting the lesson and is unable to play through a short piece without a disturbance, he or she might be too young. If your child is still in the squirmy stages, it may be beneficial to hold off for another year or so.

With all of this being said, it’s crucial to recognize that everyone learns in a unique way. Learning milestones can occur earlier or later from what’s considered to be ‘average,’ so don’t worry if your child isn’t following the typical route. Even if your child is too young to start taking private lessons, expose him or her to music by having them listen to music. Play a recording of your favorite song or piece while you do the dishes or drive the car. It’s a powerful yet simple way to ignite the spark!

 

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Why Does My Child Not Want to Practice? Part II

Practicing piano

This is another FAQ-type of question I’d like to address based on my observation and experience as a teacher (and student!).

Practicing is work. It’s lots of hard, grueling, often intense, and always consistent work. The most difficult aspect about practicing is how much consistency it requires, and this means WILL POWER.

I liken practicing to exercising.  If you want to get into shape and stay in shape, what do you think that it will take?  Of course, you’ll have to exercise every (or nearly) every day while you make healthy food choices.  Practicing requires daily devotion in order to see results.

Like exercising, sometimes you hit plateaus or pitfalls and get frustrated.  Your will power wanes and you sometimes question why you do it.  That’s normal.  That’s healthy.  These feelings are part of the ups and downs of trying to get better at anything, including learning a musical instrument.  Try looking at your frustrations from different angles and attempt to re-think and re-work out the kinks.

Quality practice is key, just like quality exercise.  Just going through the motions will only get you so far in your progress.  You must be consciously aware of what you’re doing at the moment and what you need to do to improve.  BE PRESENT.  How you practice is vastly more important than how many hours you log in front of the keyboard.

With that being said, it’s still important to be consistent because that’s what will ultimately give you results. Our brains (most of ours, anyway) can’t handle what I call “binge-practicing.”  Knowledge and physical ability can’t be stuffed into our craniums all at once.  Give it time.  Let it sink in and become a part of you.  You’ll remember things better this way.  DON’T “binge-learn” something last-minute and expect to be awesome at it (been there, done that – never worked!).

Going back to the question of why someone, young or old, may not want to practice, the answer is quite simple but yet we make it complicated.  It’s hard to push yourself to work.  It’s easier to tell someone that they’re not doing enough of this or that, but it requires sheer drive and dedication to push yourself to improve each day.  Children often need that extra support to get into the daily habit of practicing, and adults need to do that for themselves.  It’s always easier said than done.  As someone who has practiced since the age of five, it’s always been a sort of challenge to push myself to enter into a session since there are often things I’d rather be doing instead, whether it’s finishing a certain task, watching a movie, seeing a friend, reading a book…the list can include an infinite number of things.  But often, when I get past that initial “bump” and get into the groove of what I need to do, I feel better.  It’s a gratifying feeling to have achieved something, and it’s these smaller rewards that pay off big time when it all comes together.

So, stick with it.  Get into a habit of practicing at the same time and place, every day.  If you brush your teeth daily, you must practice daily.  Simplifying your outlook on the whole matter will help you re-generate your stores of will power so you can give that extra push when the tank seems empty.  I also find that practicing in thorough, bite-sized sessions is the most effective way to get motivated and get stuff done.

Now, what do you do when your child WANTS to learn but puts up a fight every time they need to practice?  This is a tough question to answer.  I’m not a child psychologist by any means, but I can say that if your child resists each and every time, it’s time to look at deeper issues that may not even be related to piano.  I find that inconsistent parenting and a lack of limits often causes children to act this way.  When parents don’t initially set ground rules about practicing, children treat it as a “secondary” or “optional” activity that is not essential in the same way that doing homework is.   It’s important that your child learns that daily practice is an expected part of their routine, not an extraneous one.  They won’t improve if there is no practice, and this can lead to a deeper spiral of disappointment.  You, as a parent, need to teach this to your child.  We all don’t come into the world with a strong, inherent sense of self-discipline and a work ethic that doesn’t require parental encouragement and reinforcement.

On the flip side, what do you do when your child DOESN’T want to learn and therefore hates practicing?  You can’t force anyone to do anything.  You’re a parent, not a dictator.  So many parents like to blame the teacher for not kick-starting their child’s love for the piano (imagine if all people suddenly loved math because their teacher did the right song and dance – some of us just don’t favor numbers!).  Everyone has different interests and talents, so it’s important to listen to your child and try different things out.  Some kids are drawn to so many activities (I have a few students like this) and others would rather sit in front of the TV all day.  We all have different personalities here.  Inspire and enrich your child, but don’t force an activity into their system if it’s clear that they have zero interest.  Move on and try something else.

Any comments or thoughts related to this subject are welcome below.

Happy practicing!