Do you get those questions too? From extended family, parents at church or from old friends who message you? The questions about when to start their child in piano lessons, what books you recommend, if you suggest teachers near them, and so on. As piano teachers, it’s something we have become pretty used to. Now every child is so different it’s hard for me to give a set, prepared answer. And every family isn’t looking for the same type of teacher or has the same goals in mind for piano lessons so this makes it even trickier to give advice.
So today I wanted to post my most generic advice to the first question, “When should I start my child in piano lessons?” The answer I give first is, “Well are they ready?” How do you know when a child is ready to begin? Just because they are old enough to start preschool or school doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready for piano lessons. Here are the top points I look for when I meet with a parent and new student to see if they are ready to begin lessons.
Parents can sit by a student in lessons, push practice at home, and force a child to learn piano. But really? When a student wants to learn, it all works out so much smoother. And they can develop a real love for music so much more easily than a forced learning permits.
Can the student keep a steady beat? Test at several different tempos and time signatures. Can the student copy rhythms back to you? I like to see how far they can go – check 8th notes, 16th notes, triplets…
Recognize High & Low –
As students start learning steps & skips, this plays a big part in developing the inner ear. Hearing musical steps means students must be able to understand when notes get higher and when they get lower.
Finger Readiness –
How is their hand position? This is when I pull out the “Stone on the Mountain” activity (Faber) or the ladybug to do a quick mini lesson on how we hold our hands in piano lessons. Then we try playing with that good hand position with the tips of our fingers – how does it hold up when playing “1 2 3 4 5” in either hand? If the joints can hold up a bit instead of crashing flat right away, I know they are probably ready to begin strengthening their fingers.
“Carry a tune” –
How is their singing? This may not be the most important preparedness aspect but I’ve found that often when a student can sing higher and lower notes, they progress quicker. Maybe it’s that the sulfege I do with students in lessons clicks and helps them learn the pieces easier.
How is their reading level? As a teacher, are you ready to work with a student who cannot read finger numbers or their assignment sheets? For my own studio, I know that I really like working with children who can read, even just beginning readers. I really like students to be a little bit self motivated and able to practice on their own.
Now you know what I look for to see if a child is ready to begin lessons in my studio. Every piano teacher is unique in their approach and these are just my personal preferences for students. I’m curious if you have anything you would add or change! I’d love to hear about it.
Whitney Hawker, NCTM, teaches group and private piano at Weber State University, Utah. She loves surprising students with the perfect piece or a new exciting game! After graduate school, she missed sharing ideas and resources daily with colleagues so she and her friend, Spring, began blogging together at 4DPianoTeaching.com